What Advertising Can Teach a Children’s Writer


By

Brave Rooney

Today’s guest post is from Gerry Renert, a three-time EMMY nominated kid’s writer, who has recently become a published children’s book author.


I never thought I’d end up writing children’s books, especially when my first paying writing job was creating print ads to convince upper-crusters they needed a certain brand of scotch to announce their arrival into upper-crustdom. Looking back, though, the advertising job wasn’t a curse but more a blessing in the eventual outcome of my writing career.

Advertising taught me some lessons I’ll never forget.

First, it taught me how to relate words to picture—either directly or, better yet, indirectly, sometimes with a fun twist of irony or an off-beat juxtaposition. Second, it taught me how to convey a message or feeling in as few words as possible.

In 2009, after a stint in children’s animated TV as a writer/creator and executive producer, I decided to take a crack at writing a children’s book.

A good children’s book is the perfect melding of short verbal communications that play off of or reinforce marvelous visuals. That special combination is the exact dynamic that makes for a smart, attention-getting print ad.

When my first book editor told me to keep my manuscript short and simple, and let the words interact with the visuals rather than just describe them, I didn’t look at her blank faced. In fact, I looked at her much like I would look at a good advertising creative director who knew what it took to communicate something with excitement, while keeping it on-message.

My first children’s book, Nathan Saves Summer, was published in 2010 and has been successful enough to warrant a second book in the series. Recently I released a digital book/app, Brave Rooney, which tells the story of a normal boy who somehow finds himself in an elementary school for superhero kids.

In creating the app, I worked very closely with the illustrator, just as I would have with any advertising art director, to be certain the association between words and picture had a special spark. My experience in animated TV came in handy in working with the digital developer, and I watched closely how the added elements of interactivity made the connection between the reader and the story stronger than anything one of my advertising clients could’ve imagined. Brave Rooney is the best thing I’ve ever written, and I’m pretty sure my first advertising creative director would have been proud, too.

Back to the blessing/curse thing: I don’t look at writing advertising copy as either one, but as a good stepping stone that any young writer should jump on. Accept it as a truly creative form of writing and leave the scotch to the overly dramatic, tortured writers.

  • http://www.thepoetryeditor.com Mary Sayler

    Great article! I’ve never written ads, but writing poetry has helped me to keep children’s books and picture book manuscripts visual and concise. A big advantage with ad-writing, though, is being in touch with kids and what appeals to different age groups. Many of the children’s picture book manuscripts I critique seem to focus on the writer’s childhood, rather than what kids experience or want today. So, even if we don’t write ads, we can watch ads, cartoons, and programs for children to get a feel for our important audience. Thanks for the ideas.

  • Sarah Allen

    Fantastic advice. I think taking a blend of every aspect of our lives can definitely inform and help our writing. 

    Sarah Allen: http://fromsarahwithjoy.blogspot.com/

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZGOUDCYIIB6OSKPATVYZDQEBSQ Apsignificant

    Jane: The thing that popped-out the most in this article, was your introduction to this contributor: How, he is called a “kid’s writer”, when he worked for kids TV, and then wins the status of “children’s book author” after being published. I think these distinctions that the industry places on creators are discriminating. So  then a writer is only a writer until he is published, and then he becomes an author in his own right? I find this kind of hateful, and the reason why so many people are desperate to get published just so they can hang their “author” credentials in their CVs and Bios. 

  • http://janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    An astute observation.

    However, I would not categorize this as discrimination, nor would I consider it as coming solely from the industry.

    Everyone in Western culture participates in this myth or cult of the author—of treating authors as people who carry some kind of “authority” for having written a book.

    However, the author moniker has become both meaningless and irrelevant. Meaningless because nearly anyone these days can call themselves one, and irrelevant because it doesn’t really matter if you’re the author of a book in a world where the book ceases to carry the value or importance it once did.

    There are many ways to spread a message, tell a story, or create content/experiences for people. A book is a limited way to do that, and sometimes the least interesting way to do it.