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If you’re looking to compose a children’s book, you’re already off to a great start! Kids and teens make up an incredible portion of the reading world, so your work will be well-received. However, crafting successful children’s literature can be quite a challenge, especially if you’re just starting out.
Aspiring authors, you’re in luck! We’ve put together all the information you need to know about writing a children’s book. This post contains valuable insights from top children’s book editors in the industry. So, if you’re ready to learn how to write a children’s book today and become the next Roald Dahl or Beatrix Potter, read on!
How to write a children’s book:
- 1. Find an idea that’s relatable to children
- 2. Choose an age group (and know its market)
- 3. Use a voice that doesn’t talk down to readers
- 4. Anchor your story with memorable characters
- 5. Write a messy first draft, then rewrite it
- 6. Edit, edit, and edit
- 7. Pick your layout
- 8. Team up with an illustrator, or go it alone
- 9. Choose your perfect print service
1. Find an idea that’s relatable to children
No matter the secret to achieving commercial success, one thing that is certain is that the most successful children’s books will satisfy both the children and their parents. Even though it is the adults who purchase the books, it is the children who will be the ultimate judge of their quality and who will cherish them as they grow. Therefore, when writing a book for children, it is important to consider their needs and come up with a great idea.
Uncover a universal theme
Children’s book ideas might appear to be imaginative, intricate and one of a kind when first encountered. However, when the humorous and imaginative elements of a children’s book are taken away, it becomes apparent that the topics explored within are universal in nature.
- Trying green egg and ham | The value of having an open mind
- Refusing to fight other bulls | The importance of kindness
- A pig who’s saved by a spider | The power of friendship
The best children’s books are grounded upon ideas that inspire and connect with children. As children’s editor Anna BowlesBeginners should be aware that children do not want stories where they are simply depicted as cute and amusing; rather, they want to be portrayed as the heroes who can drive the action, face challenges, and make choices.
Watch more videos on the same topic : How to Write a Children’s Book
Ms. Literacy shares tips on three key questions so young writers can learn how to write a children’s book. nFor students in classes that encourage creative writing or for young writers seeking to be professional authors, this video is designed to help students learn the start of creating a children’s book. The three questions we answer in this video are: n1) How do you come up with an idea for a children’s book? n2) What is the process to plan a children’s book? n3) What are the characteristics of a good children’s book? nSpecial thanks to Coach Jake Jacobs who teach gifted and talented students and wanted a resource to share with them. nnMiss Shiela Keaise is the children’s librarian at the Colleton County Memorial Library. She is affectionately known as Ms. Literacy, who shares a story, a song, and a fun fact either about something, someone or how to do something. She is the author of over 20 books! nCheck out Ms. Literacy on these websites: www.MsLiteracy.com nand www.colletonlibrary.org nFind books, videos, and fun information for all ages, especially Birth to Twelve (0 – 12) years. nCheck out Ms. Literacy on these websites: www.MsLiteracy.com and www.colletonlibrary.org Find books, videos, and fun information for all ages, especially Birth to Twelve (0 – 12) years.
Is your idea right for kids?
- Why do I want to tell this story?
- What is my story about?
- Is this idea and theme going to be relatable to children?
- Is it unique and possibly marketable?
If you’re having difficulty brainstorming an idea for a book, it’s often helpful to remember what kind of books you enjoyed when you were younger. Additionally, children are great critics and can provide useful insight – why not ask the young people you know what sort of books they like? Above all, be willing to explore various paths and be open to making changes. It’s possible that your plot may need to be adjusted, so don’t be hesitant to take advice and consider new creative ideas.
2. Choose an age group (and know its market)
Before you write a single word of your children’s book, you also need to determine your target audience. Children’s lit ranges from baby board books alllllIt’s essential to have an understanding of the age range for your desired readership when writing a novel, which can range from toddlers to adults. Knowing this can help you tailor your writing to best fit their needs. Nevertheless, age alone is not enough — you should also consider the topics, length, style, and complexity of your story.
