If you’re like me, you probably have bookshelves crammed with books. Too many to keep and too precious to give away. As I look through my bookcases, I enjoy finding a long-forgotten treasure. Even better, on occasion I’ll make a new discovery—a book that made it onto the shelf without being read.
I recently came across a gem I first read more than twenty years ago: Wes Haystead’s Teaching Your Child About God, published by Regal Books in 1995. Haystead talked about the four “R’s”—relationship, relevance, repetition, and realization in teaching children.
I believe these four “R’s” are equally important in our writing.
Relationship: Haystead noted parents who live out their faith for their children to see will more effectively communicate spiritual truth to them.
As writers, we usually don’t have the opportunity to form relationships with our individual readers. Still, a type of relationship does form as readers relate to our content and decide they enjoy certain authors. How we write can either facilitate this relationship or become a barrier to it. Barriers might include being preachy or failing to use age-appropriate vocabulary.
Relevance: Relevance is another important aspect of teaching children and it’s equally important in writing for children.
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, do you use illustrations familiar to your readers’ frame of reference? A helpful tool is the Mindset List. This annual list includes what has “always” or “never” been true for entering college students—a good reminder for those of us who can remember a way of life that is merely history for our readers!
Repetition: Haystead included repetition as a critical component of the learning process.
In our blogs, short stories, and books, we don’t want to repeat ourselves. But we can share truth and demonstrate it in multiple ways. Bible passages with varied translations, stories that illustrate our points, and quotes are just some of the ways we can reinforce the points we make.
Realization: The fourth “R” Haystead includes is realization—acknowledging that children learn from their experiences.
The more our writing relates to our readers’ experiences, hopes, and dreams, the more they will connect with our fiction and nonfiction. Do we include references they can relate to because they’ve lived it or want to live it? How does what we write relate to their experience.
By incorporating the concepts of relationship, relevance, repetition, and realization into our writing, we can increase the chances of our readers connecting with us and our books!
How are you including the four R’s in your writing for children?
Author Sandy Carlson was born in Michigan, lived in six other states, and now resides in Michigan again. A former elementary teacher, Carlson is a blogger and a long-time member of SCBWI. She’s published in magazines, e-zines, newspapers, and anthologies, in addition to being the author of historical fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction books. Today, she writes, speaks, and tutors dyslexic kids. Here, she contributes her insights to our W2I self-publishing series.
What book did you first publish using a self-publishing provider or system?The Town That Disappeared (Genre: Middle grades historical fiction. Target age group: 3rd–7th-grade readers; leveled at T [5th-grade reading] with F&P.)
What publisher or system did you use? CreateSpace
When was the book published, and how long did the project take from start to finish?Town was published in 2013, but the idea came eight years earlier from a woman who lived in that area, where sometimes there would be a roof exposed in the sand dunes, and other days would be another, or none. Mostly, my time was spent in researching the era and area.
How many self-publishing companies did you investigate? Three (3)
What factors led to your choice? CreateSpace seemed simplest to understand, and the cheapest.
How many up-front costs did you incur to publish your book? In my research, I traveled several times to the area for a full day each time. I paid $150 for the cover illustration and design. There was the S&H on the POD book copies. I was so hopeful lots would sell, I first purchased more than I needed. (For later books, the same illustrator now costs twice that, and I have a freelance editor from NY going over my stories for . . . $300–$500 per manuscript, but both are well worth it. I learned how to do my own formatting, but CreateSpace has employees who can do that for [a fee].
How long did it take to recoup these costs (if you have), or what’s the projected time frame to recover them? I recouped the cost of Town that first year, but as prices go up, I don’t expect that for other books.
How much control did you maintain over the process (editing, revision choices, cover design, illustrations, book type setup (font, size of print, etc.), book description for marketing purposes, etc.)? I had total control. It was tough. It was time-consuming. But I couldn’t afford to publish any other way.
Did you hire a professional or use services provided by the self-publishing company for any of the following?
Cover design: Yes
Editing: Not for Town, but for later books
Did the self-publishing company (if used) provide software services to create book files for printing or e-book conversion of your manuscript? It was easy to paste in my story.
What software or process was used? I have no clue.
Did you do the typing in this system, or was it provided by the company? I typed it. I then “poured” (uploaded) my manuscript into their format (which I was able to choose).
If you purchased software yourself, what was the product? What was the cost? N/A
How much learning curve and time were required for the typing/file preparation? For that first book, it took months. And then I realized that the final print was not what I had uploaded because, apparently, I’d used two different paragraph tags, and the pages looked so ragged.
How many books (if print) did you have printed initially? Did you use/are you using print-on-demand? I printed 100 copies for the first time. Because this is a POD company, I have learned to order only 20 copies at a time before I do a signing.
Is the book being marketed in stores (print)?Town is a niche book—Michigan historical fiction for kids—so I “hand-sell” copies to bookstores and gift shops in that area where the book takes place.
If online, what sites offer your book?Town is also available from Amazon and as an e-book with Kindle.
From your first self-publishing project, what advice do you have for authors who are considering embarking on a self-publishing adventure?
Do . . .
Make sure your writing is superb. If you can’t afford a professional, get other writers and readers to go over it. The more willing victims, the better to make your words sing.
Realize everything costs money. Even going the cheapest way, it costs.
Search for the publisher which will best meet your needs, not just financially.
Plan to spend months figuring out how to market and promote. It’s a whole different language and world from writing (unless you can hire someone to do this for you.)
You’re not in this alone. Meet with other authors. Go to conferences; attend webinars. Ask questions.
Read about the writing craft to better yourself. Read a lot, both in the genre you write, and in other genres. You can never tell from where the creative sparks may start to fly.
Write another book.
Don’t . . .
With seven books self-published, my biggest “Don’t do this” is, surprisingly enough, don’t self-publish . . . if you can help it, for traditional editors and marketers do wonders with your words.
Don’t fret, cry, or wail when you don’t get rich from self-publishing. (Refer to #7 on the “Do This” list.)
Don’t neglect yourself. Keep daily refreshing your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Don’t neglect your family.
Don’t forget to include God in every step you take.
Write2Ignite Conference 2018 theme series—by Deborah S. DeCiantis
After his escape from the Slough of Despond, Christian meets Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, who convinces him that an easier way to get rid of his burden is to turn aside from the path to the Wicket Gate and instead climb the hill to meet Legality and Civility. Christian believes him and takes this detour until he sees the true height and menacing overhang of the mountain. Now in doubt about this choice, he sees Evangelist coming and immediately feels ashamed.
Evangelist brings a stern look and rebuke, but when Christian fears he has lost his chance to get back on the right path, Evangelist reassures him that the way through the gate to deliverance is still open.
Several points related to our faith and writing journey emerge from this episode.
Many sources offer persuasive words urging people to follow other worldviews, values, and self-help paths. These are often attractive, appealing to logic and human wishes (the “easier” way), and seem designed to help people achieve happiness and success. Those tempting alternatives, whether shortcuts or “new, improved” ideas, can trip up adults, too, especially when we are feeling vulnerable or defeated. Christian starts with good information (“the book”) and sound direction (Evangelist’s instructions), but his encounter with Mr. Worldly-Wiseman nearly derails his faith.
Bunyan knew well through personal experience the dangers for a believer. His testimony includes not only struggles with doubt and discouragement, but one episode in which he heard the words, “Sell and part with this most blessed Christ. . . . Let him go if he will.” He tells [readers] that “I felt my heart freely consent thereto. Oh, the diligence of Satan; Oh, the desperateness of man’s heart.” For two years, . . . , he was in the doom of damnation. “I feared that this wicked sin of mine might be that sin unpardonable.” (Piper)
Just as adults need to avoid these pitfalls in our own faith walk, children need to understand how temptations come and how easily they can fall prey to wrong ideas when people package them in nice words that seem to offer what they want or words that question what God says.
Bunyan continued in his state of fear and uncertainty for two years, but eventually he perceived the corrective and life-changing message “Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand” (qtd. in Piper). Although times of discouragement still followed, this turning point cemented his faith.
Evangelist, in this illustration, fulfills a role similar to that of Christian writers who desire to help children establish their faith through finding and following the “narrow way.” Those who write Sunday school curriculum may present explicit spiritual counsel, much as Evangelist does for Christian. However, for writers of other genres—nonfiction articles, children’s stories, historical fiction—the challenge is to address these concepts while engaging children to enjoy the stories in which lessons (avoiding temptations to stray from what’s right) are embedded.
In Part II, we emphasized the author’s method of revealing background through the main character’s experiences (usually, mistakes) and explaining a principle the mistaken choice illustrates. This process is much like the principle often applied by both teachers and parents, known as the “teachable moment.” When things go wrong, people have a chance to take stock – to review the situation, words, decisions, and actions which led to an unwanted result.
Even young children can understand this principle: you know X is right, but in this situation, your words and actions went against X. Evangelist takes time, after rebuking Christian, to encourage him: “Thy sin is very great, for by it thou hast committed two evils; thou hast forsaken the way that is good, to tread in forbidden paths; yet will the man at the gate receive thee, for he has good-will for men; only, said he, take heed that thou turn not aside again. . . .”
Evangelist leaves Christian with a kiss and a smile – important signals that despite his failure, he will be welcomed at the gate. In fact, Good-will lets him in and directs him to find “The Interpreter,” who shows him many scenes of different characters and possible outcomes, good or bad. At first, Christian needs Interpreter to explain these, but as scenes continue, he begins to understand their significance.
Christian, who still bears his burden, is now encouraged and leaves to keep on the “straight and narrow” path which Interpreter has cautioned him to follow.
Contemporary stories may feature a spiny echidna’s adventures (real or imagined), a juvenile biography of Madame C.J. Walker, explanation of “How the U.S. Congress Creates a Law,” or a fictional teen’s struggles to deal with a family crisis. In each case, Bunyan’s model fusing truth principles and human experience with teachable moments offers Christian writers material for meditation and method for application.
When you think about writing for children, you might picture stacks of picture books or a shelf full of novels. But did you know there’s a large nonfiction market as well? In my workshop session “More Than Just the Facts, Ma’am,” I’m going to introduce you to the world of children’s nonfiction and educational publishing.
There’s more to writing for the educational market than just getting your facts right. In the workshop, you’ll not only discover how to find reliable sources but also learn how to submit to publishers and book packagers, write for a particular reading level, complete work-for-hire assignments, communicate with editors, deal with revisions, and—of course—get more assignments. In three years, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to write over 60 books with topics ranging from frog hotels to surviving on a deserted island.
But we can’t forget the picture book! Join me in the workshop “15 Things Not to Do When Writing a Picture Book.” I’ll take you through the picture-book-making process from both an author’s and illustrator’s point of view. You’ll also learn about some common mistakes to avoid as you write for younger readers.
Can’t wait to see you in March!
Samantha Bell writes nonfiction books for the educational market and is a regular nonfiction contributor for Clubhouse Jr. magazine. She’s the author/illustrator of 4 picture books and the illustrator of 14 picture books. The best part: her 12-year-old thinks she knows everything!
We’re naturally drawn to the power of a good story. It starts at a young age, doesn’t it?
Jack and Jill and other nursery rhymes.
Aesop’s Fables and fairy tales.
Frights around a campfire and happily-ever-after bedtime stories.
Jesus understood the power of a story. He spoke truth, then illustrated it with parables—earthly stories with heavenly meanings. He drew people to the Father through word pictures His listeners could recognize and relate to.
He was happiest when people understood His message (think of the Roman centurion in Matthew 8:10 who exhibited more faith than any Israelite Jesus met). He was disappointed when they didn’t get it (John 14:9, NIV: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?”).
We catch glimpses of both His joy and disappointment when we offer our stories too. Whether in a picture book or a chapter book, we tell a story using words our readers can relate to. We do it because the motive for our writing is not just to entertain, it’s to accomplish an eternal purpose.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14, NIV).
Don’t underestimate your audience. And don’t allow others—including other writers—to disparage your written contributions as being any less valuable than those in other genres. Children are important to Jesus, so they must be important to us.
Children are also important to us for another reason:
“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’” (Matthew 18:2–5, NIV).
Children show us how to go to the Father. We need them to demonstrate what it means to have childlike faith. To trust without wavering. To love as we have been loved.
Write so that the children may come. As you do, come as a child as well.
Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. Her newest book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Precepts founder Kay Arthur. Additionally, Ava is co-author of Faith Basics for Kids. The first two books in the series are Do You Love Me More? and Will I See You Today? She has also written numerous articles for magazines such as Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, Today’s Christian Woman, Power for Living, and Called.
In addition to her writing, Ava also teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class. She is a passionate speaker and teacher and delights in challenging audiences with the truth of God’s Word in relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit her at AvaWrites.com.