Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: WRITING CHILDREN'S BOOKS FOR DUMMIES by Lisa Rojany Buccieri and Peter Economy

First Paragraph: For many, dreams of writing or illustrating a children’s book remain just that—dreams—because they soon find out that writing a really good children’s book is hard. Not only that, but actually getting a children’s book published is even harder. If you don’t know the conventions and styles, if you don’t speak the lingo, if you don’t have someone to advocate for your work, or if you or your manuscript don’t come across as professional, you’ll be hard pressed to get your manuscript read and considered, much less published. 

Today, we're discussing our first ever nonfiction book, Esteemed Reader, but it's one I think you might find useful. I certainly did and I wish this book had been available when I started writing books for children and was far closer to being a dummy than a Ninja:)

Truth be told, I put this review off a bit as I'm not quite sure how to go about it. First, the book took me a time to read. A reference book is not easily plowed through like a fiction novel (I'll be lucky if Doctor Sleep, released Tuesday, lasts me to the weekend, and I'm reading two other books simultaneously for this blog). Also, there's no narrative to discuss and picking out favorite descriptions seems to me to be missing the point:)

The book is wonderfully organized and indexed. I've been a big fan of the For Dummies books for years and I've got six of them already in my home on topics I've been interested in. Among my favorites are English Grammar For Dummies (not that you'd know it if you read this blog) and Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies For Dummies, both equally useful in their own ways. I've even taken a shot at editing them as Wiley Publishing has a hub I pass every morning on my way to my day job.

If you've read a For Dummies book previously, you have a pretty good idea what to expect already and Writing Children's Books For Dummies doesn't disappoint. It gives us a concise overview of both writing a book and publishing it and features an interview with our old friend Peggy Tierney as well as cover shots of Ashfall and Ashen Winter, which made Mike Mullin happy when I told him. 

Between the interviews and the advice sprinkled throughout, this book is valuable to a hardened Ninja as well as a newbie. But much of the book is dedicated to the basics, which is as it should be. These portions may not be of interest to you, Esteemed Reader. As you're reading a blog called Middle Grade Ninja, you presumably know what middle grade is. But everyone has to start somewhere and this book is great for a new-comer. Still, whether veteran or newbie, you have to love this definition of middle grade:

Middle-grade fiction and nonfiction books are what many of us remember reading from our childhoods. These are the first books we read that were long and detailed and complex and dealt with subject matter that was much more intriguing (and potentially much more divisive) than most children’s picture books.

And if you're curious how that differs from young adult, this book's got you covered:

Young adult books fall into two main age groups: YA appropriate for children ages 12 and up, and YA for children 14 and up. While each YA novel differs from the next, we can attribute the split in age ranges most of the time to five issues: sexual intercourse, foul language, drug use, extreme physical violence, and graphic abuse. Those YA novels that overtly and unashamedly deal with these topics are usually saved for the older kids. 

If you lack the funds to attend a writer's conference, pick up a copy of this book. Better yet, read this book, then go to a conference. If you've been writing for years, you might not expect there to be anything in this book for you, but you'd be wrong. There are plenty of fresh ideas sprinkled in among the basics:

If you haven’t recently spent any time around children, why not head back to school? You could be there in an official capacity, perhaps as the coach at a community center or a nearby school, or even as a teacher at your local church or synagogue. Many volunteers give their time and expertise for altruistic reasons, and you can say you do, too, while secretly gathering material from children by hanging out with them in a way benefiting both of you.  They get an adult to oversee and guide activities, and you get to observe them on the sly, mercilessly using them for the material and ideas they contribute to your idea notebook.

If the ideas won't do it for you, surely the advice of experts will. I love this quote from an interview with book buyer Jennifer Christopher Randle: 

Middle-grade fiction has little to no illustration to support it. I always ask myself, “Can I see it?” If I can’t picture my protagonist in the story he’s starring in, then I would pass. I have a very active imagination, so if I can’t picture your world, what chance does a ten-year-old have?

I'd recommend Writing Children's Books For Dummies to anyone and I'm glad to have a copy on my shelf. Do yourself a favor, Esteemed Reader, and get your own copy. As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Writing Children's Books For Dummies:

Although we wish the world of literary agents was all fluffy bunnies, sweetness, and light, we’re here to tell you that it can sometimes be ugly. Although many children’s book agents and agencies are completely reputable, ethical, and honest, there are some whose primary goal is to devise efficient and effective ways to separate you from your hard-earned cash.

Of the many grown-ups who stand between you and your audience (children), agents and acquisitions editors or publishers are the first ones you must impress. An agent serves as the eyes and ears for the publishers and acquisitions editors—and all three are looking for the same qualities: a unique, well written, absolutely worth-the-effort, gotcha! manuscript. 

A great way to understand how children in your target age group think is to read them and then have a question-and-answer session. You can do this with children who are as young as three or four years of age, depending on how verbal they are and how accustomed they are to speaking in front of other kids (preschoolers are ideal for this kind of exercise because they love to raise their hands , give their opinions—often in great and meandering detail—and listen to themselves speak to an adult who actually cares what they have to say).

Don’t overuse the passive voice (“to be” verbs). If you want to keep your characters interesting, your plots active, and your writing strong, avoid overusing the passive voice.

According to the Association of American Publishers, children’s and young adult e-book titles surged 475.1 percent from January 2011 to January 2012, to a total of $22.6 million. Long story short, if you’ve been thinking of self publishing your own e-book, we would say that you are at the right place at just the right time.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: All reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own. 


  1. I've always loved the Dummies books, but you're some point you've already heard all of this, so much of it is a recitation of the same facts. I do like the slightly humorous spin Dummies books often have. Reference books don't have to be boring!

  2. Excellent .. Amazing .. I’ll bookmark your blog and take the feeds also…I’m happy to find so many useful info here in the post, we need work out more techniques in this regard, thanks for sharing. Children fiction picture book


Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.