How to Make a Living Writing for Children and Teenagers
By Valerie Young
The following review originally appeared in The Changing Course Newsletter.
Over the years I've heard from many aspiring writers masquerading as administrative assistants, construction workers, programmers, and customer service reps. So when I received a call from Bryan Judge of the Institute of Children's Literature in West Redding, Connecticut I was curious to learn more.
Bryan asked if I'd be willing to review the Institute's course "Writing for Children and Teenagers." I said I'd be happy to take a look, but, I explained, before I'll officially endorse any product or service it must meet certain criteria.
Listen in as Bryan and Patricia answer frequently asked questions about writing for children:
For example, with courses or training programs of any kind I look for eight things:
1. Does the organization have a proven track record? 2. Is there a market for this kind of work? 3. Is the material high-quality? 4. Are the instructors experts in their field? 5. Is the course convenient for people with full-time jobs? 6. Is the organization committed to excellent customer service? 7. Is the course a good value for the money? 8. Is there a money-back guarantee?
After a careful examination of all the ample course materials for Writing for Children and Teenagers and getting to know some of the people at the Institute of Children's Literature, I am thrilled to report that on each of these counts, the answer was a resounding YES! Here is what I found:
1. A Proven Track Record
Shady organizations or shoddy materials rarely stand the test of time which of course explains why The Institute of Children's Literature has been around for 34 years. During that time they've trained thousands of students who are now published writers. What's more, the Connecticut Board for State Academic Awards recommends the course for college credits and it's approved by the Connecticut Commissioner of Higher Education. What that means is, regardless of where you live, successful completion of the course can be submitted to any college, university, or board for six college credits.
2. The Vast Children's Book Market
Watching the Harry Potter phenomenon transform my ten- and thirteen-year-old nephews into enthusiastic readers, I knew the children's book market was hot. What I didn't realize is just how hot or big this market really is! There are more than 500 publishers of books and 600 publishers of magazines vying to buy manuscripts from freelance writers. Over 5,300 different children's books alone are published each year. Add magazines to the equation and you're looking at thousands of stories and articles being published each and every MONTH! At least in this marketplace, the so-called "starving writer" appears to be a myth intended to keep aspiring writers trapped in their uninspiring 9-to-5 jobs.
3. Outstanding Course Quality
When I agreed to review the course I expected to receive some kind of binder. Imagine my surprise when a big and very heavy box arrived, jammed full of course materials and books. The course alone is an impressive 508 pages... and that doesn't include the 34 page Writer's Guide to Current Children's Books. This last resource is broken down by category which is itself an education. I mean, I had no idea there are so many varied categories of children's books! Publishers and editors are looking for fiction and non-fiction in, for example, the categories of multi-cultural, entertainment and sports, mystery and suspense, advice, humor, how-to and crafts, religious, history, health and fitness, fantasy and sci-fi, folktales, and many, many others. My first thought was "Wow!" If you are an arts and crafts lover, a sports fan, or spirituality focused, not only can you do what you love write for children but you also get to research and write on your other callings. One thing I really liked about Writing for Children and Teenagers is that it doesn't tell you how to write. What it does is SHOW you how to write. Students complete ten assignments designed to help you master exactly what it takes to succeed as a paid writer in this field. To describe these assignments as "homework" however, would not do them justice. In reality, what the Institute has very deliberately designed are ten different opportunities to be published. That's because each assignment is set up to provide the potential for you to produce manuscripts suitable for submission. Not surprisingly, over the years, thousands of Institute students have sold one or more assignments to publishers many before even completing the course! Students and alumni have already published an impressive 11,000 books, articles, and stories. The cornerstone of Writing for Children and Teenagers though, is its unique one-on-one teaching method. Venturing into uncharted career waters can be scary enough without having to go it alone. Unlike a typical classroom where you are one of dozens of students, Institute students are partnered with their own instructor, themselves a published writer or experienced editor. Your instructor is a true partner in your journey who provides extensive, detailed feedback to help you constantly reach the next level. Don't let the impressive size of the course manual intimidate you. The course is divided into three manageable parts. Part one contains a series of step-by-step lessons and assignments on such topics as:
- generating story ideas
- building your story
- story form
- writing effective description
- putting your ideas into words
