So You Want to Write Children’s Books?

During my time as a book editor—and for a while thereafter—the most common question I’d get was “How do I write/publish a children’s book?” The only problem? I wasn’t a children’s book editor. 

But my friend Alli is! Alli Brydon, a children’s book editor and writer based in the New York area—and a friend from the time we both worked at the same publishing house there—has generously agreed to be a guest contributor here from time to time, expanding our childrens’-book libraries, and today I’ve asked her to share her expertise with anyone who might be an aspiring writer. 

With nearly 15 years of experience developing, editing, and selling children’s books with US publishing houses—on both the editor and agent side of the desk—she has spent a large part of her career nurturing writers and illustrators to reach their potential. Here she describes the job of an editor and what you need to do to get that manuscript out in the world… 

What exactly do you do?
I am an independent children’s book editor who helps authors and illustrators learn, grow, and polish their manuscripts. I also consult authors on building their careers and navigating the publishing industry. “Independent” means that I currently work unattached to a publishing house, which gives me great flexibility and freedom to work with a wonderful variety of clients and projects. My favorite thing is to guide children’s book authors to be their best and to help them shine!

How did you get started? 
In the summer of 2004, I was in between my first and second years of graduate school where I was studying and writing towards my MFA in poetry. I somehow had the thought that my focus on poetry would dovetail nicely with the spare and necessary language of children’s books. Through fate, as well as pounding the pavement, I landed a sweet internship with one of the children’s imprints at Penguin, and have never looked back! When I graduated, I knew I wanted to work in children’s books, and shortly after commencement I interviewed for what would be my first editorial job in children’s publishing.

What should I do before deciding to write a children’s book?
Read them! Please, please, please read them. Go one step further: study them. If you want to write a picture book, count the pages and notice how many words there are. Understand how a story arcs, how a character becomes believable, and what a conflict (and satisfying resolution) is. Learn the craft of it. Become serious about it. Writing books for kids is fun, but it’s not easy. Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and meet other folks who are passionate about writing and illustrating kidlit. And if you’re social media savvy, follow your favorite authors and illustrators on Twitter and Instagram—where so many share tons of advice with the public.

What makes a children’s book stand out? 
An outstanding children’s book is one that has heart. One that’s connected to the universality of human experience. One that serves both the child and the parent, and respects both. Oh, and if you’ve got a talking schoolhouse, naked president, or a ton of great animal sounds—it can’t hurt!

What do I need to have in hand before reaching out to a publishing house or an agent?

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Last Days of Winter (& Friday Links)

Only a few more days until it’s officially spring! And just in time for these last days of winter, the Sierras are finally getting some much-needed snow. We’re going to head up to the cabin with friends this weekend and do our best to soak it in.

We’re really hoping that Skyler will join in with the ski school this time. We had one go at it a few months ago and discovered that she would strongly prefer a female instructor—preferably one with a “fairy braid.” We’ve considered bringing a fake Elsa-from-Frozen-style white braid and just asking the instructor to clip it on, but that might be going a bit too far. (Is it?) I think we’ll just cross our fingers that she gets a “gurl.”

What are your plans for the weekend? Before we decided to go skiing, we’d gotten tickets to a Danú and Goitse concert of Irish music at the Mondavi Center—one of the first times we’d really planned a St. Patrick’s celebration since living in New York and attending the parades.

Those parade days were always so beautiful! I loved the bagpipes. Of course, I found that I wrote this on Hudson’s Nine Month photo post about one year’s St. Paddy’s celebration:

“We started the month on St. Patrick’s Day, a ridiculous scene wherein we made the mistake of trying to see the parade from Central Park and ended up fleeing the rowdy scene while trying to keep Hudson asleep in the stroller. That meant frantic side-of-the-street changes (as another group of chanting drunk students would approach) until we ended up walking down First Avenue past the UN with Aron pulling the stroller backwards to keep the high sun off Hudson’s face. I took a picture of the struggle for when I’m tempted to recount glory days and only remember what was awesome about having a baby in the city. I can pull it out and say ‘Are you sure?’” Ha!

Will you be doing anything for the holiday? 

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Green Beret Cocktail for St. Patrick’s Day

Though there’s nothing wrong with raising a green beer or a stiff stout to toast on St. Patrick’s day, I prefer a cocktail. Recently, Aron has been making us batches of orgeat—a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar, and a bit of orange blossom water—and we’ve been sipping it along with rum and lime juice. I first had the combination at a local Irish pub, DeVere’s—they call it a Green Beret—and it inspired a request for it at home.

It would be the perfect drink to kick off a St. Patrick’s Day feast.

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