By understanding the different types of children’s books and their respective target age groups, you can effectively “write to market” and make your book more likely to be successful. To illustrate what these books should look like, here are some examples from popular literature.
The age ranges below are intended to provide guidance about the typical expectations in the industry, NOT as definite regulations. Even though most children (and adults) enjoy picture books after 6 years old, many young people with advanced abilities have a fondness for YA novels. This is to give a general idea of the target audience.
👶 Picture Books (ages 0-6)
In industry terms, a picture book is a book that relies on both illustrations and words to tell the story. Since picture books are meant for very early reading experiences, the word count is going to be quite low (500 words or fewer); board books for babies and toddlers are even shorter. But all picture books still need to have a strong story, so don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re easy to write. You can learn more in our guide to writing a picture book.
Examples of classic picture books:
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
- The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
👧🏼 Early Readers (ages 6-7)
After picture books comes early reader fiction:Books for children who have progressed from mainly picture-based stories to those featuring more words are ideal for those who are not quite ready to read long passages of text. These “early reader” books usually contain between 2,000 and 5,000 words, but are supplemented by illustrations. Furthermore, many of these books are part of a series, enabling children to boost their reading ability as they progress through the set.
Examples of early readers:
- Elephant & Piggie by Mo Willems
- The Animal Ark by Lucy Daniels
- Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
- Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon
🧒🏻 Chapter Books (ages 7-9)
From early readers, children progress to chapter books, which we all probably remember from our earliest book reports! Chapters books are also pretty quick reads that tend to come in series, but their word count is slightly higher, around 5,000 to 10,000 words per book. You’ll still see pictures in chapter books, but you’ll notice they’re less common and often appear as sketches rather than full color illustrations.
Examples of chapter books:
- Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park
- The Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osbourne
- The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Gain an understanding of the fundamental components of children’s books, from the intended audience to the characters and more.
👦🏽 Middle Grade (ages 9-12)
Middle grade books are for kids who want something a little more advanced in terms of both prose andMiddle-grade readers now have the opportunity to read books ranging from 30,000 to 50,000 words with fewer illustrations than in the past. Though, there may still be some pictures to accompany the chapter headings.
Examples of middle grade fiction:
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
- Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
👩 Young Adult (ages 12-18)
Finally, juvenile readers reach young adult books: the last stepping-stone between children’s and adult literature. The typical word count in YA falls between 50,000 to 100,000 words — in other words, the same length as any other novelThis article will address the challenges that teenagers face as they grow up, such as dealing with life-altering circumstances and finding out who they are.
Examples of young adult books:
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Divergent by Veronica Roth
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
3. Use a voice that doesn’t talk down to readers
Having a unique voice will make your children’s book stand out from the rest. Your writing style is what will attract and captivate children, both in the visual and verbal sense, as stories are often read aloud to them.
You might be afraid that you won’t be able to find your voice instantly, but don’t worry! The good news is that, just as nobody has a voice like Dr. Seuss’ or Roald Dahl’s, nobody has yourFinding your unique writing voice can take time and dedication. The best way to uncover it is to think about what makes your words special and focus on improving your strengths as a writer. It can help to keep the following tips in mind as you work on developing your writing voice.
Which famous children’s author do you write like?
Use age-appropriate vocab
Showing off your extensive language knowledge can be impressive in many contexts, but writing a children’s book is not one of them! Complicated words won’t have the desired effect on kids; they will just be baffled. It’s essential to keep in mind that the vocabulary of your intended readership is distinct from yours, even if you are writing for middle grade or young adult audiences.
That said, you should never talk down to children. As children’s editor Jenny BowmanYoung people possess greater intelligence than adults may give them credit for, and the circumstances surrounding them can be a great source of learning.
One of the most effective ways to determine the right level of language and content when writing for children is to read books that are aimed at the same age group. This will give you a better understanding of what is appropriate.
