Sunday, April 13, 2014

Writing Children's Books

A friend mentioned her daughter wants to write children's books. She needs to know how to get started, and she can illustrate her own work.

So, I decided this would be a good topic for discussion here.

Children's books are a category I haven't tackled yet, though I consider most of my stuff young adult [14 and up]. However, I looked up some good links and have posted several on Facebook. For those who didn't see them, I'll list them again.

Writing Nuts and Bolts

Generally, for any kind of writing, the first place I send folks is Writer's Digest. When I was growing up, my mother and sister kept a copy of their Writer's Market handy for sending their stuff to publishers. It was heavy enough to break your foot if you dropped it! Back then, there were a lot of con artists out there, and if you submitted your book to them, you were in for trouble. They wanted money. Then they wanted more money. You eventually found out, the scam artist took your book and your money, and didn't publish it. So, Writer's Market was the only way to know if a publisher was reputable. There have always been reputable vanity publishers, but it was an expensive process back then.

Writer's Market Online
How to submit your book to a conventional publisher. NOTE: There is a big difference in publishers. The ones in the bookstore pay the author Vanity Publishers want money to publish your work, and there are many scams out there. Read up and know the difference!

Writer's Digest Online
Same folks that publish the Writer's Market. Excellent source of info about writing and publishing in general.
If you explore the site, you'll learn a lot about the writing business, and there's a lot of help for new writers. There are many articles for folks who want to publish children's books, such as the following:

"Self-Publishing a Children's Book" from Writer's Digest
This article talks about reputable sources for self-publishing [also called "indie publishing", or independent publishing].

Writing Tutorials from Writer's Digest

I love the "For Dummies" kind of books, and there's even one of them, though I haven't read it:
Writing Children's Books For Dummies

Tutorials from ...For Dummies

I submitted my stories to publishers for years, but odds are small you will be 'discovered' that way. If you can market yourself well and develop a following, your chances are a lot better, but still small. No one has come up with a magic formula to get yourself published quickly. As with any worthy profession, it takes practice, hard work, and persistence to make your dreams a reality! Never, never give up! There is nothing wrong with submitting to publishers, hoping that they will buy your book. Competition is very steep. Editorial assistants are the folks who first read your manuscript, as they ride the bus to work, or while eating. This is something they do during breaks, or off time. They are paid to do other things. So, you submit, and your manuscript waits for its turn for a read. If an assistant likes it, he or she passes it up the chain. If they all like it, The Editor reads it, and has buying power!

Advice to New Writers Submitting:

1. Take the guidelines seriously. When submitting to one publisher, they might like a printed manuscript. Another might accept your book as an email submission. If you email it to an editor who wants print, you won't be read.

2. Make your first page count. Most editors and their readers base their decision to keep reading on that first paragraph, or if you are lucky, the whole first page. Make your book the best it can be. Read on.

3. Make sure it looks good. Read up on your English grammar. Use your spellchecker, but don't count on it. Know your spelling. Nothing gets a manuscript rejected faster than a spelling or grammar error on the first page.

4. Writer, know thy word processor. Learn how to set your margins, and follow the guidelines for the particular publisher. Nothing irritates an editor more than having to squeeze his notes onto a 1" margin when he wants to have 1 1/2" margins to write in. If your book is purchased, many editors and other folks who make the books happen need that space for their notes. Don't use too many fonts [those print looks like Times New Roman or Arial, or my favorite, Georgia, made at Georgia Tech where I once worked]. It's best to use one or maybe two fonts at most, for headings and body text. I use Georgia for all. But some publishers still want Courier New [which looks like typewriter print]. It's their eyes. They read all day long, and it makes their job easier to see a 'standard' print that's easy to read. For font size, 10 or 12 is good.

5. For artwork, see Artists' Market here:
If it's just a book cover, the publisher usually designs one from your description. If you are doing an illustrated children's book, you should spend some time reading articles here for advice.

Publishing Your Own Book: Keep Your Cover Simple
I personally use CreateSpace for my print paperback books. They have many excellent articles to help a new person learn formatting, etc.

My advice comes from publishers' guidelines, my sister, and other writers. All I know about writing, I learned from them.

As far as the writing process, consider this sage advice:

Use your life experiences. If you've been through something traumatic, all of it is ready for you to use with a character, as long as it isn't recognizable by your friends, co-workers, or relatives. I recently had a biopsy of a lump on my neck [which turned out to be just an infected lymph node]. This experience will probably make it into a story soon

Tools for the Writer

OpenOffice     Cost: Free
If you're self-publishing on a budget, or dealing with a publisher, you need a quality word processor for your words. Microsoft Word is the standard, but the recent versions have gotten too complicated for me. I migrated to Open Office last year, and I like it better. It is simpler, and there are many tutorials out there to learn how to use it. It is free! And, it can read Word files. It can save files as Office 97 format, which is easily readable by everyone.

Copyright and You
Don't ever underestimate the importance of your copyright. When you first put ink to paper, or electronic bytes onto a document, your manuscript is copyrighted. Know your rights, and know how not to infringe on others' copyrights. As you get into the publishing world, you will need to prove that you wrote or created your artwork. Make sure to keep intermediate versions of your work. This is how I proved to that I wrote the stories I have up on Kindle; I submitted my previous versions of my stories. Keep all your stuff together and keep backup copies at a relative's house. I still have all the manuscripts I submitted to publishers, but my electronic copies were good enough for Amazon.

