Adult authors writing for kids

I think it’s pretty safe to say that most adult writers have contemplated writing a children’s book at some point in their careers. In fact, Buzzfeed has this nifty list of famous authors who put out a kids’ book at some point.  But while it seems like Buzzfeed is mostly going for the “who knew?” angle here, I think the list is pretty instructive in both the potential and peril in writing for a younger audience.

For one, how many of these books have you actually heard of? There were several that were completely unknown to me, and looking at the cover images it seems like a number must be from small publishers or out of print. Given the big names here, I think it’s cautionary that if you’re writing for a younger audience, there’s a good chance you won’t find as big an audience as for your adult work.

And second, you can sense that some of the authors here were not taking these books as seriously as their adult work. Note how many had co-authors and that several weren’t even planned for publication—which again is reflected by both the print status and the fact that several works are posthumous.

On the other hand, for those who truly committed to the genre, like John Updike and Ian Flemming, the rest have stood the test of time. Interestingly, two of the most successful books here are the most recent—HOOT and SUMMERLAND, which makes sense, given the elevation of kids’ novels post-HARRY POTTER. So if you’re going to go the kid’s route, it certainly behooves you to go whole hog and not treat it as a sideline, experiment, or something meant to be private.

A final point on the publishing side: in my experience, kids’ book editors generally dislike receiving submissions from adult authors, often because they’re passed along by adult editors—and I’m sure you get the office politics there. Fortunately, from my POV as an agent, a book is a book, and I’m happy to try and sell it—and in turn, I think kids’ editors are much more open to adult authors coming via agents. But I will say again, if you’re an adult author thinking about writing younger, please keep in mind that the commitment and quality has to be there first—otherwise, you may find yourself on a “who knew?” list like this, too.

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