Picture Book Summit Inside Scoop With Laura Backes
Are you a teacher or librarian interested in publishing? Be sure to find out what Laura Backes, co-founder of Children’s Book Insider, has to say to you! (And don’t miss her free gift to educators below!)
Laura is also co-creator of WriteForKids, a site about children’s books and the publishing industry, and Picture eBook Mastery, a course on how to use Amazon’s KDP Kids’ Book Creator software to create illustrated ebooks for children. She is a 29-year veteran of the publishing industry, has worked in publicity, subsidiary rights, and as a literary agent and freelance editor. She’s the author of Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read (Random House), and technical editor of Writing Children’s Books for Dummies (Wiley). Many of her articles have been featured in The Writer and Writer’s Digest magazines, Children’s Writer’s and Illustrators’ Market, and to top it all off she has consulted on children’s apps created for branded characters by www.LivoBooks.com. Laura lives in Fort Collins, CO with her husband/business partner Jon, and their teenage son Matt.
Read Laura’s interview to find out more about educators becoming authors!
Why do teachers or librarians make great authors?
Teachers and librarians have a tremendous advantage in that they spend so much time every day with their potential readers. They see kids in all kinds of situations; in the classroom, on the playground, in the cafeteria, and even before and after school. They can observe children and teens when they are at their most unguarded and authentic moments. And they are very familiar with how their students see the world and react to it at different ages. Every successful children’s book author needs to tap into the child’s worldview. Teachers get to do this on a daily basis.
Also, teachers (and especially librarians) know first-hand what kids like to read, and what they don’t. They see what holds the attention of young readers, and what kinds of books kids are asking for that might not exist yet. By simply doing their jobs, teachers and librarians are conducting the very market research every writer needs to be doing.
And finally, people who go into the educational field do so because they love children! And they love learning and want to help children expand their minds and reach their full potential. Those are the same reasons many children’s book authors get into writing in the first place. So teachers and librarians have a lot in common with successful authors.
If you’re a teacher, how do you know if writing might be for you?
A lot of teachers know they are also writers because they’re constantly inspired by their students with story ideas. They may notice an event in their classroom and suddenly they see an entire plot unfolding in their imagination. But sometimes, the writing bug sneaks up on you. You may find yourself jotting down bits of overheard dialogue, or making a list of books your kids love that you want to read again in your spare time. Or maybe you observe a situation in a child’s life and long to show that child how to handle that situation through a story. Perhaps you’re passionate about a nonfiction topic and wish there were more books on that subject that appealed to the age group you teach. Writers start writing for many different reasons. But very often, it’s simply giving yourself the permission to write and see where it takes you.
Educators are notoriously underpaid. What are some inexpensive tools/resources for them to learn about the craft of writing?
One of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck (writing-craft wise) is to attend a writing conference. And if you want to learn how to write picture books, Picture Book Summit is as cost-effective as it gets. It’s the first completely online picture book conference, so there are no travel costs involved for attendees. You don’t even have to hire a baby-sitter!
The keynote speakers are author Mac Barnett, author/illustrator Peter Brown, and author/editor Andrea Davis Pinkney. Most people reading this are probably familiar with these award-winning picture book creators. I’m involved in organizing the Summit (and I’ll be teaching a workshop on how to write the 500-word picture book). My co-organizers, Emma Walton Hamilton, Julie Hedlund and Katie Davis will also be teaching classes.
Picture Book Summit will be held on October 3, and anyone registered will have access to the recording of the entire event that they can watch at any time.
It’s perfect for teachers because it’s on a Saturday, but if they can’t attend live they can watch the replay videos at any time. And because there’s no travel it doesn’t require time off work.
Of course, KidLit TV is an outstanding resource for anyone interested in writing, or who just loves children’s books. I especially like the interviews with authors and illustrators and industry professionals. Hearing from people who are doing what you dream of doing yourself is a great way to learn.
Kate Messner’s blog Teachers Write! is a very supportive online community of teacher/writers, and a good place to get encouragement if you’re just starting out.
I’m putting the finishing touches on an ebook called Teacher to Teacher: Advice for Educators Who Want to Write for Children–From Educators Who Already Do! We surveyed our readers who are both educators and published authors, and asked their best tips for other teachers who want to write.
It’s a terrific book, and we’re giving it away for free! Any educator can go to http://bit.ly/ktv-teachers to reserve their copy, which will be emailed to them as soon as it’s available.
Teachers are so busy grading papers and creating lesson plans, how do they work writing into their hectic schedules?
Many teacher authors I know use their classroom as their writing laboratory. This doesn’t mean taking time away from their students, but rather using their passion for writing as a way to get their students excited about writing as well. For example, during class time when the kids are working on writing assignments, the teacher may be sitting at her desk working on her own story. Then she shares her work at the same time her students share theirs. Or, when demonstrating to students how to revise their writing, a teacher might use his own writing as an example and ask students for advice on how it could be rewritten. This often takes the stigma out of the revision process when the children see that even adults need feedback on their work.
I also know many teachers who carry a small notebook with them at all times, and jot down anything that inspires them during the day: scraps of dialogue, notes on playground interactions, observations on how kids interact. This applies to teachers of any subject, not just English. Art teachers may record which activities most engage their students. Science teachers observe which children are excited about science, and which ones struggle (and if there are any surprises as to who falls into each group). These notes can form the basis of characters and plots when those teachers finally have a block of time to write.
What are the biggest obstacles teachers find to becoming published?
The obstacles teachers face are the same obstacles any aspiring writer faces. First, finding time to write when you have a job and perhaps a family. That’s a struggle for anyone, and it takes discipline and determination to carve out writing time. Teachers tend to have blocks of time off during holidays and the summer, which is a big advantage. Second, learning the craft. Teachers need to learn the difference between the various age groups of children’s and young adult books, and how each type of book is written. But again, so does anyone else entering the children’s book writing arena. Teachers actually have fewer obstacles in several areas. Educational publishers–who publish both fiction and nonfiction for the school and library market–often give preference to authors who are educators. And if you’re writing a nonfiction book on the subject you teach, you have instant credibility as an author.
All in all, the jump from teacher to author is a natural fit for many people. And think of how impressed your students will be when they can buy your book at the school book fair!