For so long now, I’ve been interested in interviewing people who write for adults and maybe youths. I’ve never conducted an interview withr someone who specialises in writing for children. So, I wandered over many a website and I came across Laura’s. I was impressed with the wealth of information that was provided and make my request. Laura agreed and without a doubt, I’ve learned a few more things about writing for children. It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you, Laura Backes …
Aneeta: Laura, thank you for agreeing to this interview
Laura: I appreciate being asked!
Aneeta: To start with, please tell me a little about your background. Where to you live? Your family? And, really, anything you’d like to share with me.
Laura: I live in Fort Collins, Colorado, with my husband Jon Bard (who is also my business partner), our 10-year-old son Matthew, two dogs (Otis and Rocky) and Tipper, the hamster.
I started working in the publishing field in 1986. I began in publicity at Random House, then moved to subsidiary rights at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Publishers’ subsidiary rights departments sell other rights to your book, such as foreign reprint rights, movie rights, book club rights. Then I became a literary agent, representing children’s book authors and illustrators. While I was an agent, I formed the Children’s Book Insider newsletter in 1990. In 1993, CBI became a fulltime business, and Jon sold his public relations firm and started working with me. We began publishing books for writers, I started critiquing manuscripts and doing freelance editing for small publishers, and we moved from New York to Colorado. In 2000, I also formed Children’s Authors’ Bootcamp, a weekend writing workshop I teach around the country with author Linda Arms White.
I’ve also published articles in The Writer and Writer’s Digest magazines, spoken at numerous writing conferences, and am the author of Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read: 125 Books That Will Turn Any Child into a Lifelong Reader published by Random House
Aneeta: I know that your speciality is in the field of writing for children. Why did you choose this area to specialise in?
Laura: I’ve always loved children’s books, and I think in general they’re much better-written than books for adults. And much harder to write! I also enjoy working with children’s book authors and illustrators. They are, as a group, very generous, warm, talented people. There isn’t the competitiveness between authors in the children’s book arena that you might find in adult book publishing. It’s a very supportive group.
Aneeta: I agree that writing for children in much harder. There is, of course, your site, http://www.write4kids.com. It really is very comprehensive and has loads of information about helping writers who write for children. I would like to go through some of these, if I may. Let’s begin with the newsletter, Children’s Book Insider. Please tell me a little of what you offer.
Children’s Book Insider is a monthly, subscription newsletter that offers two pages of marketing information in each issue (what different publishers are looking for, how to submit to them, etc.), as well as articles on all aspects of writing for children and young adults, interviews with authors and publishers, my editorials on the nature of the business and what new writers can do to break in, and articles on the business side of publishing (how to write a query letter, how to do research in the Internet, etc.) We try to provide articles each month for both the beginning and more experienced writer, and cover both fiction and nonfiction. You can receive the newsletter through the mail (paper version) or electronically. For subscribers living outside the U.S., I highly recommend the electronic version. You’ll get it much sooner each month, and you’ll save money.
This book covers the different age categories of children’s books, and gives you everything you need to know to get started as a children’s writer. From the most basic aspects of writing for kids all the way through the intricacies of the submissions process, Career Starter is packed with solid, up-to-date information. It tells, in detail, how magazine articles and books get published; answers the questions “Do I need an agent?” and “Do I need an illustrator?”; offers a comprehensive look at point of view, dialogue, theme, plot, humor and setting, and a complete glossary of common publishing terms; gives an in-depth look at picture books, easy readers, middle grade, young adult, nonfiction and every other kids’ book genre; guides you through the submissions process, and tells you exactly how to prepare your manuscript for publishers; and gives great writing exercises that will improve your work dramatically.
Is there really anything you can do to improve your chances of getting published? Improving the Odds is a collection of my best CBI articles focusing on the “little things” that can make a huge difference in determining whether you get rejection letters….or a publishing contract.
I’ve Written a Story. What Do I Do Now? – a Write4Kids eBook
This eBook covers the ins and outs of the submission process, so your manuscript will have the best chance of being read by the right editor.
Perfect for new subscribers or those who just want to catch up on issues they’ve missed, the archives include all of CBI for years 2001-2005 in a fully-searchable, online format.
A collection of the best interviews CBI has done over the years, featuring award-winning authors and illustrators, and top editors.
Exclusive to CBI, this book tells you exactly how to write a query letter, book proposal or cover letter, and gives actual examples of letters authors have used to sell their work to publishers. Available in hard copy or eBook format.
The three workbooks, Plot Workshop, Character Workshop and Brainstorming Workshop, can be purchased separately or as a set, in either hard copy or eBook formats. Each book is comprised of in-depth writing exercises that focus on a specific aspect of writing fiction, and are designed to help you flesh out your characters, develop your plot, or come up with unique ideas. You can pick and choose the exercises so you’ll get the direction you need.
Aneeta: As you may know, many of my readers are from Asia and Africa. Many times, I’ve heard parents here say that the children’s stories from the West do not really apply to the Asian way of life. Many Asians I know would love to compile their own tales – both those told to them by their own mothers and the ones they tell their own children. But, the standard answer/reply they get when they approach publishers is, “there’s no market in the West for this.” What advice would you give to those aspiring storytellers who would like to venture into publishing their own children’s tales steeped in Asian and African culture?
Laura: I think there is a market in the west for both Asian and African stories. Publishers want both traditional stories, and those set in modern times. I think with any story the key is to find the universal, timeless theme that will transcend culture. For example, sibling rivalry is something children of every country can relate to, and if the characters are appealing, and their conflicts are believable, the story will apply across the globe.
Aneeta: Laura, this is good advice which I am sure my readers will benefit from. Well, I think this is all I have to ask you. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Laura: Good writing, just like universal themes, transcends culture. If you learn to write well, you can apply those skills to any type of book. Also, publishers in the U.S. are very open to submissions from authors abroad. I do suggest that those authors ask that their manuscripts be recycled, rather than mailed back, if the publisher isn’t interested, because it’s so difficult for overseas authors to provide postage in U.S. stamps for the manuscript’s return. But if you provide an email address, and ask that publishers email you with their response, you’ll hear back from them.
Developing the skills necessary to write a truly good children’s book takes time. Those who are successful are those who see the entire process as a lifelong journey. They are passionate about writing itself, and enjoy reading books on writing, revising their stories, attending classes, and constantly absorbing the techniques in good, published books. If you’re one of those people, you will get published.
Aneeta: Thank you, once again, Laura.
Laura: Thank you! It was a pleasure.
This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.