Tips for Writing Collections of Kids’ Poetry
How many poems do publishers look for in a collection of kids’ poetry?
Sarah Grace Tuttle answers: When I think about the number of poems for a collection, my general rule of thumb is to think about industry standards for the format of the collection. For example, if I am writing a picture book of poetry, I try to create a collection that could fit within the standard 32-page format. In this case, I make a picture book dummy and see how my poems fit within it. But, formats are increasingly flexible. I think it is more important for writers to feel that each poem adds to the collection, and that the collection feels complete, than to set out to fill a target number of poems.
Do most kids poetry collections these days have educational components on either the subject matter (like nature in your case) or poetic forms? Or will this make the book more marketable and appealing to publishers?
Sarah Grace Tuttle answers: I see a lot of collections with educational sidebars and/or backmatter. While I can’t speak for publishers in general, I personally feel that backmatter and sidebars add value for teachers who hope to use the book in the classroom. From a marketing perspective, I think that these elements also help books appeal to a broader age range. Hidden City: Poems of Urban Wildlife is listed for ages 4-8, and even in that small range there are large differences in cognitive development and ability to interact with a text. Backmatter and sidebars provide additional levels of interaction—something for the extra curious and older kids to explore.
Do publishers lean toward one long poem like Matt Forrest Esenwine’s Flashlight Night or collections like yours and Amy Ludwig’s VanderWater’s Forest Has a Song?
Sarah Grace Tuttle answers: Different editors and publishers have different preferences. In general, I feel that publishers are looking for works that entice readers to turn pages and keep reading. Whether a single poem or a collection is more appealing depends entirely, in my opinion, on the individual manuscript.
Does the poetry have to be all free verse or all haiku or can you submit a mix of styles?
Sarah Grace Tuttle answers: I think writers can submit in whichever poetic form or forms makes sense for their collection. With that said, I think the most appealing children’s poetry collections have a unifying concept. That can be a form, a mood, a topic… anything really. If your unifying concept is a single form, then all of your poems should be in that form (unless you have a very good reason to deviate!). But, it’s a topic, mood, or something else entirely… then you can use whatever form or forms make sense for your subject. Form selection, like any aspect of poetry writing, should be deliberate. Even if you never tell anyone else your reasoning, I think it’s important that you know why you are using the form or forms you have selected.
How many times did you get your collection critiqued before you were ready to submit it to an agent or publisher?
Sarah Grace Tuttle answers: Lots! The first draft of Hidden City was part of a mentorship project in my MFA program at Simmons College. And, Hidden City was constantly submitted to my critique group – in some cases to multiple groups—over the entire course of the manuscript’s development. Plus, I went through rounds of revision with my agent before it was submitted to publishers. Hidden City had more drafts than I can count, and each one strengthened the manuscript in some way.
Feel free to leave questions in the comments. I may be able to ask your questions in future interviews.