Every time I go to a writers conference, I give the same advice to newbie kids book authors:
Read read read. Have patience. Don't follow trends. Join SCBWI if you are able. And FIND VERLA KAY!
Don't know what that last one means?
Verla Kay is a writer. You can find her books in libraries and bookstores near you. But she is also an extremely generous kid's book maven who started and maintains (with the help of a handful of hard-working moderators) simply THE BEST resource for children's book writers on the web. It's a message board extraordinaire, filled to bursting with extremely knowledgeable writers, illustrators, and yes, agents and editors and kids book experts of all types and at all levels who are game for dishing, advice, and general camaraderie. We in the know call it the Blue Board, or Verla's, or "verlakay."
I really shouldn't even be telling you this because it'll probably cause an influx to the board but... you're all nice folks, yes? And you are really serious about being children's book writers? And you're all very respectful of one another? Because that is what flies at Verla's.
What doesn't fly? Trolling. Spam. Flaming. Political or religious convos. You'll certainly be able to get writing advice, or a chance to share your query, or publishing insider info. You'll be able to discover average agent response times, or conduct an informal poll about tween slang. You may get a little boost of inspiration when you're feeling low, or even indulge in erudite discourse about literary themes... but you'll never get into a flame war, because it simply is not allowed to happen there. Personally, I find that extremely refreshing, and so for me (and for lots of similar-minded people) Verla's is a bit of a sanctuary.
I've been on the boards since March 2007 -- well before I became an agent (though I was already interning for an agency). I've checked in pretty much every day during those five years, except the rare days when I had no computer access. In fact, though I probably shouldn't admit to this, according to the stats, I've been logged in for a whopping 59 days. Yikes! (But that's because some days I stay logged in all day on one screen and check in a bunch and read a million topics... other days I just scan quickly to see if anything is new. But I always look. And there is invariably something there every day that I find interesting, or that brings a smile.)
There are many reasons to LOVE THE BLUEBOARD... not the least of which, for me, is that I have a ton of clients at least partly because of it. We MIGHT have met another way, if the Blue Boards didn't exist... but it would have been tougher. LK Madigan, Kate Messner, Daniel Pinkwater, Jackie Dolamore, Tara Kelly, to name a few... these amazing and brilliant talents were among my first batch of authors to sign, and while I met some of them on LiveJournal too back in the day, I know I can trace much of our early relationship right back to Verla Kay's message board or chat room.
Not because I was creepily hanging waiting to snag people based on their posted query letters, or anything like that... it isn't like those "modeling agencies" that hang out at the mall looking for tweens! Joining the Blue Boards won't get you "discovered" -- it just isn't like that. Rather, it's a place to be genuinely engaged with awesome writers, have great conversations with them, and develop mutual respect and trust.
I'd say that the OVERWHELMING majority of the queries I get from Verla Kay members are in the top 10% of all the queries I read. Verla Kay members are also 90% more likely to follow submission guidelines. Were those totally made up statistics? YES, but they made the point. Verla Kay members are not chumps off the street - they are more likely to be serious business, and I, for one, take them seriously. (Which is why, if you are a BlueBoarder, you should definitely mention it when you query me!)
So I said I have tons of clients because of the Blue Board... but the truth is, I also have loads of friends because of it, both in real life, and "virtually." Even when I was in Italy last week, I met BlueBoarders, and it was like we were old pals even though we had never met one another before. It was pretty awesome, not gonna lie!
OK, OK, I GET IT JENNIFER, YOU LIKE THE BLUE BOARD.
I do. And I think you might, too. Join us, won't you?
And don't forget, the more thoughtfully and constructively you post, the more of the message board you see... So be nice, and join the conversations! :-)