Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Writing for the Christian Children's Market - Guest Interview with Author Kathleen Muldoon
Kathleen's publisher contacted me about reviewing her book, Sowing Seeds: Writing for the Christian . Since it was about writing, I agreed. I did not expect to be so impressed. Kathleen covered this market up and down, inside and out. If I wrote for this genre, I'd be all over this book, dog-earring it page after page. The advice is down-to-earth, logical, motivational and dead on target. So I asked to interview her in addtion to offering a review. Enjoy. I know I did.Children's Market
HOPE: Kathleen, I'm dumbfounded that no other book has covered writing for the Christian children's market. You've addressed it beautifully in Sowing Seeds, though, covering every question I could imagine. Why do you think this niche has lacked attention in the past? It seems like a world of opportunity.
KATHLEEN: Writing for Christian children has traditionally been addressed as a chapter or section in books on writing for the Christian market in general. I imagine that this is because the whole area of writing for this specific market is considered a niche of the larger “inspirational” writing market, which encompasses all faith and belief systems. It wasn’t until I began teaching adults how to write for children that I even realized there was not a specific guide for writers interested in targeting Christian children with their writing. Many of these students had the mistaken idea that this would be an “easy” market. I wanted prospective writers for this genre to be aware of the additional writing elements necessary and many market needs available. I’m delighted that E & E Publishing gave me the opportunity to share my experiences, joys, and challenges of writing for Christian children as a ministry.
HOPE: How is this niche, Christian writing for children, so different from secular children's material? Other than the obvious religious nature, of course. I noted the Christian Writer's Manual of Style and wondered why Christian writing merited a different style manual.
KATHLEEN: The basic skills needed for writing for Christian children are the same as writing for the secular children’s market. The difference comes in the writer’s motivation, which is to share his or her love for and knowledge of Christ with the reader. This is the overall theme of everything written for Christian children, whether specifically stated or implied. The Christian Writers’ Manual of Style gives writers specific guidelines for issues such as how to quote Scripture, how to abbreviate books of the Bible, and myriad other style matters that are unique to writing for the Christian market.
HOPE: I loved that you covered more than picture books. Most people, like me, probably envision picture books when mentioning this niche, with pastel or primary color paintings of lambs, Noah's ark and Jesus. Explain how diverse the markets and opportunities are for Christian children writers.
KATHLEEN: I think many people share your image of picture books when thinking about books for children. Indeed, board books (which really are very basic picture books for children 0-2 years old) and picture books make up a large part of the Christian children’s book market. But there are so many other outlets, including Christian children’s magazines, Sunday school papers, games, puzzles, crafts, coloring books, journals, and books—both fiction and nonfiction. The market covers all age groups, from preschool through teens.
HOPE: You cover the various genre and age ranges so incredibly well, in a friendly, down-home manner, covering not only how the ages read and understand concepts, but how they interpret their religion. Which age is the hottest in editors' eyes right now?
KATHLEEN: I try to keep up with trends as much as possible. The market is changing even more rapidly with the ever growing popularity of electronic media. This “brave new world” is becoming more open to all levels of children’s books, including picture books and illustrated books. In the Christian children’s market, there seems to be a great need right now for middle grade fiction and teen nonfiction. Some publishers have put a “hold” on picture books, perhaps because these are so expensive to produce. I’m hoping that the electronic books might give more opportunity for picture books, since in the long run they will be less expensive to produce in electronic format. Overall, though, I feel that there is always room for another good writer in any of the Christian children’s magazine or book markets.
HOPE: You mention that Christian children's magazines usually pay less than the secular magazine for kids. Why do you think that's so?
KATHLEEN: Christian children’s magazines often do not contain advertising, which is one of the major two funding sources for magazines—the other being subscriptions. Often the funding for these magazines comes from a denomination or as a budget allotment from the sponsoring Christian organization. Thus, after production and related costs, there are limited if any funds available for paying contributing writers. Accepting little or no payment often is part of the Christian writer’s ministry in magazines.
HOPE: Christian writers have Christian bookstores, religious colleges and schools, and church libraries as markets in additional to the secular. Do you think that these writers have greater opportunities for sales due to these additional resources?
