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 $75/year ($60 for renewal) at the time of this post. The publications published by SCBWI alone are worth your first year’s membership. 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 categories 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 DSL service.) Never fear. The Internet 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. (Note: please do not ask authors to take a quick peek at your manuscript. 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.)
- Verla Kay’s message board (also known as Blue Board) * – this place rocks!
- SCBWI discussion boards – membership required
- CW List on Yahoo Groups
There are many more specialized lists out there but this is a great start.
Be warned: there are published authors, editors and agents subscribing to these lists. So behave. Don’t flame people or ask silly questions that are already answered on the boards. Follow proper message board 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 here 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.
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. Book doctors are usually published authors or former editors. 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. 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.
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 her own mouth. Yup, editors will pony up a critique if you show them the money. For a fee (usually $25 bucks 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.