I have already written about the inspirational keynote address Margriet Ruurs gave at the recent Prairie Horizons Conference for children’s writers. She also did an interview with writer Alice Kuipers. Here are ten things I learned from Margriet during the conference that I want to remember as I continue to write for children.
1. Possibilities for stories are everywhere. “There are so many books out there just waiting for you to write them. Stay curious. Keep your eyes, ears and mind open and it will take a lifetime to run out of things to write about.” Margriet told us she has lined notebooks where she collects ideas.
2. While it is important for children’s books to address pressing social issues we need fun and silly books too, books brimming with happiness that aren’t filled with hidden messages and meanings. Margriet says about 90% of the books she reviews are issue-based.
3. The first draft of a book is often the easiest to write. It is easier to cut words from your manuscript than it is to add them. Sometimes editing can take years.
4. In order to keep publishing it seems best to have more than one project on the go at a time. Margriet is often working on five or six projects.
5. Doing extensive research is important even for fiction and poetry. Search for information on many different websites and look carefully at the source of the information to be sure it is authentic and trustworthy. Margriet said one of her books took seven years to research.
6. Ultimately you are not selling your book to kids but to the adults who are going to buy the book for them.
7. Most publishers expect you to have a social media presence and to promote your book online. Since Margriet has not been able to travel or do author visits in person during the pandemic she has used the time to work on her website. She keeps a blog about her travels.
8. Being stubborn is a valuable trait in a writer because you will get lots of rejections. Margriet has written more than a hundred children’s stories and only forty of them have been published. She talked about a binder of rejected manuscripts. On its spine, are the words, “Only those who persist are published.”
9. Being a children’s author takes lots of courage. Margriet says you need to give yourself a prize every time you submit a book because it means you have been brave. She admitted she has some manuscripts she is scared to submit.
10. You can’t count on your past track record as a children’s author. Every piece you submit has to have legs of its own. It is never easy to get published. The rejections won’t magically stop so you have to really believe in your story.
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