In answer to that popular question, here are a dozen ways to make a children’s story more marketable (more likely to sell to a publisher):
1. Be sure the problem in your story is age appropriate for your character. A 6 year-old child, for example, needs a simple problem that a child this age would be concerned about. How to talk Mom and Dad into letting him get a dog, for example, or how to deal with a loose tooth, would be just right problems for this age. Having the child try to track down a murderer before the police do is NOT an appropriate problem for this age, however.
- Paragraph dialogue properly. Change paragraphs each time the speaker changes. If you don’t do this, editors will wonder if you’ve ever even READ a book, much less tried to write one.
3. Punctuate dialogue correctly. In some cases, punctuating dialogue can be a bit tricky, so learn how to punctuate dialogue correctly in all cases.
4. Avoid showing but then also telling something. You need to trust that your reader is smart enough to figure out what’s going on when you show something through action and/or dialogue. So don’t also tell the same information through straight narrative or exposition. I see writers do this all the time, though. And I’ve even done it myself. In fact, this is one of the first things I look for when I go back over a manuscript to do my first rewrite.
5. Write something with a specific market in mind rather than writing something and then trying to figure out a market/publsher to sell it to.
6. Make sure your story flows when read out loud, even if it isn’t a read aloud story. Quite often, you’ll find that simply changing the dialogue tag in a specific piece of dialogue makes all the difference in the way the story flows. Does John said at the beginning of a bit of dialogue really sound better than having the dialogue come first and then have it followed by the tag – said John? You might now know unless you read the story out loud.
7. Think in terms of “themes” when you’re writing. Many publications have themes like back-to-school, summer vacation, winter holidays, etc. Write something that would be perfect for a magazine issue that has one of these themes in mind. Also, check the guidelines to see if a magazine you want to write for has themed issues. Once you know what the themes are for the next year or so, figure out a story or article for one or more of the themes that interest you.
8. Be sure to include a variety of sensory details in your story. Otherwise, you story can sound like a summary. Sensory details help the reader feel as if he’s living the events right along with the characters instead of simply reading about them.
9. Avoid using names for your characters that begin with the same letter. If John, Joe, Jacob, and Jerry are all characters in your story, it will be hard for an editor (and readers) to keep them straight.
10. Be sure the dialogue in your story rings true and advances the plot. Nothing is worse than chatty dialogue that doesn’t move the story forward.
11. Watch for flat endings to your fiction. An ending can make or break a story, and make or break a sale, so be careful.
12. Avoid an ending where you simply “tell” what your character learned as he or she solved the overall story problem. Have the character do or say something that SHOWS this change or growth in the character
You might make a list of these tips, then use it as a checklist for each children’s story you write.
Suzanne Lieurance is an author, freelance writer, writing coach, speaker and workshop presenter. She is a former classroom teacher and was an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature for over 8 years.
Lieurance has written over two dozen published books and her articles and stories have appeared in various magazines, newsletters, and newspapers, such as Family Fun, Instructor, New Moon for Girls, KC Weddings, The Journal of Reading, and Children’s Writer to name a few. She offers a variety of coaching programs via private phone calls, teleclasses, listserv, and private email for writers who want to turn their love of writing (for children and/or adults) into a part-time or full-time career.