It also comes with two very helpful books. The first is called From Inspiration to Publication: How to Succeed as a Children's Writer, Advice from 15 Award-Winning Writers. This is where you get to meet and learn from real people who, just like you, wanted to earn a living as a writer. People like former student Kristi Holl. Kristi's first book, Just Like a Real Family, was nominated for five Children's Choice Awards, and her mystery, The Haunting of Cabin 13, won the Maryland Children's Book Award. She has published over 50 stories and articles, as well as 20 middle-grade novels. Two books, Footprints Up My Back and Perfect or Not, Here I Come, were Junior Literary Guild selections. Her work has appeared in juvenile magazines like Jack And Jill, Touch, and Child Life. Kristi is also author of three series: the inspirational Julie McGregor series, plus the Carousel Mystery series and the Amanas Ghost Mystery series. Let's stop here for just a moment. I'm curious to know how you felt reading this lengthy list of accomplishments. Did you feel inspired to rise to Kristi's level of success? Or, did you feel a little daunted, unsure of your own abilities? If you chose the latter, it's probably because you've forgotten that, in R.L. Evans' words, "everyone who got where he is had to be where he was." The truth is, Kristi Holl is no different than you or I. When she began writing she was living on a farm in Iowa with her three small children. It was only by taking the practical steps she outlines in this book that Kristi was able to achieve her dream of becoming a paid writer. The other book, called Best of the Children's Market, is a collection of 84 articles and stories published by 49 leading children's magazines. What makes it so helpful is that you're getting a real-life look at what today's kids are reading and what editors are buying. This is your opportunity to analyze actual samples of fiction and non-fiction stories and articles for young, intermediate, and teen readers and to use this understanding to enhance your own writing. Part two of Writing for Children and Teenagers is where you are shown how to create lively, readable nonfiction for young readers and how to create a child or teenage character based on your personal observations of a real-life youngster. To give you that all-important extra edge on getting published, part two includes the latest edition of Children's Magazine Market. Updated annually by the Institute of Children's Literature, this handy book contains comprehensive descriptions of more than 500 editors and publishers of children's books. In it, you'll hear from actual editors of leading publishers and magazines who spell out for you exactly how to target your writing to their readers according to the age level of readership, current editorial needs (e.g. how-to, biography, mystery, etc.), submission requirements, as well as pitfalls to avoid. But that's not all. Part two also comes with two additional resources. Searching: A Research Guide for Writers contains practical research tips including how to locate an expert on your topic, how to use your computer as a high-powered research assistant, and how to find at least three different uses for each research project. The other book, Essentials of English is just as it sounds a helpful handbook covering the rules of English grammar and writing style. After you've mastered all of the basics, you'll receive Part Three and your final three assignments. For assignment 8, you'll propose three story and/or article ideas for your instructor's review. For assignment 9, you'll write a story based on one of these ideas. For your final course work you'll have an option to either write another magazine piece for young readers or begin work on a book, first with an outline, then with the opening chapters. To prepare you to pitch your book to prospective publishers you'll also receive the latest edition of Children's Book Market. Similar to the Children's Magazine Market, this book gives you a comprehensive description of more than 500 editors and publishers of children's books. The book features 535 updated and verified listings and 70 completely new markets. It also includes feature articles on writing and selling picture books for 4- to 7-year-olds, the market for middle-grade self-help books, and submission procedures. You can also search for publishers by category, such as self-help, social issues, story picture books, or Canadian publishers. It was in this book I learned, for example, that in 2001 Heuer Publishing Company published 15 titles all from unsolicited submissions. You frustrated playwrights will be happy to know that some publishers are looking beyond traditional story-type books. In the Editor's Comments section it says this particular publisher is always looking for new material, and is especially in need of one-act satires, comedies, farces, dramas, mysteries, and melodramas for middle-grade and young adult actors. And to give you one more tool with which to analyze the market, course part three comes with the Writers' Guide to Current Children's Books. In it you'll find an annotated list of more than 300 titles of fiction and non-fiction books published for each major age level. Bottom line: I found the Writing for Children and Teenagers course itself to be of exceptionally high quality. It delivers what it promises and then some.
4. Expert Instructors
The course itself was designed by experts in the field of writing for children and teenagers. Collectively, Institute faculty has published more than 14,600 books, stories, and articles. I couldn't possibly tell you about all 80 instructors so I thought I'd introduce you to two I found particularly interesting. When you think of children's writers you probably think of women, right? Well, think again. Institute instructor Richard Graber is the author of Black Cow Summer and other notable novels including Doc, A Little Breathing Room and Pay Your Respects. With his wife Janet, also a children's writer, he wrote I Couldn't Do It Without My Group: Secrets of Starting and Running a Successful Writer's Group. Like a lot of children's writers, Richard went on to write a best-selling book for adults called How to Get a Good Night's Sleep. Then there's former student Rhea Ross. Rhea made her first sale several weeks after enrolling in the Institute and turned most of her course assignments into sales to magazines like Wee Wisdom, Alive!, Visions, The Young Crusader, and others. She's sold two adult Westerns as yet unpublished then turned to the confessions market and sold to Modern Romances and Intimate Story. Rhea has written two coming-of-age novels, The Bet's On, Lizzie Bingman! and Hillbilly Choir and has three new books in progress. Rhea is now an instructor at the Institute of Children's Literature.