KATHLEEN: In my opinion, I don’t think there are greater opportunities for sales of published works in the Christian market than in the secular market. Yes, there are outlets specific to Christian books and magazines, but at the same time there are reduced outlets in the traditional secular arena. For example, you won’t generally find Christian children’s books at a book fair sponsored by the PTA at a public school, where there may be hundreds of children and parents purchasing books. As for Christian bookstores, many are having a hard time competing with the giant book chains. I know here in San Antonio, two Christian bookstores went out of business in the past five years. There generally is a small section in stores such as Borders and Barnes & Noble for “religious” books; I’ve seen no such section in their children’s departments. Most Christian children’s magazines are by subscription only. Sometimes, churches purchase subscriptions for their youth departments. Sally Stuart’s annually published Christian Writers’ Market Guide is the most comprehensive source in which to begin hunting for just the right market for Christian children’s literature.
HOPE: Is self-publishing a more or less viable option for writers in this niche, in your opinion?
KATHLEEN: Self-publishing is becoming a viable option for writers in all book markets, including the Christian children’s market. Sadly, print media is currently suffering from our economic downturn and, in part, from the growth of electronic media. I have never self-published because I am a terrible “salesperson”; however, I have writing colleagues and friends who have successfully published through the growing self-publishing industry, particularly the “publish on demand” arm. Some find this preferable as the want to produce a book, such as a targeted Bible study, that will have limited distribution. Other writers go this route after becoming frustrated trying to find a “traditional” publisher willing to publish their work; after exhausting what they consider appropriate markets, these writers are willing to invest some of their own money to get out the message included in their books.
I have a feeling that readers’ current infatuation with the electronic media may fade in time. I played with my electronic book reader—a gift—for about a week. It now resides at the bottom of one of my file drawers. I like having a book, magazine, or newspaper “in hand.” On the other hand, perhaps the less expensive production costs of electronic books may offer writers more opportunities.
HOPE: It seems that Christian children's nonfiction book publishing has a huge range of opportunity with genre like church history, theology, Christian living, biographies, Bible studies, devotionals, journals and prayer books. How lucrative is this nonfiction market?
KATHLEEN: Yes, indeed, many nonfiction book opportunities abound in the Christian children’s market. As to how lucrative a sale to this market would be is dependent on the publisher. Christian book publishers, like Christian magazine publishers, often offer less in the way of payment, be it “flat fee” or advance (or not) and royalties. Writers of Christian children’s literature may earn more money with this genre simply because it does offer more opportunities than in the fiction genre. I don’t ever expect to become “rich” from writing in this field, at least not in dollars. But the satisfaction of knowing that I have planted faith seeds has enriched me beyond measure.
HOPE: The book impressed me. Then I read a chapter where you mention how children think at different ages, how they digest their environment, something writers need to take into account when deciding how to pitch their work. In one of the examples, you mention your prosthesis and crutches and a child's reaction to them. Many writers contact me about their physical limitations, as if they handicap their publishing potential. Can you dispel that myth?
KATHLEEN: Oh my, Hope, I’m sorry to hear that some writers who are physically challenged feel that impedes their chances for publishing success. I feel just the opposite; God gave me the gift of writing because it is a way that I can succeed—and have even been able to eke out a living. We have all heard to “write what we know,” and I incorporated my “expertise” as a physically challenged person in my first article sale (to Woman’s World magazine) and in my first children’s book sale (Princess Pooh, Albert Whitman & Company, 1989). Even today, I often include a character with physical challenges when I write children’s fiction. So, far from being an impediment, I have found my own “disabilities” to be a constant source of encouragement in my writing career.
HOPE: What do you credit as your best promotional tool?
KATHLEEN: In terms of selling my work, I credit, first, prayer and, second, diligent market study. As for promotion of myself as a writer, I credit good editors such as Eve Heidi Bine-Stock (E & E Publishing). Self-promotion is my biggest downfall—it just doesn’t come naturally to me, which is probably why I’ve published most of my children’s books in the educational market, where I don’t need to self-promote. I do love to make school visits, but usually I go to inner city schools where book buying is not an option for many parents. There I do readings from my books and then donate copies of them to the school library. It’s embarrassing to admit, but as a self-promoter, I am pathetic. My writing colleagues who are good self-promoters feel that having a good website and participating in social networking such as Facebook and Twitter are invaluable promotion tools.
I hope that some of your many readers who are Christian and who love to write for children will consider exploring the many opportunities available in the Christian children’s market. Thanks, Hope, for your excellent questions. I appreciate the opportunity to share my passion with you and your readers.
To learn more about Kathleen Muldoon, go to her bio at the Institute of Children's Literature or email her. You'll find her books available via Amazon.com .