Reading is the primary tool of learning—for the child and for you the author when writing for children. To learn more about a certain age level, go to the library and check out many books on the level you intend to write for. Read what they are reading. Also study the Internet and see what websites they are frequenting. Go to YouTube, Facebook, etc. sites if you are writing for teens. You cannot write for an age group if you don’t understand the members of that group. If you don’t like children, don’t write for them. Don’t try to preach at them—it won’t work. If you love children, then you are the one to write children’s materials.
To be effective with children and teenagers, you must know where they are coming from, what they are coping with. Meet them where they are, not where you want them to be.
Teens and preteens today are facing problems at a very early age that we never had to deal with. Drugs are available everywhere, even in the grade schools and junior highs. Surveys show that the average age a child tries alcohol is 12, marijuana is 13. Many preteens as well as teens enter centers for substance abuse. Teenage pregnancy rate is very high in spite of the availability of preventive measures.
My oldest son had lost 19 friends in violent accidents by the time he was in college. Teenage suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people today. Two-thirds of all young people have been caught in a divorce situation, bringing them feelings of guilt and abandonment.
Keep all these things in mind when writing for children and teens.
In writing for children, the first thing you must determine is the age of your audience. Are you writing for preschoolers? Are they 1-3? Are they 3-5? First through third graders? Fourth through six graders? You must mark your audience. Then, you must write to that audience. You cannot just write for children without targeting your work to a particular age. Most children’s publications are geared to a specific level: primary, junior, etc.
Then you must be totally in tune with the age level you are writing for. Know their likes and dislikes—use their language, but not words that are trendy and will be outdated in a year or two. And most of the time, you need to use words they are familiar with. Occasionally you can teach them a new word, but be sure to define it in context.
If you have children of your own or grandchildren, have them read what you write and critique it. If you don’t have children in your family the age you want to write for, find some children in your neighborhood, teach church school, or sponsor a youth group. Go to a playground or teen hangout—and listen!
When you write for children, make sure the concept you are dealing with is a childlike concept, not an adult one. Many people want to write for children because they don’t like the way young people behave. This is a mistake. You must love children to be able to write for them.
Use as few words as possible when writing for children and use words that are in their vocabulary. Write concisely in all your writing, but particularly here. Write concretely with step-by-step instructions or events. Have your story follow a logical, sequential order, avoiding flashbacks. They are hard for children to follow.
Your story should teach a lesson, without being preachy. If you try to tell your young audience what to do, they will tune you out. Yet they can learn a great deal from your characters, climbing into their skin and experiencing what the characters experience. By doing this they can learn the same lessons the characters learn along the way.
I have found that writing for children is much harder than writing for adults.
According to US Book Industry Statistics, 675 million print books were sold in the US last year. Although books sales are down, children’s book sales have remained constant. More than 50% of parents surveyed regularly read to their children between the ages of 0-5.
Children’s books usually have a longer shelf life than their adult counterparts, and Christian books have a longer shelf life than their secular counterparts. Many favorite children’s books have outlasted the life span of their authors: Black Beauty (1877), Heidi (1880), Treasure Island (1883), and Little Women (1868) are excellent examples.
Do you know who buys children’s books? 85% of the buyers are women 25-49. These books must be written for Mom as well as for Brianna and Lance. Also, girls will do what appeals to boys, and they will read about boys, but boys won’t read about girls for the most part, nor will they be interested in feminine activities. Know your audience.
Why should we write for children?
Today there are more than 2.2 billion children in the world. Children represent 27% of the world’s population. The American population more than tripled during the 20th Century. There are over 328 million people in the US, and 74.1 million of those are under the age of 18.
Each child is a potential reader of what you write.
A study by the Barna group shows that 43% of children made their professions of faith before the age of 13 and that 2 out 3 Christians professed their faith before the age of 18. The study also showed that younger children who call themselves Christians are more likely as adults to describe themselves as deeply spiritual, give more money to the church, and engage in lifestyle evangelism.
We can teach children about God and Jesus, but they need to internalize what they learn in order to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They need to learn to own their own faith, and an excellent vehicle for this is books. We can mold these young minds and help develop their faith through what we write. What an exciting challenge!
If you sell “all rights” to your manuscript, then the publisher owns your work, and you cannot print it elsewhere without getting written permission from them. Try not to sell all rights if possible unless you are signing a work-for-hire contract. You normally receive a flat fee for these, and the publisher retains all rights, and the copyright is in the name of the publishing house. Sometimes your financial state may dictate that it would be worthwhile to do some pay-for-hire work. Once you turn in the completed work, you are normally paid in full within 30 days.
