Writing novels for children

 17 October 2012

Joe Craig has written several successful novels for children, including his 'Jimmy Coates' series. He spoke about his career journey.

Joe Craig has written several popular novels for children.
Joe Craig has written several popular novels for children.

"For a long time, when people asked me what I did, I said ‘I’m a songwriter and children’s author’. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I wasn’t really doing much songwriting anymore.

"These days I’m much more honest. I say, ‘I’m a children’s author and songwriter’. It makes all the difference.

Studying philosophy at university

"I studied philosophy at university. I don’t think I’d be able to write the way I do if I hadn’t done that. It was brilliant training for my brain.

"Philosophy involves some wonderful debates about hundreds of fascinating issues, all of which can be turned into great material for children’s books.

"Philosophy involves hundreds of fascinating issues, all of which can be turned into great material for children’s books."

"The 'Jimmy Coates' series explores a lot of the ideas I first discovered whilst studying philosophy.

"Before university, I did Music, French and Latin A Levels. Lots of people assume that I must have studied English, but I gave that up after GCSE.

"I was okay at it, but not great. I think my love of writing, language, literature and stories was influenced more by my study of Latin."

Beginning a creative career

"After leaving university, I was very obstinate. There was no way I was going to get a job in an office, or any ‘proper’ job.

"I wanted to be a musician, so that’s what I did. I was very lucky that I had made great contacts at university. After graduating, I worked on the music for a couple of theatrical shows.

"Later I worked as a songwriter. I was writing pop songs, doing gigs with a band, and recording some rough demos.

"When it occurred to me to write a children's book, I had no idea what being a children’s author involved. I just wanted to tell the story I had in my head."

Starting out as an author

"I briefly considered enrolling on a creative writing course. But I'd also heard this great advice: if you want to write, write. 

"Don’t talk about writing, write about writing, or worry about writing. Just sit down and write."

"Don’t talk about writing, write about writing, or worry about writing. Just sit down and write.

"Writing courses can be really valuable for some people, but I decided to give it a go without one and see what happened."

A full-time writing career

"When I was writing the fifth Jimmy Coates book, I spent some nights writing until 1am.

"I like to note down the time that I finish writing for the day, along with the number of words I’ve written and what music I've been listening to.

"I have to admit that on days when I’m finding the going tough, there’s a thought at the back of my mind: ‘Who needs this hassle? Go get an office job.’

"On days when I've written late the night before, I might not get up until around half ten. Then I spend the morning thinking about which scenes I'm going to write."

Being an author in the digital age

"The internet has caused a few grey hairs among publishers in the past. They're worried about copyright, and their authors are worried about how they’re going to get paid if you can read their books online for free.

"I think publishers are handling it all much better than the record industry seemed to handle their problems with internet piracy in recent times.

"I’m optimistic – e-publishing is a great opportunity for authors to reach a wider audience.

"One problem you sometimes find is that secondhand books are now competing directly with new editions of the same book.

"So when you go to the Amazon page for one of my books, you have the choice to buy a new copy at a really good discount, or you can buy a secondhand copy for an even lower price. As the author, I only get paid the royalty on sales of new books."

Marketing a book release

"I try to get as much publicity stuff out of the way as possible in the morning. I like to get my emails answered, so I don’t have to think about those things for the rest of the day.

"When I'm not working on a book, I might visit a school to talk about my books. I also attend publicity events at bookshops, and occasionally I have interviews for radio or TV.

"Meeting kids who feel inspired to become storytellers themselves is something I’ll never tire of."

"Meeting and talking to children, parents, librarians and teachers is a big part of my work. It tends to happen more around the time of a publication of a new book.

"I aim to make the most of every ‘industry’ meeting. Almost everybody can help you, but you also need to be willing to put the effort in. 

"I try to listen to everyone I meet, take an interest in what they say, what they’re doing, and what they think.

"Meeting kids who feel inspired to read, and more importantly, are inspired to think creatively and become storytellers themselves, is something I’ll never tire of."

5 tips for starting out as a children's author

"Here is my advice for anyone considering starting out as an author for children:

1. Learn to tell a great story

"The starting point is being able to tell a great story. If you can tell somebody the story of your day and captivate them – be it a room full of people, your best mate, or a complete stranger – you can write a page-turner.

2. Keep practising

"Writing is a skill you can learn, but until you can do it well, it’s going to be very difficult to write a gripping novel. I always have a notebook with me, so I can fill that ‘wasted’ time on trains with some writing.

3. Write for yourself

"Don’t worry about trying to work out what other people want to read. Tell a simple story in a way that grips you. At the same time, be the most demanding audience in the world.

4. Be realistic

"Writing a children’s book is one of those things where a lot of work goes into making it look effortless. At the same time, the potential rewards are massively overpublicised. 

"A lot of work goes into making writing for children look effortless."

"There’s an illusion that anybody can do it easily and make lots of money from it. 

"The truth is, while anybody can write a children’s book, it's only possible with a lot of hard work, passion and good fortune. Most writers won't get paid a lot of money for it. 

5. Be committed

"To make a career out of writing for children, you need patience, passion for the story, and dedication to getting it written. I have to stay excited by what I'm writing, and that comes from challenging myself with every story.

"I also need time to write! That’s not easy to find, so I defend my time furiously now. Ultimately, you need to put time and effort into writing a book that grips you.

"People are fascinating, and stories are everywhere. That’s what makes life interesting."

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