5. Learn at Your Own Pace
The course is designed for the busy working person or parent who needs a flexible learning program. You can learn at your own pace and schedule and can write anywhere, anytime you wish. I got a big kick out of reading about when and where author Jean Kerr did her writing. To get away from the children, the pets, and the phone, she locked herself in her car and wrote in longhand on a board propped up on the steering wheel! Jean went on to write the best-selling novel Please Don't Eat the Daisies. Other well-known writers have squeezed out writing time on their train commute, once the kids are in bed, on their lunch hour, by rising an hour earlier, etc...
6. Commitment to Service
I've had several opportunities to communicate with Institute staff by phone and email and have been consistently impressed with both their professionalism and responsiveness. My first tip-off to The Institute's commitment to students, though, came when I learned about their toll-free student help-line. When students call the help-line, they won't reach an automated system or be thrown into "voice jail." Instead the help-line is staffed with live Student Services Counselors. If you ever have a question about an assignment your questions will be answered immediately by real people who can provide expert answers. Now that's what I call service!
7. An Excellent Value for the Money
Considering the quality of the lesson plans and assignments, the individual and detailed feedback from your instructor, the toll-free student help-line, and the number and caliber of books to help you launch your writing career as quickly as possible, at $625, I consider the education received to be an excellent value. And if you're on a budget, you can spread payments out over a year. Writers, teachers, or others whose business skills are enhanced by the course, should also be happy to hear that the cost of the course may be tax deductible.
8. Iron-Clad Money Back Guarantee
I won't endorse any organization that does not offer a money-back guarantee. If, at the end of the course, you determine it was not what you had expected, the Institute of Children's Literature will issue a full refund. To sum up my review, I was very impressed with the Institute of Children's Literature and with the Writing for Children and Teenagers course. It is most definitely a Val's Pick! Whether you purchase this course or go a different route, if you feel called to write for children or young adults I invite you to heed the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, "The reason one writes isn't the fact he wants to say something. He writes because he has something to say." Now, more than ever, the young people of this world need to hear your words. Whether these words are wise, funny, spiritual, educational, whimsical, or comforting, surely the time to share them is now. You can learn more about the Institute of Children's Literature's Writing for Children and Teenagers course and receive a free writing aptitude test by clicking here.
P.S. I thought you might like to hear from The Changing Course Newsletter subscriber, and future best-selling children's book author, Kelli Jo Stout from Atlanta, GA who decided to take the leap and sign on for the course. Kelli writes, "It was everything Valerie and the Institute for Children's literature promised it would be. I couldn't be more impressed with this course!"
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How to Write Children's Books
Featuring Experts Bryan Judge, president Institute of Children's Literature and Patti Pfitsch, award-winning children's book author, Institute graduate, and instructor
The children and teen market is huge. There are more than 500 book publishers and 600 magazines publishers vying to buy manuscripts from freelance writers.
My local newspaper ran an article about 20 local writers and illustrators who had published children's books in the previous year. Of these, three were first time authors. That's why I brought together a successful children's book author to share her journey and the head of a company that has helped launch the careers of thousands of aspiring writers to talk about what it takes to succeed in this interesting career.
Together they will answer such frequently asked questions as:
- How do you learn to write a children's book?
- How do you go about getting published?
- Who publishes works for children and teens?
- What kind of income could someone expect to earn writing for this market?
These are just a few of the topics covered in this fascinating audio program.
Listen in as
Bryan and Patricia answer frequently asked questions as part of our Ask the Expert teleclass series
About Bryan Judge
Bryan Judge has been with the Institute for Children's Literature since the school's inception back in 1969. He began as one of the initial founders and has headed the organization since 1975. Under his leadership the school has grown tremendously and it course "Writing for Children and Teenagers" has been approved for college-level credits by the State of Connecticut Department of Higher Education. Over the course of his tenure with the Institute for Children's Literature Bryan has had the satisfaction of seeing thousands of aspiring writers go on to become published writers.
About Patricia Pfitsch
Then there's Patricia Pfitsch. Patricia is a graduate of the Institute's course on writing for children and teens (read my course review at ChangingCourse.com/children.htm). Since then she's gone on to publish seven books, including a picture book, three award-winning novels, and an Edgar nominee plus 552 stories and articles. Among the award winners are Keeper of the Light and The Deeper Song, both published by Simon & Schuster. Patricia is now an instructor at the Institute where she gets to put her experience to work by coaching other novice writers to succeed in this satisfying field.
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