Starting small

Updated: May 23, 2020, 13:36 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

As JLo's 12-year-old daughter Emme Muniz readies to make her literary debut, we find out what it takes for children to write their own book

Originality of the narrative is crucial when it comes to works by child authors. Representational pic
Originality of the narrative is crucial when it comes to works by child authors. Representational pic

This September, Emme Muñiz, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony's 12-year-old daughter, will have her first book out into the world. Titled Lord Help Me (Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House Children's Books), the picture book was inspired by her concern for endangered animals and her relationship with prayer. Muñiz has said that she wrote the book to help raise money to save sloths. While getting a book published in India if you're remotely famous, irrespective of your age, is nothing new, how do children navigate the literary world as writers? The answer includes access, originality, encouragement and hard work, experts say.

Scratch pad

In the 4th grade, city-based Ayaan Kapadia was handed a story-writing assignment by his library teacher, which eventually turned into his debut book Maverick's Marvellous Adventure (The Write Place) in 2018. Inspired by his cousin who had recently launched a book and motivated by his parents and editor, Kapadia went on to publish a sequel within months. "I discovered that nothing is impossible. Be optimistic and focus on your goal," he says.

Emme Maribel Muñiz and Jennifer Lopez performing on stage during the Super Bowl this year. PIC/afp
Emme Maribel Muñiz and Jennifer Lopez performing on stage during the Super Bowl this year. Pic/AFP

As important as it is to have ambition, publishing professionals say it also helps to be patient as publishers are faced with a slush pile of manuscripts. "Every submission is read and if good, then definitely considered. We try to reply to everyone but don't have a big list. We might publish, say, 20 books a year," maintains Sudeshna Shome Ghosh, publisher and editor of Talking Cub (the children's imprint of Speaking Tiger), who is working on releasing a collection of pieces by kids, centred on the pandemic, in July.

Accessible avenues

"There's a certain value to be published by a company and one of the big challenges is getting access to that," says Shantanu Duttagupta, publisher, Scholastic India. Kapadia's mother, Keyuri, echoes this stating that the biggest challenge was finding a publishing house ready to accept the project. "We sought self-publishing initially but the cost approximately amounted to R1.25 lakh," she informs.

Shantanu Duttagupta, Sudeshna Shome Ghosh and Anish Chandy
Shantanu Duttagupta, Sudeshna Shome Ghosh and Anish Chandy

Scholastic India has been running a yearly programme called the Scholastic Writing Awards for over 10 years for kids in grades four to nine where original story submissions are accepted. The selection process is rigorous with a peer-rating system, judgement by an author panel and a plagiarism check. The Top 10 stories are then published in an anthology titled For Kids By Kids. Additionally, in January the publisher brought out A Very Naughty Dragon, a book co-authored by Paro Anand and a nine-year-old Sarah Rose.

Long haul

Another challenge to publishing child authors is gauging literary merit. Anish Chandy, founder of Labyrinth Literary Agency, says that he hasn't come across an exceptional manuscript from a child author. "We are yet to see a trend of child authors breaking out in India. There's interest regarding this book because it is Jennifer Lopez's daughter. So, she is technically a celebrity author," he says.

Ayaan and Keyuri Kapadia
Ayaan and Keyuri Kapadia

Ghosh advises delving into other spaces for writing such as blogs or magazines before making the leap to a story book. But if one is hell-bent on doing so, avoid two things: writing inspired by pre-published works like Harry Potter and setting narratives in exotic locations with names like Jack and Amelia. "It also needs to echo the voice of a child, and give the reader that glimpse of innocence," she adds.

No pressure

Parental pressure is an important aspect of the child author business and Chandy states that "parents see book writing as an addition to their child's resume for an Ivy League application." Duttagupta also adds that the long-term needs to be factored in while pushing kids towards publishing their work. "When they reach 18 or 19 years of age, they might believe that they are a real author but the book might turn out to be pretty bad and leave them shattered. Every child is talented but there’s no point in inculcating a false belief. Let them get used to disappointment," he says.

Keyuri Kapadia suggests activities that parents can do to encourage their child’s reading and writing sprees. These can range from crossword puzzles, word games, anagrams, and cryptograms to flashcards that can be made at home. "Encourage your child to take notes on trips or outings, and to describe what they saw — a description of nature walks, a boat ride, a car trip, or other events that lend themselves to note-taking. Paste her drawings and writings on pieces of construction paper. For each book, make a cover out of heavier paper or cardboard, and add special art, a title and their name as the author. Punch holes in the pages and cover, and bind the book together with yarn or ribbon," she shares.

Give it a shot

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The 14th edition of Scholastic Writing Awards is accepting entries until June 30, where the top 50 stories will be published as Kindle editions, top 10 winners get their stories published in a book and attend a writing residency workshop and the top 6 win a Kindle Paperwhite.

Log on to swa.scholastic.co.in

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