Getting a Children's Book Published: The Pony Game

 ©Robyn Opie - All Rights Reserved


When I'm looking for ideas for a children's book, I sometimes think about subjects children love, such as horses, dinosaurs, sport etc. These popular subjects inspire book after book. Lets face it, they sell in the thousands and publishers love anything that sells well.

A few years ago, I wrote a non-fiction book called Looking After a Pony. I was involved in the photo shoot for the book and met several people who were very enthusiastic about horses. It was at this time that I decided to write a fiction story as well. Why not? Girls love horse stories. Look at all the series about ponies and horses.

I thought about the subject and remembered my experiences from childhood. I wasn't really into horses. I loved all animals, especially dogs. But my best friend was horse-mad. We often played games that featured horses.

I also remember playing games with my dog. We pretended to have great adventures and I often imagined that my dog was something else, like a horse or a dragon.

When writing for children, I often draw on the experiences of my childhood. Writers often hear the advice: write about what you know. I know what it's like to be a child. I was one a few years ago.

The above memories inspired my book The Pony Game. The main character, Lucy, loves horses but she isn't allowed to have one for obvious reasons. They are too expensive and too much work. So Lucy pretends that her dog, Black Beauty, is a pony and plays the pony game with him. One day Lucy gets to look after a real live horse and poor Beauty is forgotten.

I wrote the book for a series aimed at 6 to 9 years olds with a word count of between 1500 and 2000 words. I believed in the story and spent a lot of time getting it just right.

Unfortunately the first publisher rejected The Pony Game. I did further
polishing and editing and submitted it to another publisher. Again, I received a rejection. But this rejection included some nice comments about the story and the publishers regret that they couldn't publish it because the word count was too short for their list.

Back to the drawing board.

I still believed in the story. It featured two girls, a horse and a dog. It had a good message and it was cute. I was certain that little girls would love it.

Part of my work as a writer includes reading children's books for research, so I know what stories are being published and also what series are being published. I knew of a series (now called Giggles) published by Lothian Books as I'd read many of the titles. Wondering if The Pony Game might fit their list, I researched the series. The books are for 6 to 9 year olds with a word count of 2500. But, most importantly, the series didn't include a "horse" book. I saw this as a gap I could fill.

The Pony Game was too short at around 1700 words, so I sat down and extended the word length. After I'd finished, I edited and polished. Then I handed the story over to Rob Parnell from
 Easy Way to Write to assess. I never submit a manuscript to a publisher without first having it assessed. A writer is so close to his/her work that he/she can miss mistakes or problems that are obvious to fresh eyes, like Rob's.

Rob made a few suggestions and alterations and I submitted the mansucript to Lothian Books. That was in May 2006.

In August of that year I received the wonderful news by telephone: Lothian Books wanted to include The Pony Game in their Giggles series and release it in May 2007. They loved it!

Of course I was thrilled and I was pleased that my "targetting" had worked. I'd been right. The Giggles series didn't include a book about horses. Now it does.

The point I'm making here is that popular subjects sell. You can write about dogs, cats, horses, dinosaurs, school, friends etc. However, success is not guaranteed. Writing your story is only the first step. The next step is making sure the story is the best that you can make it with editing, polishing and manuscript assessments or critiques by people in the know. Then, when you're ready to submit to publishers, spending time and targetting the right publisher can make a big difference.

The first publisher could have accepted the manuscript. It fitted their series in word count, age group and they didn't have a horse story either. To be honest, I suspected that the manuscript would be too short for the second publisher. When they said no, I looked for a more suitable publisher and adapted the manuscript to fit their list. I'm glad that I did!

Lothian Books are thrilled with The Pony Game. The illustrations by Elise Hurst are wonderful. The editors call the book "delightfully gorgeous".

Obviously I'm working on further titles for Lothian Books.

So, when writing for children, if you can think of a popular subject and can tackle it in a fresh way, you could be onto a winner. But remember when you've finished it to near perfection (The Pony Game needed little editing by Lothian Books and the quality obviously made them sit up and take notice), spend some time researching the market. You might just find a gap and increase your chances of success.

Now I'm wondering what I can do with dinosaurs . . .


About the author:  Robyn Opie is the author of more than 75 children's books. She has been writing for children for 9 years; most of her books are sold around the world and many have been translated into foreign languages. Robyn lives in Adelaide, South Australia, with her partner Rob Parnell, two dogs and thousands of children's books. She works full time writing for children. Robyn is the author of three comprehensive e-books including How To Write a GREAT Children's Book: The Easy Way to Write for Kids (Volume 1)





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