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10 Tips for Writing Your First Children's Book


While you might think that writing a children's book is an easy process, there are many challenges to writing a good children's book and getting it successfully published. More children's books with pictures are sent to potential editors and literary agents than any other type of book. To get to the top of this huge pile, you will want to follow these important tips to create a book that will stand out.

Tip 1 — Figure out your target audience

When you think of children, what age range actually pops into your head first? Children's reading abilities develop at a rapid pace, so your style needs to fit a very specific age group. Some age groups that are often used when choosing a target market for children's books are as follows:

  • Young Children: Ages 2–6
  • Middle Grade: Ages 8–11
  • Young Adult: Ages 12+

There is a variety of reading levels within the young children age group. Children ages 5 and 6 years will probably be able to read more words than a child who is 3 years old. This is a key consideration when deciding on how many pictures and how many words you will use. Many writers think that their story will work for all age groups, but it is best to choose one group and write specifically for them.

Tip 2 — Choose the right theme

Choosing a theme is a crucial aspect of writing children's books. There needs to be an appeal for your target age group. What is important to them? What kinds of situations are they concerned about in their everyday lives? For example, you don't want to write about a man who works every day at a fast-food restaurant when your target audience is pre-school children. Even if you have cute drawings and a fun story, that character's problems most likely won't resonate with very young children. The child needs to be able to identify with the characters visually as well as narratively.

Tip 3 — Story development is key

There needs to be a clear beginning to your story, a clear middle or peaking point, and a clear ending with closure. Children's books don't need to have cliffhangers if there is a series of books. Children like resolutions to the story.

The middle of the story needs to have some clear peak moment. What problem did the main character encounter? Did they meet someone special that day? Did the character maybe learn something new? Children can learn alongside the characters, especially when there are pictures and drawings to encourage a visual connection.

Tip 4 — Keep it subtle

Just because your story has a message for children doesn't mean that it needs to be made loud and clear. The children are reading the story first and foremost to have fun. You aren't writing for the parents, either. To help you know if the moral of your story sounds too loud and clear, compare it to a fable. If you can see clear similarities to Aesop's fables, then the message is probably too loud. While you might want to teach life lessons to the children through your story, it needs to first be a fun story.

Tip 5 — Keep a good balance of words to pictures

Because children's stories are short, it is a greater challenge to tell your story effectively. Using a good balance of words to pictures throughout the story can help to build a quality children's book. Most children's books with pictures range between 50 and 1,000 words in length. The story should stick to the point without using unnecessary words, terms, or events than can distract the child from the main point. There is one path with children's books, which is different from adult novels and YA novels. There are a limited number of characters and the focus stays on their experiences.

Tip 6 — Take your time

Again, writing children's books is not easy. Take your time to get it right. Despite being short, children's books require the same type of effort that 300-page novels do. Review the story, diction, syntax, word choice, and other aspects that could affect how a child experiences the story. You could even consider the process similar to writing Pride and Prejudice as a limerick with pictures.

Tip 7 — Be unique

If you are submitting your book to a publisher or literary agent, you'll want your story to stand out from the crowd. What makes it different from all the other children's stories out there? What other books have your own kids read? How is your story different from those stories?

You should also keep in mind that you can have a silly, a funny, or a serious children's book. There is no one way to tell a story. A child could be dealing with grief or an injury or illness, and a more serious children's book can help them to overcome those challenges. If you have a good idea for a serious children's book, then be sure to apply all of the above tips to make it effective for your specific age group audience.

Tip 8 — Find the right publisher

If you are not going the self-publishing route, then you will want to connect with the right publishing house or literary agent for this genre. Do some research into different publishers to find the ones who specialize in children's books. One way to find this information quickly is to look at published children's books that you like or that are similar in theme and style to yours. Make note of the publisher listed on those books.

Look those publishers up online and see if they accept unsolicited manuscripts. Not all publishing houses do. If they do not, then you will want to find a literary agent who can place your manuscript for you.

Once you have chosen the right publisher and/or literary agent for your children's book, you will want to write a query letter. This letter will be the key to getting your foot in the door. If you have nothing else edited for your children's book, have your query letter edited. Publishers don't have time to accept letters and manuscripts that don't meet their standards, so be sure you meet all the requirements flawlessly before sending your letters out.

Don't get caught up in scams. There are "publishers" that ask for money upfront or that only give you a very small percentage of the profits. Beware of those companies and stay away from them. This is why, despite the amount of time it can take, it is important to try and get picked up by a reputable company.

Tip 9 — Find the right illustrator

If you choose to self-publish your work, then you will need to consider the illustrations. While it may seem like an attractive, cost-effective option, you should not illustrate your own work unless you are a professional illustrator. Set a realistic budget for your artwork. Be respectful of the time an illustrator will put into working on your book, and don't try to get them to do it for free or in exchange for royalties.

Decide on what kinds and sizes of illustrations you want for your book. Do you want full-page illustrations or half-page ones? Will there be one per chapter? How big is your book going to be and how will it be laid out (horizontal, square, vertical)? All of these will determine what kinds of illustrations your book needs.

If you are working with a publisher, then he or she will have illustrators. You will not need to search for an artist to create the drawings. You will, however, be able to collaborate with the publisher to ensure that the illustrations are what you envisioned for your story.

Tip 10 — Consider cost

For a 30-page children's book, you could pay anywhere from $2,500 – $11,000. Royalties could be paid on top of that after publication. When figuring the cost, consider each illustration as its own piece of work. Generally, approximately $150 per illustration is a good place to start. There is a lot of time and effort that has to go into the drawings, so this is a reasonable expectation for a good illustrator. Plan plenty of time for this process as well. You don't want to rush illustrations because that can interfere with the creative process. A rushed set of illustrations can miss the mark when it comes to visually presenting your carefully created characters and storyline. With the right illustrations, you can have a great start to marketing your book online direct to readers and to groups who will make bulk purchases for their students or patrons.

Why are children's books a good genre to write?

Some people think that children's book writers are the lesser types of authors. The illusion that writing children's books is easy contributes to that misconception about the authors themselves. Despite this, writing children's books is a rewarding and difficult process.

Larger audience

Who do you think reads more books – children or adults? Children do! The Association of American Publishers reported that the children and young adult category saw the largest growth in the book industry in 2014. In addition, American children peak in their desire to read for fun in fifth grade. This means that from the time they start reading to the time they leave fifth grade, their desire for books is continually increasing. If you are looking for a continuing audience, then children's books are a good place for you.

Making money

While some people think that there isn't enough money to make a living in the children's book industry, this is not true. While it might take a while, children's book authors do have an advantage when it comes to sales. Schools and libraries often make large orders of children's books. This is especially true if the book has won awards or has been added to a particular reading list. This presents some pretty large marketing opportunities even for self-published authors. Working on cross-linking with bloggers and book enthusiasts will get your book recognized across the internet, which can translate directly into sales. You may even be able to get people to promote your book for you if you have an Amazon store and give affiliates a link to use to sell your book.

Movies and TV

There are so many movies and TV shows based on children's books that it would be hard to list them all. Many authors have even had their books optioned by studios. While that doesn't mean an immediate big paycheck, it does mean that there is that possibility for your story to be put out to audiences on additional mediums.

In the end, writing children's books is a lengthy and challenging process, but you have the opportunity to enhance the lives of young people all across the world. Seeing your work in libraries and schools, or even in your neighbor's house, is worth all the time and effort you put into it.

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