Be careful of that [insert brand name] of beverage you have your character drinking. When I learned the pitfalls of mentioning brand names, I decided it was easier to just make up my own. I moved the setting of one story from the well-known Wal-Mart to my fake store, The Discounter. If I ever get around to contacting Wal-Mart for permission, I might change it back. Be especially careful of song can get sued, because Fair Use [see above link] is extremely short and risky. If you see brand-name stuff in a movie, usually, the company is paid by the movie outfit so they can show it. They might bill you if you don't get permission. Celebrities are also a touchy area. Either go to the trouble to contact them, or don't use their name-product-quote-lyrics-or whatever.

In the case of using background music for your book trailer, consider producing your own or pay a royalty  to the music publisher for the music, and maybe a separate fee for the lyrics, if used. See:


Licensing Music

Tools for the 3D Enthusiast

Want to do your own book cover? CreateSpace has an easy to use Cover Creator which is free to use. But if you want to design your own from scratch, and or do your own illustrations, here are several tools I use:

Gimp             Cost: Free
If you are designing your own book cover, it is easy to save your artwork to a particular size file, for your print book format. You can save it in a dazzling variety of formats, from .tif to .png to the old familiar .jpg
The .png format will preserve any layers you have created. There are many tutorials on how to use it on YouTube. I have a lot of tutorial authors for various softwares I use on my DanniStories YouTube Channel, see link below.  You may be familiar with Photoshop, that old Adobe standard, but I never used it because I could never afford it! Photoshop does a lot more than retouch your scanned photographs. I watched a tutorial on how to change a model's appearance recently, and was shocked at all that can be done to her! The tutor showed how to select the girl from the wall behind her, and carefully select her waist to make it a bit longer, and to make her slightly taller! The lines between 2D [flat] art and 3D [three-dimensional art that simulates height, width and depth, and can be positioned against a background] are blurring. Gimp claims to be comparable to Photoshop, but I can only go by other's opinions. I just know Gimp can do everything I need to do to produce a book cover, along with my other tools.

Vue:           Cost: Free version to play with, which has a big watermark.
For beautiful backgrounds, this software is awesome! You can create atmospheres [sky] with clouds, fog, haze, etc. Terrains for plains, mountains, or alien landscapes. Add buildings, or people from various sites or create them in another software and import them in! Before you put up the $99 for Vue Frontier, you might try the free Vue Pioneer. It does everything Frontier does, but with a watermark. I fell in love with it, and my generous sister bought Vue Infinite for me, which is the next step up from Frontier. I am doing animated bits with it to use in my book trailers on YouTube [stay tuned to my DanniStories Channel!]. The version of Vue with the most bells and whistles, Vue Infinite, is used by many major film companies to do Computer Generated Animation [with many other software packages]. As I am discovering, it takes many parts in a chain to produce even a book cover that matches what I see in my head.

DAZ3D Studio          Cost:Free
If you don't want to cajole your friends into participating in a book cover shoot, the next best thing is DAZ3D Studio. It's free, and you can do a lot with it, once you learn how. There are tutorials on YouTube to learn how to tweak the characters that come with it to make realistic or cartoon faces, and pose them for your cover picture. I can take a picture of a background I created in Vue and import it, pose my characters, then export them to Vue for a higher-quality picture I can then crop for my cover. But, there are some things I can't do in DAZ, so I migrated to Poser, made by the same folks. As with my migration from Vue Pioneer to a more professional version, I found there was more to entice me in Poser. Unlike with Vue, DAZ3D Studio doesn't have watermarks, and comes with full permissions to use the people you create in book covers and animations.

Tutorials for DAZ3D Studio

Poser       Cost: $129
I love using Poser and just got Poser 10 for Christmas! I had a few problems running Poser 9 under Windows 8, but Poser 10 runs fine. I am ever-grappling with the twin-finger problem. You can alter heads a lot easier, including ears, noses, etc than you can hands. I am not skilled enough with 3D modeling to make my own people, so I depend on Poser. It sure subtracts time from my equation! I am eagerly working on new book covers for Home Is Not Home: Part 1 and Part 2. It's fun to create a character, find the right outfit to dress him or her in, and get just the right pose for the cover. I use a lot of free 3D models downloaded from various sites, and pay for a few. I am more skilled at writing than the art aspect, so I do a lot of downloading and searching for just the right prop. Not that there aren't enough included in either DAZ or Poser! But you always need something odd that isn't included. The big movie studios are also looking for the same models for their projects. Even they don't have unlimited budgets. They save their money for the models that are most important, and so do I.

Tutorials for Poser

Blender       Cost: Free
Make your own 3D models! There are many videos on YouTube to teach you how to use this excellent tool. Vue and Poser can import models created in several formats. Not for the faint of heart, this tool will take some study to use, but it can be relaxing and fun to play with. I have created a vase and decorations for Ryonne~'s diplomatic sash, and some stuff while following tutorials.

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