Event Report: How To Write For Children and Young Adults by Janey Robinson

Janey Robinson reports from the event, How To Write For Children and Young Adults, held at Bloomsbury earlier this month. The event was organised by The Children's Writers' And Artists' Yearbook. 

Arriving at the Bloomsbury Publishing offices on a peaceful square in central London I’ve long forgotten the earlier unwelcome alarm clock and feel an excited anticipation for the annual How To Write for Children and Young Adults Conference. Ringing the doorbell a friendly Writers & Artists staffer invites me in and directs me towards the noise of sixty other writers and a cup of tea. 

Once corralled we’re given a warm welcome from Alysoun Owen, editor of the Children's Writers' & Artists' Yearbook. As the conference title suggests, today is for those of us who write for children, whether just starting out or underway. The schedule shows the day is divided in two, the first half a morning workshop, the second an afternoon of talks. The only to-do prior to the day was selecting one of three workshops with a Bloomsbury published author, the choice was between picture books with Smriti Prasadam-Halls, middle grade with Sibéal Pounder or young adult with Jenny McLachlan. I chose picture books.

Smriti has a bundle of worksheets and resources for each of us taking us through a standard 32 page picture book layout, a ‘create a character’ worksheet to workshop character development, ‘build a story’ and ‘story in a sentence’ exercise sheets to add structure and focus, a ‘words & pictures’ sheet to think about how illustrations tell half the story and finally two info sheets, one on editing and one a list of writing tips. The key learning point for me was to know my characters and their environment inside and out. 

Smriti Prasadam-Halls with some of her titles 

Smriti uses her picture books to show us examples of single and double page spreads, vignettes, page turning tools to control pace, having fun with language and keeping an eye on word count. The current average word count for a picture book is 500 words. Smriti’s shortest book is 29 words and longest is almost 1,000 words so there is a range, but either way she tells us to choose our words very carefully. Every word needs to be there for a reason. We also get a refresh on the publishing process and all of the stakeholders that need to be convinced by our story. From an agent to an editor, an illustrator to the sales team and booksellers to the world. 

Smriti is completely honest with us about her experience finding an agent and getting published. There are always going to be different opinions and interpretations, Smriti tells us, but your editor will want your book to be published at it’s best and be a bestseller so it’s a team effort to do just that. It was useful to hear that we should never ignore a niggling hunch that something is wrong in a story, even when it feels too late, though not so late that it’s already on the shelves! As our lunch break approaches Smriti finishes with some simple words of advice to tell our stories authentically, write about what matters to us, and in doing so find our voice. Once ready we should send off our work and get on with the next thing. 

As the three groups merge into one again and we head out to lunch there are animated discussions proving everyone is eager to start putting their learning into practice. 

An hour later we’re seated and ready for the three afternoon talks moderated by Alysoun Owen. 

  • First up it’s the publishers panel with Emma Lidbury, commissioning editor at Walker Books predominantly working on middle grade, and Jasmine Richards, senior commissioning editor at Oxford University Press, looking at everything from picture books, 5+ and middle grade. They both confess it can be hard to balance their writers list and commission new writers but they stay on the hunt for authentic writing (Emma) and tomorrow’s classic (Jasmine) and have good relationships with agents.
Commissioning editors - Emma Lidbury & Jasmine Richards
  • The second talk is about the author agent relationship with Jenny McLachlan and her agent Julia Churchill. Jenny tells us candidly about her ten year journey before meeting Julia and getting published. Julia shares some of her role as agent to Jenny including pitching and contracts. Their genuine reciprocal warmth is immediately infectious. It is the stuff of my agent fantasies, and proof it can happen.
Jenny McLachlan and her  agent, Julia Churchill
  • The third talk is the children’s book agents panel with Julia Churchill from A.M.Heath, Louise Lamont from LBA Books and Clare Wallace from the Darley Anderson Agency. We all eye them as greedily as foxes staking out a chicken coop! They talk about keeping our submissions simple and sticking to the guidelines, making it as exciting as it can possibly be, and for these three agents they’re happy to consider re-submitted work, hurray! 
Agents - Julia Churchill, Claire Wallace & Louise Lamont 
At the end anyone is free to chat to the agents to ask questions which is a great opportunity to ask for advice.We’re ushered to the drinks reception that finishes the day, everyone full of information and inspiration. A lot of the day's subject matter you could find online or in books but it doesn’t compare with hearing it directly from the authors, agents and publishers. You always learn that little bit more and there’s no comparison to the energy a group of writers brings to supercharge your motivation. I’m leaving with a renewed enthusiasm, the latest how-toguidance and a warm belly full of tea to fuel my journey home.

Janey Robinson spent fifteen years writing poetry and short stories before becoming an aunt, four times, reawakening her love for the books of her childhood. She is currently working on fiction and nonfiction picture book texts with human nature at their heart. She joined SCBWI in 2015 and volunteers to help organise their London events. Janey lives with her husband Tom in Notting Hill and is pregnant with their first child.



  1. Sounds like a great event. Thanks so much for the write-up.

  2. Great report! And congratulations on the other forthcoming life project!

  3. Great report! And congratulations on the other forthcoming life project!

  4. Many grad programs at various universities and specialty schools will require you to write a personal statement in order for you to apply to the school and if you are not sure what to write then you need to know where to look so that you can figure it out.


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