One of the best ways to learn about children’s writing is to study those writers who have become successful at children’s writing. This week I had the pleasure of interviewing bestselling author Bethany Roberts. You can see more information about Bethany’s delightful picture book for children Double Trouble Groundhog Day at www.bethanyroberts.com.
When did you know you wanted to write for children?
I’ve wanted to write for children for as far back as I can remember. In school, whenever teachers asked us to write an essay on what we wanted to be when we grew up, I always wrote that I wanted to be a children’s author.
How did you begin the exploration process to learn how to become a children's writer?
I was basically self-taught. I read stacks and stacks of children’s books and caught on sort of by osmosis. Over the years, though, I developed my skills by reading helpful “how-to” books, attending conferences, taking a class or two, learning from other writers, and gleaning as much as I could from editor comments.
How long have you been a children's writer?
My first book was published in 1984.
Do you remember when you knew when you were going to be successful as a children's writer?
In other words, what event happened that made you feel successful?
For me, there’s something about the magic number three- my third book finally made me feel “real.”
Do you have a literary agent and if yes how did you find him or her?
I do have a literary agent- although I didn’t for many years. I asked my writer friends, and found him through a friend of a friend.
What was the first book you ever sold to a traditional publisher? How did you select publishers to target for your submissions?
I sold my first book, Waiting-for-Spring Stories, to Harper Collins (then Harper and Row.) I read practically every book in the children’s library, and thought my manuscripts had the same “feel” as what they were publishing at the time. Apparently, they agreed!
Have you ever self-published a book? If not, would you consider doing so?
No, I have never self-published, and never would, as it’s too time-intensive to try to sell them. Unless someone is on the lecture tour, a person who self-publishes generally just ends up with a garage full of books.
How many books have you written? Of those, how many are commercially successful?
I’ve written 25 books so far. The most commercially successful have been the holiday mice books, especially Valentine Mice!, as well as A Mouse Told His Mother. Both are currently scheduled to be re-printed as board books.
Do you make a full-time living from children's writing? If not, in what other ways do you bring in income?
I write part-time. I supplement my income with an online gift shop and also help my husband with his business.
What top three things have you done that have helped you succeed as a children's writer?
1. Persist. My theory is, when the going gets tough, the tough submit- again, and again, and again.
2. Join. I helped found a writers’ group, and have belonged to a group ever since. It helps so much on every level- not just the critiquing, but sharing market tips and supporting each other emotionally.
3. Create Deadlines. When you work at home, there’s so much delightful distraction- friends and family, volunteer work, the garden…. I’ve always set deadlines for myself, although the “rules” change over time. When my children were small, I would write every day, as soon as my youngest stepped onto the kindergarten bus. At my peak, I would make myself write at least one new story every month, revise at least three, and keep twelve manuscripts submitted at all times. Now my deadlines revolve around our writers’ meetings. I need to have something to read to the group every time we meet.
Tell us about your book, Double Trouble Groundhog Day, what inspired you to write it? What inspired the story behind the book?
We have twins in the family, and I’ve always wanted to write a picture book with twins as the main characters- but could never think of the right plot. I also write a lot of holiday books, but had yet to do one about Groundhog Day. One day I was brain-storming- and the two ideas came together.
Why do you think children, families, teachers will love the book?
Children like humor and action, and Groundhog Day has both. Here’s what Kirkus Reviews had to say: “…with its simple explanation of Groundhog Day, this warm-hearted tale offers readers an entertaining introduction to an annual event.”
What advice would you give a beginning children's writer? What crucial mistake do you think a lot of beginning writers make in their careers?
My best advice? Don’t give up. I think too many talented people give up too soon. Keep reading, keep practicing your craft, keep submitting. I have lots more tips for writers on my web site at: http://www.bethanyroberts.com/ForWriters.htm.