With over 1800 titles and more than 250 million copies in print, it’s safe to say the “For Dummies” books have made their mark. There’s something for each of us, from the dangerous sounding “Beekeeping “,  “Welding”, or “Anger Management” for  dummies, to the more reassuring “Boost Your Confidence in One Day” and the bucolic “Building Chicken Coops” . Entire relationships are covered: “Flirting” to “Dating” to “Budget Weddings” to “Divorce” to “Grieving” for dummies.  At a time when so many people are hiring assistants and coaches for everything from buying clothes to getting their kids into college, these do-it-yourself guides are a drink of  well water.

I recently received a copy of  the 2nd edition of “Writing Children’s Books for Dummies”, written by Lisa Rojany Buccieri and Peter Economy (a name to love). I am here to recommend it for anyone starting out in the field.  Every nut and bolt is in place, including the usual sections on formats and genres, creating compelling characters, writing real-world dialogue, finding your voice, pacing, and revising. It’s user friendly, with icons of lit fuses or raised fingers to warn or remind. While I’ve seen plenty of writing exercises over the years, most of these are new and many lo0k like fun–for example, creating a “Smellography” , an autobiographical record of as many smell memories as you can.

Various writers, editors and publicists weigh in with advice. From Michael Green, publisher at Philomel: “Nothing earns a rejection slip faster than an overwritten first paragraph.” And “Dramatic pacing and characterization are vital. An author needs to be careful, however, of not forcing the issue. Quiet, subtle moments in Chapter 2 might very well be setting up an earthquake in Chapter 5; the contrast betwen the two will help the tension pop when it finally arrives.”

The sections on getting published and book promotion are up to date, at least as of this second. Much of the advice here is classic: for example, under getting an agent: “Just following the agency’s guidelines automatically makes you stand out from the competition.” I had my agent tell me just that,  nearly word for word. The chapter on self-publishing, such a different ball game from even a few years ago, lays out the many options in helpful, eye-opening detail.

 In the end, no one can tell you how to do this.  The heart and intent have to be your own. But reading books like this can make you feel good about how much you already know, and aware, yet again, of all you have to learn, a humbling, not bad thing.