“Book rights,” however, are different from other rights. When you sign a contract to write a book, the document is normally 12-14 pages, and the publisher holds your rights on that book as long as it stays in print. You may only use the amount of material that falls under “Fair Use” when quoting material from your own books. If you want to excerpt articles or stories though from one of your books in print, normally the legal department of your publishing house will give you permission. After all, the publicity is good for the publishing house. As I previously mentioned, if you are selling an article or story to be included in someone else’s book, I’d recommend selling one-time rights.
This concludes the series on ‘Rights.”
If your article or story has not been published, I recommend you sell “first rights,” rather than simultaneous rights. Many editors will not show interest if you are shot gunning your material to a number of publications at once when the piece has never been published. Plus, you will usually be paid more for first rights.
However, once your article is published for the first time, by all means feel free to sell “reprint rights,” sometimes called second rights, on it. You will probably earn a third to a half as much for reprint rights. Nevertheless reprint rights are an excellent way to earn extra money by selling your manuscripts over and over.
“One-time rights” give a publisher the opportunity to print your material one time. Use this terminology when selling a piece for a book compilation since books take a long time to come out in print. In the meantime, you can resell reprint rights on the piece. Also, one-time rights may be confusing to the editor, who may wonder whether or not your material has been published before. As a result you may be paid a lower amount than first rights would be given. Also, you can offer one-time rights to publications in other countries, particularly in the Third World, on material for which you own the copyright.
Rights are different than copyright. Be careful not to confuse them. When you sell “First Rights” to a publication, you are offering one-time rights to publish your material for an article or story that has not been published before. Your article must come out in print before you send it to another publication. Sometimes these are called First North American Rights, which includes the U.S. and Canada, or First North American Serial Rights if it is a serial publication.
Once your manuscript is printed by the publication to which you sold First Rights, you may then sell “Reprint Rights,” often called second rights. When you sell Reprint Rights, your duplicate manuscripts can be sent out simultaneously to many different publications. Try to avoid selling to two publications with overlapping audiences, however, such as two periodicals or take-home papers published by the same company or denomination.
When you sell First Rights or Reprint Rights, you still own the rights to that work. After it is printed, the rights revert back to you. Selling reprint rights doesn’t affect your rights in any way. Someday you may want to put that material in a book.
Fair Use is defined as the right to use copyrighted work without permission or without making payment to the owner. Copyright law provides for the fair use of another’s work without infringing on their copyright. How much can you copy from a source and stay within fair use?
The law is designed to be vague. If you are copying a magazine article, you can probably copy a paragraph or two. Also, you can probably copy several paragraphs from a book without infringing on copyright law. Be careful though not to copy the essence of something in the book. Poems and songs can only be copied without paying a high fee if they are in public domain. If a song is currently popular, use only the title. Titles are not copyrightable, but if a book is in print, you cannot title a new one by that name. Capitalize trademarks (Xerox, Kleenex) to avoid problems there or, better yet, use the words “photocopy” or “tissue” instead. For detailed information on copyright law, see my previous blog series on copyright law.
Always give the authors you are quoting credit for their material, even if you are within fair use and aren’t required to obtain their permission to use it. Cite your source within the text of your article or book or in an endnote.
The copyright registration is effective on the date of the receipt in the Copyright Office. For the material written after January 1, 1978, your copyright lasts for seventy years after your death. For manuscripts you wrote before that date, your copyright is for twenty-eight years plus a renewal for forty-seven more for a total of seventy-five years.
Once a copyright expires, the work goes into public domain. The public may use it at no cost at that point as long as the copyright isn’t picked up and re-registered by your heirs.
Also, public domain only applies to the original work. If material is revised or updated, it may not be in public domain. So be sure to check your sources before quoting information.
If you need information or guidance on legal matters, such as disputes over the ownership of a copyright, suits against possible infringers, the procedure for getting a work published, or the method of obtaining royalty payments, it may be necessary to consult an attorney—although the Copyright Office may be able to answer your questions. See previous blog for telephone numbers.
However if you are publishing a book with a publishing house, whether royalty-based or self-published, they will obtain your copyright information for you. It is important that the material you submit to Washington DC, for any of your writing, is your final copy. This concludes our series on copyright law.