The children’s writing community is extremely supportive. There are people out there who will read your work for absolutely nothing (see free-tiques, I am one such crazy person). And there are many more who’ll read your work if you read theirs. This is a very common practice in our children’s writing world. I strongly advocate finding a critique partner or group who can serve as your sounding board as you work on your books. How do you find one? They say birds of a feather ….
That’s right. There are many places online and in the real world where children’s writers flock. If you can afford a membership to the Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCBWI), I suggest you join. It’s the largest organization of children’s writers out there. Cost is about $80/year. The publications published by SCBWI alone are worth your first year’s membership. Look for a document called “The Book” once you join.
Plus you’ll receive nominal discounts to SCBWI events. If you can’t afford a membership, then try to find local SCBWI events in your area. Some are free, and some are pretty cheap to attend. But no matter what you do, when you go to an event, meet people! There will probably be someone there who writes in the same formats and genres you do. If you hit it off, you may have just found your next critique buddy, or maybe he or she belongs to a critique group that welcomes new members. SCBWI also has a more formalized way of hooking you up to a critique partner through the network if you’re a member.
If you’re curious you can also find out how I found my critique buddies. Read post, how I found my critique partners.
Online Children’s Writer Communities
But let’s say your sickeningly shy or you live on a deserted island (yet somehow you have great Internet service.) Never fear. The 3Ws is a great place to meet other children’s writers. Here are the places where people like you congregate. You’ll often see postings for manuscript exchanges here. Please do not ask authors to take a quick peek at your manuscript and dump their manuscripts on them – that includes me. You will be amazed by the number of LinkedIn requests I get where somehow people believe I have nothing better to do than to give them opinions about their work whenever they need it.
The proper way to get people to read your work is to offer to do a manuscript exchange or swap. Let people know what type of book your work is (e.g., humorous rhyming picture book or fantasy YA novel) and offer to look at their manuscripts in exchange.
- The SCBWI Blue Boards is a great place to see if anyone wants to do a swap.
- Facebook groups in your genre or format
- Google up any number of forums and watch what happens
There are many specialized groups out there. Make social networks and communities your friends.
Be warned: there are published authors, editors and agents subscribing to these lists. So behave. Don’t flame people. Follow proper message board and social media etiquette, and you’ll find people will be more than willing to help you out.
Finally, there is one more website that’s notable. Say you really want to go deep undercover. There’s a place called Critique Circle. Here the people deal crits out like people deal crack. Sounds good? Another warning: posting your work up for anyone to see isn’t necessarily a good idea. There are also concerns about copyright when your stuff is posted to a website. The C Liu opinion? If you want to get a critique on your writing ability via Critique Circle, write something up – a few paragraphs that look good to you (something you don’t intend on selling) and see what other people think. They might just point out your weaknesses. I wouldn’t post your real stuff up there if you can help it.
Another way to get feedback on your writing is to take a class. Many universities offer extension programs taught by published children’s writers. You can even get a degree in writing for children. Again this will take money, so if you’re on a budget get a critique partner and leverage free resources online. Generally, I wouldn’t recommend spending all that money on a degree unless you plan to use it to teach or you need to spend gobs of money to incent yourself to take this seriously.
Say, after all this, you still don’t have someone to look at your work. Well, you can pay someone to read your stuff. The people who do this are called book doctors or manuscript consultants or freelance editors. These titles all mean the same thing. Freelance editors are usually published authors or former editors who used to work at publishing houses. Their rates generally run at a buck per page and up. Shorter works like picture books typically have flat fees. If you’re a beginner, I’d hold off. There’s plenty of free advice out there. Once you learn the ropes, you’ll find you may not need one. Or if you think you still do, you’ll be in a better position to judge whether or not you’re getting good feedback or getting ripped off.
If you’re in a hurry and you want to learn right away, and you have the money, then definitely go this route. But there’s one thing Cynthea Liu begs you to keep in mind: never think you’ll get published just because you paid someone to look at your book. If you’re going the self-publishing route, I’ll add this: never think you’ll sell lots of books just because you paid someone to look at your book before you published it.
Last but not least, there’s another kind of critique you can get. They’re not always very useful (irony!), but it can give you an idea of what an editor will say about your work, straight from his or her own mouth. Yup, editors will pony up a critique if you show them the money. For a fee (usually $35 and up), you can have a certain number of pages reviewed by one. These critiques are usually offered at SCBWI events and other conferences for children’s writers. Read post, top do’s and don’ts: attending a children’s writer and illustrator conference. My recommendation is to get at least one of these in your lifetime. If anything, it’s a chance for you to meet a real editor face-to-face and talk briefly about your work. And hallelujah, if you’ve written something amazing. Your search for the perfect editor might end right there.
Now back to reality. Go to step five – find an agent.