Using the right tools to improve your craft
Published: June 8, 2010
Q: Which resources should all children’s writers have at their fingertips?
Nancy I. Sanders
A: As you’re building your career as a children’s writer, it’s important to also be acquiring some ready resources you’ll need to polish your writing skills and improve your craft. Whether you opt to access digital versions or prefer to hold the actual books in your hands is your own choice. What matters is that you become familiar with and have immediate access to the main reference tools every children’s writer should have. Some of these titles are very expensive but can be found for a few dollars at your local library’s used-book corner or at used bookstores online.
For general reference, it helps to have a student dictionary for your target age. This will provide a sample of how to write about key vocabulary words and concepts at an age-appropriate level. A thesaurus is handy when attempting to avoid repeating the same word. If you write for the beginning reader, or for a variety of different grade levels, Children’s Writer’s Word Book, by Alijandra Mogilner, is essential for learning which words to use for which grade level and how to structure sentences differently for each different age. Chase’s Calendar of Events is a standard in the children’s book and magazine industry for the holiday and seasonal market, providing a brief background and a listing of both major and minor holidays. Bernard Grun’s The Timetables of History will help you grasp the national and international events that occurred during the era you’re writing about, whether in fiction or nonfiction, and can add depth to your manuscript’s setting, plot line, and character development.
For characters’ names, you can search online for sites that list baby names, but my personal favorite is 100,000-Plus Baby Names, by Bruce Lansky, for its variety of names, short definitions, and ethnic source. If you like to write in rhyme, The Complete Rhyming Dictionary, edited by Clement Wood and revised by Ronald Bogus, is handy if you want an actual book rather than an online rhyming dictionary.
Market guides include yearly editions of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, by Alice Pope; Book Markets for Children’s Writers and Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers, both by Marni McNiff; Writer’s Market, by Robert Brewer; Christian Writers’ Market Guide, by Sally E. Stuart; and the online resource www.JacketFlap.com.
The Chicago Manual of Style is a standard in the industry, but other style guides are more user-friendly and can help you more easily learn the right rules to follow. My favorites are the classic The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White, and two books by Jan Venolia: Write Right! and Rewrite Right! If you write for the Christian market, consult Robert Hudson’s The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style.
For step-by-step guidance on building a career as a children’s writer, see my book Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. In this book I share tried-and-true techniques that many career writers use to find success in today’s tough children’s market.
Nancy I. Sanders
for the National Writing for Children Center, award-winning and
bestselling author Nancy I. Sanders teaches monthly teleseminars about
being a successful children’s writer. Web: www.nancyisanders.com.
• Read more Writing for Children columns.