Last month, I posted a list of Mem Fox's DOs for children's books. She was kind enough to give me permission to share her DON'Ts this month. When Mem speaks, take my advice and listen...
DO NOT write down to children. If the story makes adults wince, it will make children wince too. Write always for extremely clever, well-adjusted, lively children. Young readers will appreciate the compliment.
DO NOT write about inanimate objects such as shoes, a coin, a kite, an ice-cube, a piece of sausage or similar. Stick to people, toys, animals, birds or engines.
DO NOT use alliterative names or titles, such Izzie the Ice Cube, Kenny the Koala or Tommy the Tired Teddy. Use names, which reveal something of the character.
DO NOT write your story in rhyme. Prose is more effective. Most editors detest rhyme.
DO NOT assume that plot is the most important element is a story, or even the only important element in a story. Character comes first. Next comes the precise choice of words and the correct rhythmic placement of those words. Then trouble…
DO NOT forget that the rhythm of the text is the element which will, or will not bring the reader back to the story again and again.
DO NOT write things like: he gasped, she spluttered, etc. Use the word said. The gasping and spluttering, etc., should be obvious from the situation, if the writing is effective.
DO NOT write a picaresque story merely filled with one episode after another, with no tension or problem or resolution.
DO NOT forget that if the writer couldn’t care less about the fate of the characters the readers couldn’t care less either, and the book will fail.
DO NOT write stories which end: ‘…and then they all woke up.’ Dreams as stories are frustrating and will certainly be rejected.
DO NOT write to teach. Heavy morals are detested by children and publishers alike.
DO NOT attempt to bring up other people’s children through your text.
DO NOT get the name of the children’s editor wrong when you send off a manuscript. Check the spelling by phoning the publisher, if possible.
DO NOT get the name of the publishing company wrong, nor its address. Check that company does publish children’s books and that its books are of high quality and are readily available.
DO NOT forget to send a brief covering letter and DO NOT be ‘cute’ in this letter.
DO NOT be surprised not to hear from a publisher for two or three months.
DO NOT be surprised to find yourself working on a picture book text for a couple of years and DO NOT give up too soon. Also, DO NOT lose heart after rejections: be courageous and tenacious.
DO NOT forget that simple does not mean simplistic.
DO NOT expect to be accorded real respect as a writer of children’s books. It will never happen.