The following are tips that, I believe, are essential in writing for children and landing a contract:
1. join SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) - this is THE professional organization for children's writers. The SCBWI offers international chapters, state/regional chapters, great workshops, online resources/newsletters and the latest news in the industry. As a member of SCBWI, it lets an editor know that you are serious about writing (www.scbwi.org)
2. write often - many aspiring authors have "real jobs" or are at least lucky enough to have spouses with good jobs and health benefits. In our daily lives, full of responsibilities, it can be difficult to carve out the time to write. Writing often, however, is the only way to improve your writing skills and keep you focused. Find the time that works best for you: an hour in the morning before the kids rise, late at night when the house is quiet, a half hour of your lunchtime. Find what works for you and work it in to your routine. Remember, this is an investment in your future.
3, Read! This seems obvious, but particularly in children's writing, it's important to study the books that are getting published. Visit the children's library, study the best-seller shelves of Barnes and Noble, chat with your local indie bookstore employees.
4. Join a critique group - this can take place through an online group or a small group of writers in your area. The regional SCBWI often has groups that are looking for new members or guidelines on how to start your own. I belong to an online group and an area group. I find them both valuable. A good critique group will read your manuscript and help you prepare it for an editor. What are the strengths of the manuscript? Are the characters believable? Is it too long/too short? A writer can become so immersed in her manuscript, that sometimes we can no longer see the obvious. In turn, you will help your comrades with their manuscripts. A critique group is also a great way to network and make new friends. Your family will be happy to have a break from reading each revision too!
5. Revise - most of writing is, rewriting! A good writer must be open to revising and an editor will be much happier to work with you. We sometimes become "married" to a line or character in the story. But sometimes it simply isn't working for the story. As a writer, it's important to say, "How can this be the best possible book?". After my manuscript was acquired, my editor asked me several times for revisions. Each time, the book became better and better. Even when we thought the revisions were complete, and it was given to the illustrator, the story needed to be moved around. Trust your editor. This is her job and she wants the best book too.
6. Attend workshops/conferences - they are sometimes expensive, but well worth it. My manuscript was acquired through a New Jersey SCBWI workshop. This is your opportunity to have your manuscript seen by an editor. Some of the publishing houses are closed, unless you have an agent, so this may be your only way in. It's also a great way to get editorial advice on your manuscript.
7. Give your manuscript some time - don't be in such a rush to get it out to publishers, that you lessen your chances. Sometimes it's important to put your manuscript down and work on something else. When we give ourselves a break from writing on one project, we tend to see it more clearly. Allow your work to go through the critique group several times, mull it over and go back in a few days or weeks. You can keep busy starting other writing projects and you will be refreshed when you return to your manuscript. You really only have one chance to have the manuscript considered by an editor, so being in a rush, can lessen your chances of being acquired.
8. Be professional - be sure that your query letters are free of errors and you have correctly spelled the editor's name. At several SCBWI conferences, several editors mentioned how often mistakes are made. That doesn't say much for your writing. Take the extra time to be sure.
9. write what motivates you - don't try to follow the current fad. Picture books take several years to be published, so chances are the "current fad" will be over. Write what excites you and will take you to your desk each day. Your love will show in the writing.
10. Don't give up! It's easy to become discouraged when the mailbox is filled with only bills and rejection letters. Remember that all writers (even the highly successful ones) have experienced rejection many times over. Having your first book published will make it seem all worthwhile!