Writing and Illustrating For Kids: Meet Doraine Bennett

One of my favorite events of the year is coming up—the Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK) conference in Birmingham, AL! It’s October 12, but registration is going on now. This conference is put on by the Southern-Breeze region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I always come away with some good writing techniques and some important connections in the field. But more importantly (and more fun) is that I have found wonderful, supportive friendships with all sorts of children’s writers. They are a lovely bunch.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to get to be “on faculty” and do a workshop. This year, I’m delighted to introduce Doraine Bennett, who will be leading the “nuts and bolts” workshop for new writers. She’s the author of (among other things) two series of books on topics close to my heart: wildlife habitats and the geology of Georgia. She also works in book publishing and sales, so she knows this industry from many perspectives. I spoke with her last week.

Let’s start with your work. You are a representative for Delaney Educational Enterprises. Tell us more about what that means.

DB: Delaney is what’s known as a book jobber in the industry. We represent over 150 publishers, primarily in the educational market, but we have access to the trade publishers as well. Out of that large number, about 40 companies represent our core publishers. I receive catalogs and samples from each of these publishers twice a year: August/September and January. There are two aspects of the job. One is the library market, dealing with media specialists and helping them find library bound books for their media centers. The other is the curriculum side, dealing with literacy specialists, academic coaches, teachers and principals and matching them with paperback books for the classroom or book room.

Some publishers serve both markets; others deal with only one or the other. My job is to know where to find the best product to fit my customer’s needs, so I know those 40 catalogs and their publishing personalities pretty well.

What have you learned from talking to librarians that would be good for writers to know?

DB: Books that meet the state performance standards are always in demand. In fact, that’s how State Standards Publishing got its start. My predecessor in this job had so many teacher and librarians asking for books on the Georgia history standards at second grade level, which is when they study state history the first time in Georgia, she resigned from Delaney and started the publishing company. It’s a niche market that the larger publishers ignore for the most part, because they can’t afford to publish books that will only be purchased in one state. State Standards has branched out to Virginia and will soon be working on other states.

Books that address Common Core standards is another big demand as more and more states move in this direction. Any book that has a teacher’s guide and activities that address Common Core needs is a plus.

Elementary school librarians are always looking for low level books for their youngest readers. They want an AR level below 1.0. Basically this means that Renaissance Learning, the company that provides the tests and assigns the leveling, must find the reading material easy enough for those little ones to comprehend while still supplying enough information to formulate questions for a test. Not an easy task.

What tips can you give us from the business side of your work?

DB:  In the educational market, manuscripts are usually written as work for hire with the publisher retaining the copyright. Many people shy away from the market for that reason, but it’s good money and it’s great experience in working with publishers and learning to meet deadlines. And the nice thing is that you can propose a book or a series of books before you write them. Some markets are more difficult to get into than others, but there are lots of open doors in this world. It’s nonfiction primarily, but there are fiction opportunities, as well.

You’re also an author, and you’ve written over 30 books for children. Can you tell us about a current or recent project that you’re excited about?

DB: I’m working on a poetry project right now. The idea came from one of the stories in my Readers’ Theatre book. I got sucked into Russian history, and  I’ve been reading and researching ever since trying to figure out just where I wanted to go with it. Right now, it’s definitely in the experimental stage. Who knows where it will go? Some days I wish I did!

Your session, “Nuts and Bolts,” is going to be an introduction to the world of children’s publishing. I’m excited to hear more from you. Can you tell us a little bit about what to expect in your session?

DB: We’ll talk about the different markets (educational and trade), understanding a publisher’s personality and needs, how to target a specific publisher, and some basics of submitting a query, proposal or manuscript.

How has being a member of SCBWI helped you?

DB: SCBWI is a wonderful place for developing friendships with other writers. The support and encouragement that comes from writer friends is invaluable. Conferences, like WIK, provide the opportunity to meet and greet editors and agents and realize that they are really nice people who like writers. And of course the opportunity to submit to those houses that are normally closed is a plus.

Thank you for your willingness to give back to SCBWI by sharing your knowledge with us! I look forward to hearing more from you at the conference.

Want to join Doraine and me—along with editors, agents, and other wonderful writers–at WIK?

To find out more or to register, visit https://southern-breeze.net/

You can meet other members of the conference faculty by following the WIK blog tour:

Aug. 28   Author Matt de la Peña at Stephanie Moody’s Moodyviews

Editor Lou Anders at F.T. Bradley’s YA Sleuth

Aug. 29   Author Doraine Bennett at Jodi Wheeler-Toppen’s Once Upon a Science Book

Author Robyn Hood Black at Donny Seagraves’ blog

Aug. 30    MFA program director Amanda Cockrell at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog

Illustrator Prescott Hill at Gregory Christie’s G.A.S.

Aug. 31   Author Heather Montgomery at Claire Datnow’s Media Mint Publishing blog

Editor Michelle Poploff at Laura Golden’s Just Write

Sept. 3    Author Nancy Raines Day at Laurel Snyder’s blog

Author Jennifer Echols at Paula Puckett’s Random Thoughts from the Creative Path

Sept. 4    Editor Dianne Hamilton at Ramey Channell’s The Painted Possum

Author Janice Hardy at Tracey M. Cox’s A Writer’s Blog

Sept. 5    Author / illustrator Sarah Frances Hardy at Stephanie Moody’s Moodyviews

Agent Sally Apokedak at Cheryl Sloan Wray’s Writing with Cheryl

Sept. 6  Agent Jennifer Rofe at Cathy Hall’s blog

Author / illustrator Chris Rumble at Cyrus Webb Presents