June 2012


Pardon the cliche, but writing alphabet books is definitely not as simple as ABC. I do think it’s very rewarding, however, probably because of the sense of accomplishment it brings when you’re able to meet the challenge. I also think writing ABC books could be the most fun I’ve ever had writing.

For those children’s writers out there who want to try to tackle this niche, I’d like to lay out 5 important steps I’ve learned along the way as I’ve attempted to construct my own ABC books for publication (I currently have a few in the works, but haven’t polished any enough to market them yet). Because the first step is lengthy, but very important, I will only cover this one in today’s post.

1. Research publishers

It’s tempting to think that you could just dive into an ABC book without much regard for where you’ll send it when you’ve finished. But publishers nowadays are rather particular about their alphabet books.

Your first step needs to be scouring the market guides for children’s book publishers who buy ABC books, and then determine what style of book they prefer. Unfortunately, I’ve found that not all publishers list alphabet books in the list of books they acquire when they submit their information to a market guide. That means you’ll have to dig deeper.

You can either do an internet search with combined key words such as “alphabet books,” “publishers,” “writers guidelines,” or you can identify some specific publishers and go to their websites to see if there are any alphabet books listed. If you don’t see any alphabet books on a publisher’s site, don’t bother querying them. There’s a reason that the publisher has decided not to carry them.

Once you determine which publishers do have alphabet books, you want to look at the style of those books. Some publishers may carry several different types of ABC books, while others may have one distinct style that all their ABC books follow. Based on the style they use, you may decide that particular publisher is not a good fit for you.

I remember coming across one publisher who did all their alphabet books in a two-tiered format, where one page of the two-page spread is to be read at the child’s level, by the child, while the other page contains more detailed information that is to be read by the parent. I knew that I only wanted to write to the child, so I bypassed that publisher.

You may also discover that some publishers only carry rhyming ABC books, while others never buy rhyming ABC books. Others may have ABC book series–animals, weather, transportation, etc. that your book would have to somehow fit into. All this to say that researching potential alphabet book publishers is crucial unless you have extra time on your hands to waste in writing a book that you won’t have a publishing audience for.

Once you’ve compiled a list of publishers that (a) purchase alphabet books and (b) have a style of ABC book you want to write, you then need to check their submission guidelines. They may have specifics on what they are currently looking for in regards to alphabet books. For instance, if you learn that a publisher produces ABC books in series, you can find out if they are open to a new series of themes or if you must write a book within a current series.

This information isn’t always available on their website, so you may need to query the editor, or even shoot him or her a quick email asking if they’re open to new series ideas or if there’s any particular ABC book they’d like to see for their upcoming book list. You may or may not get a response, but what I’ve learned is that it never hurts to ask. If they don’t answer you, nothing lost; if they do answer you, you typically will gain some real nuggets of information.

Once you’ve done your publisher research, you’re ready for Step #2, which is choosing your topic.

I’ll take a look at that and Step #3 (picking specific words) next time.

 

It’s great “to have written,” but not always so great “having to write.” It’s even worse when you do have to write–because of a school or work project or publishing deadlines–as opposed to just wanting to write for the fun of it. And, when everyone’s lives are busier than ever, how do you carve out that precious, uninterrupted, creative time when you can be alone with only your thoughts and your computer? That’s what I hope to help you with here.

Writing is like laundry: it won’t just do itself. It must be intentional, and intentionally planned. If you’re waiting for the perfect creative moment to occur in an untainted environment, you’ll never put pen to paper. Of course, those sudden surges of inspiration will come–often in unexpected and unplanned times and places. But you can’t always count on those. You just have to be ready when they do. But there are a few things you can do to help cultivate an environment for such creative moments.

1. Be intentional about when you write. The importance of time management when it comes to writing can’t be understated. In an earlier post I talked about how to eliminate time wasters and manage your time with ideas on how to schedule your time and block off portions of your day to dedicate to writing. Just as important as scheduling blocks of time is making sure those are quality time blocks. You may think that the only time you can squeeze into your day to write is first thing in the morning before heading off to your “real” job or the last thing at night after all your other duties are complete. But if this is not quality time for you and you’re unable to think because you’re too tired, you’d be better off using that time to sleep!

Make sure the time you choose for yourself is a time when you feel you are generally most alert and creative. If you’re unable to schedule writing time then, break up that time into shorter pieces to brainstorm and write notes for what you want to expound on later. It’s best to capture your thoughts while they’re flowing than to try to force them when they don’t want to come out of hiding!

If the middle of the day is good for you but you work a 9-5 job, perhaps use your lunchtime to write. If you can’t actually write during your quality time, maybe you can save your thoughts on a voice recorder to listen to and put on paper later. Once you find your quality time, work to make it as long of a block of time as possible so you’re not continually re-focusing your energy on other tasks.

2. Be intentional about where you write. I’ve heard of writing moms who have been known to lock themselves in the bathroom or laundry room just to get a few paragraphs written. While this may do in a pinch, it’s probably not a good long-term, consistent plan. Where you write is important. Many writers choose to stay at home in comfortable and familiar surroundings. But, as I discussed in my post on Overcoming Distractions While Working from Home, this option can have its challenges.

Whether you write from home, in a coffee shop, on the beach, or at a mountain retreat, it needs to be a place where you can stay focused and be creative. Also, to be intentional, it should be somewhere that you can plan on going consistently where you know you’ll be able to enjoy a good chunk of writing time. If you choose a place that’s quiet as a cave one day but bursting with energy and noise the next, and you’re not adaptable to those changes, you’ll just end up frustrated.

I usually suggest to writers who are just starting to become intentional about their writing habits to take some time to scout out various writing locations around their area. What they think may be a great place to write might be horrible once they actually go there just for the purpose of writing.

3. Be intentional about what you write. Creative surges aside, when you sit down in your pre-planned time and space to get busy writing, you should always have a goal of what you want to accomplish. Not knowing where you are going with your writing will get you nowhere. Your goal might be to write the introduction to your nonfiction book. Or, maybe it’s to compile your research into an outline for a magazine article. Or, maybe you have a goal of a certain number of pages or words you want to write.

Determine what your goal will be each time you prepare to write. This will help you stay on task, and it will give you a sense of accomplishment. It’s too easy to look at what you still have to do and think you’ll never finish, but seeing what you’ve already completed can be a huge motivator.

Three easy, but important steps to becoming intentional, and therefore, effective in your writing. How about you? What have you found that works best to making sure you get the quality writing time in you need?