Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Once Upon a Time - Guest Post by Karen King

Once Upon a Time

That’s traditionally how children’s stories started. Things have changed since then.  Now they start in lots of different ways, with dialogue, a moving scene, action, someone zooming off into space, etc. Children’s literature has changed since my childhood, and probably, yours, so whilst your fond memories of the books you enjoyed reading may have inspired you to try your hand at writing a children’s book, make sure that you make your story relevant to children today.

A lot of new writers try to write the sort of book they loved to read as a child so often make the characters or dialogue too old-fashioned. Rather than trying to recreate your childhood, think about how you felt as a child.  Thing about the scary shadows you saw in the dark, how you really believed your toys came to life, how anxious you were when you first started school, how excited you were waiting to open your presents Christmas morning... The world and children’s lives have changed but the feelings of childhood haven’t. So remember to draw in on your inner child when you write your story to help you remember how children feel and act.

Another thing you need to think about is the age group you’re writing for. This will affect the type of story you write, the vocabulary you use and the length of the story.  Obviously, the younger the child the shorter the book and the simpler the vocabulary. Generally speaking, books for under fives are under 1,000 words in length and heavily illustrated (picture books are often under 500 words), the word length increases then from anything between 4,000 -10,000 words for 6-9’s, over nines are usually 25,000 words or more. 

Writing for children comes with responsibilities. Children are very impressionable, so you have to choose your topics carefully, especially when writing for very young children. The general rule is not so show a child under nine doing anything that wouldn’t be considered safe for that child to do in real life. So no Enid Blyton style adventures with children talking to strangers and going off alone all day! This is one of the reasons fantasy stories are so popular, whisk the characters off to another world and they can have whatever adventures you like as long as the characters are credible and the plot realistic.

It’s also important to get the tone and voice of a children’s story right. New writers often make the mistake of ‘talking down to children like a patronising ‘adult, or are too preachy and try to teach a moral or lesson with their story. Children like to read for fun, just as we do. So just write a story, don’t try and teach them anything. Weave your story web , hook them in and let them enjoy the ride! 

Karen King has been writing children’s books since the mid-eighties. She’s written for many children's magazines too including Sindy, Barbie, Winnie the Pooh and Thomas the Tank Engine. Some of her short stories were featured on Playdays BBC and some of her poems on the BBC One Potato, Two Potato website. She writes for all ages and in all genres. Story books, picture books, plays, joke books, she’s written them all!

She tutors for the Writer’s Bureau and runs writing workshops in schools.

Her picture stories books, Magical Horses, will be published next month and her children’s fantasy adventure, Firstborn, is now available at Amazon Kindle

The Writer’s ABC Checklist
Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

How Much Are You Worth?

Another guest post from David Robinson - and one which all freelance writers should read and absorb to make sure they don't undersell their talents.

A couple of weeks back Lorraine advised a chap on a site that asked him to undergo a “writer’s test” after which they would keep and perhaps use the piece without paying him. He was dealing with a “content farm” and it reminded me of an incident just a few months ago.
To give you an idea where I’m coming from, I sold my first piece (500-600 words) to a newspaper almost 30 years ago for the princely sum of $15. I’ve sold a good many since then for varying amounts. I now concentrate on self-publishing book-length work. I don’t make a fortune and like any other writer I’m always keen to make a few pounds where I can. So I, too, looked at content farms.
The rates on offer were disgraceful. I found one site offering as little as $1-2 per 1,000 words. Even back in 1985, the newspaper rate was $25 per 1,000 words. Not only that but as this chap complained to Lo, you first have to submit a test piece, which they do not pay for but which they can use at their discretion.
Another writer, a friend of mine, working on a site paying by page views, admitted to me that he’d taken to clicking his own works on a particular site in order to improve his rankings in the hope that surfers would click on them, too (the site didn’t pay him for his own clicks, obviously). He spent four hours a day clicking all his pieces and his reward? $1 per day.
I pointed out to him that I make more than that when I sell a single book on the Kindle and although I’m nowhere near the bestseller charts, I average more than one book per day.
Crossing the content providers off my list, I next checked out the bid sites. Once again, let me give you some history to put matters into perspective.
In 1996 I pitched a 5-hour serial to the commissioning editors of a British TV production house. The director and I had jumped through all the early hoops and this was a face-to-face meeting. My fees as a TV newcomer were $6,500 PER HOUR of drama. That serial was worth almost $35,000 to me as the writer. Over and above that, there were the rights to consider since it was an adaptation of one of my novels. All up, it was worth about $50,000.
All right, we didn’t get the commission. We gave it our best shot, but it floundered on production costs. Reality TV was beginning to make its mark and five hours of drama would cost half a million to produce.
That’s the background.
Surfing the bid sites, I came across someone who required a 90-minute TV script. He would provide the story line, the writer had to produce the script. Budget? $250. I can write a 90-minute draft in three days. To bring it up to production standards would take no less than 6 months, and ideally, I would prefer a year. For $250? I’d earn $10,000 a year stocking shelves in supermarket.
Neither the content farms nor the bid sites are interested in quality. They’re concerned only with price. To prove my point, I wrote an article for the same pay-per-click site my friend was so keen on. It was a blatant plug for one of my books, 1,000 words long, it took less than an hour to write, correct and upload. It was trite, hackneyed dross which I wouldn’t even put up as a Flatcap blog post.
It was accepted without question, categorised incorrectly, and the last I heard, it had earned me the princely sum of 13¢.
I’m not in the business of advising other writers. I write from the seat of my pants and what I know about the process could fit on the back of a post-it note and still leave room for Hamlet’s soliloquy. But I reserve one piece of advice for writers when it comes to content farms and bid sites. Avoid them. They devalue the written word. Far better to invest your time and energy in one of the many fine writing communities on the Web, where others will help you along. Far better to put your money into a course like the Writer’s Bureau where they, too, will nurture your talent and help you hone it (and no, I am not on commission.)
And the pay-per-click piece I put up? I am notoriously outspoken and I told them exactly where they could stick the 13¢… penny by penny.
David Robinson is a freelance writer, novelist and humorist, who self-publishes his book-length titles on the Kindle and Smashwords. You can find him at while his alter-ego, Flatcap, grumbles insanely at
The Writer’s ABC Checklist
Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition