The first time I ever submitted a story for publication, I didn’t tell a soul.
I was in high school, and very self-conscious about sharing my work.
Not surprisingly, I received a “thank you for your submission, but…” letter very soon after.
When I stepped back into the arena of writing for children again much, much later, I thought I was older and wiser. I had a critique partner who clearly was very qualified–she taught writing to college students, for gosh sakes!
But my stories continued to suffer the same, sad fate of rejection.
Later, I even consulted with someone who I thought would surely make all the difference. A children’s librarian! This was a person who knew children’s books inside and out.
Nope. Still got rejected.
Why Feedback is So Important
Despite my track record of rejection continuing, I was at least doing one thing right. I was asking others to read and critique my work.
Why must the pen be red?
This is the single most important step you must take if you want to write a children’s book. (Or at least one that ends up being something you are proud to share widely with the world).
It is impossible for you, the author of your work, to distance yourself enough to do all of your edits alone. You know what you want your story to say and convey to your readers. You do your best to find the right words to do so.
But because you are so close to your story, you don’t realize where your brain is filling in missing pieces in your writing. You don’t always realize all the places you could tell your story better.
You need a new set of eyes to see these things.
Even super famous and award-winning authors have their stories critiqued and edited. In fact, that’s why their work is so good–because they are open to feedback.
Get Feedback From Those Who Know Children’s Books
If you have shared your stories with your family, friends, and kids at the local school, that’s great! After all, these are the kind of people who will eventually be your readers.
And if you have found skilled editors and readers like I did, again, that is excellent work on your part.
But you can’t rely on them alone.
Once you’ve gotten past the initial stages of feedback and revision, it’s time to get serious.
And that means getting critiques from people who know how to write for kids. Even if your best friend is a bestselling author of fiction for adults, you can’t stop there.
You should probably find someone a little bit more experienced
That’s where I had fallen short. While my first rounds of feedback came from people who were highly skilled, I shouldn’t have stopped with them.
Writing for children is very different from writing for adults. And only those who have been immersed in this kind of writing understand the subtle, and not so subtle, differences. (If you write young adult, then you are in a bit of a different category. Go ahead and ask your adult writer friends for help in this case. But still get feedback from those who know YA).
You Don’t Have to Pay for a High Quality Critique
Trying to write a children’s book and get it published, either through self or traditional publishing, requires an investment of time and money.
You may not have either of these things in abundance. I totally get it.
So while I recommend getting at least one professional critique or edit, there are ways to get high-quality critiques without having to keep shelling out fistfuls of dollars over and over again.
There are several places where it is possible to get critiques from other children’s book authors and other people in the kidlit industry, at low to no cost.
It may not even cost you this much
In fact, I suggest that with your earlier drafts, start with these kinds of critiques. Because if you get to the point where you want to pay for feedback, you will want your manuscript to be in a highly polished state.
Otherwise you may find you have so many edits to do, you’ll be needing to go back for another paid critique after you do the revisions. This can get expensive!
Here are some places where you can get great feedback on your story for little to no cost.
Kidlit411 Manuscript Swap Facebook Group
Join the Facebook group to post requests for a manuscript critique in exchange for giving one.
Sub It Club
A private Facebook group set up to help writers find critique partners
Mindy Alyse Weiss PB Party Critique Train
A monthly Twitter event where you participate in a critique “train” for your new picture book manuscript.
You can check it out here.
A 3-day online conference for writers and illustrators. Free to attend keynote and critique forums. Low-cost option to purchase other presentations.
Find out more about WriteOnCon here.
Low Cost Critiques
SCBWI Blueboard – Message and Chat Board
A message board where members can ask questions about all things kidlit. Includes a chat forum where people can post requests for critique partners or groups. There is no charge to post on the Blueboard, but you should return the favor and provide feedback on other people’s postings. Membership with SCBWI ($90 per year) is required.
A paid service that connects people to online critique groups. https://www.inkedvoices.com
Many children’s writing conferences also offer opportunities to receive paid critiques by other authors, as well as the industry editors and agents who are speaking at the conference.
SCBWI Regional Chapters
The regional conferences are often less expensive than the two annual nationwide conferences. Most include presentations by agents and editors, who you can also sign up to pitch your story to for an additional fee.
Children’s Book Academy
Courses on writing picture books, middle grade novels, and illustrating children’s books that also offer critique opportunities with editors and agents for an additional fee. (This is the course that directly led to my trade picture book being published).
You have probably heard of Highlights Magazine, right? The organization behind it also holds conferences throughout the year and many offer critique opportunities. A bit pricey.
Big Sur Children’s Writers Workshop
Workshop featuring small groups and one-on-one feedback
Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Conference
Novel Workshop and Retreat
Features craft lessons and a critique with an editor or agent
Sometimes you will run across authors, editors, and agents offering to provide critiques as a giveaway for one reason or another. I have only seen them on Twitter, but it is possible other social media channels could be a source of these opportunities.
You can find them by following fellow kidlit authors, as well as editors and agents. Check your feed regularly (every day is ideal) and keep your eyes peeled! Yes, this one is pretty hit and miss, but if you follow enough relevant people, you are sure to see some critique opportunities pop up now and again.
(Yes, I Offer Paid Critiques!)
If you feel you are ready to pay for some feedback, but don’t have the budget for one of the higher dollar options, I do offer critiques (I specialize in picture books, chapter books, and nonfiction) for $50. If you want more information on getting a critique, you can simply email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.