Harness the power of repetition
Picture books and early readers depend on the repetition of words and phrases, so children can follow them easily. Think about books like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom:It’s no wonder why this phrase has become so widespread, as it has been repeated numerous times.
Repeating situations also tend to be very effective, even if they’re only used as a plot device. For example, every Magic Treehouse Jack and Annie’s treehouse serves as a portal to their magical adventures. In each book, they are transported to a different time and place, where they embark on a thrilling journey of discovery. The first chapter of each book provides readers with a sense of anticipation and excitement.
If one is looking for examples of repetition in prose, Dr. Seuss serves as a great example of someone who achieved tremendous success through the use of this writing technique.
Be careful with rhyme
Speaking of Dr. Seuss, reconsider rhyming in your children’s book (unless you’re him). It’s extremely hard to rhyme well — moreover, children’s editors and children’s book agents
That said, there are exceptions! Children’s book editor Judith Paskin describes one such instance when she couldn’t write if it wasn’t i
Occasionally a character will enter my mind and insist on speaking in poetic form. This happened to me when I was creating a children’s book for a change.
I had a natural urge to avoid it – as a professional editor, I should practice what I preach! Nevertheless, the mole was adamant that he could only communicate through rhyming couplets. Thus, if the urge to write in rhymes strikes you, jot them down and polish them to perfection.
4. Anchor your story with memorable characters
Reflect on some of the most well-known characters in literature for children. Characters like Matilda, Pippi Longstocking, Harry Potter, and The Cat in the Hat often come to mind. One might wonder how the authors of these books were able to make these characters so memorable and timeless.
Your protagonist is a few years older than your reader
Jenny Bowman has stated that a fundamental principle exists for all protagonists in children’s literature – a “golden rule” if you will – which goes like this:
Kids enjoy reading stories about kids who are slightly older than them and who are going through similar life experiences.
- An 8-year-old protagonist (think Ramona Quimby) will attract a readership that’s around 5-7 years old; and
- An 11-year-old protagonist (think Harry Potter) will appeal to readers from the age of 9.
This goes back to the importance of knowing your target market. Slightly older characters provide role models and exciting adventures that intrigue younger audiences — like how kids often look up to their older siblings. Of course, the experiences of these characters should not be soAlthough Ramona is now in third grade, she still has the same level of relatability to 7-year-olds due to the fact that the experiences of being in second and third grade are very similar.
Tell us about your book, and we’ll give you a writing playlist
Even kids characters need strengths and flaws
Next, don’t think that writing a children’s book gives you permission to create less-developed characters. A truly great children’s book character will come with their own fully realized strengths, weaknesses, conflicts, and motivations that make them compelling to their readers. Children want Creating characters that readers can connect to is an important part of writing. To make it easier for readers to recognize and relate to your characters, consider utilizing our helpful resources. These can provide guidance as you develop characters that will make an impact on your readers.
Creating well-rounded characters is essential to making a good story. Developing your characters is key to ensuring the story is strong and engaging. Take the time to think about your characters in depth and create characters that the reader can connect with.
Bland is bad
We’ll leave you with one last tip, which is to avoid making your characters so relatable that they’re just bland. In the words of children’s editor Brian Saliba: “Relatable doesn’t have to mean identical. Challenge the status quo and subvert the default settings.” It’s also worth remembering to provide representation in all forms. If you’d like to learn more about diversity in children’s book literature, go here.
5. Write a messy first draft, then rewrite it
It’s time for the big moment—now is the time to compile all of your work and write your children’s story! Here are some helpful hints to help you create your book:
It is common knowledge that the first version of something is often referred to as a ‘rough draft’, and this is because it can be very difficult to make a piece of writing perfect from the start. It is similar to the art of Michelangelo, where he did not immediately begin by carving a realistic head, then a beautifully crafted shoulder, and so on. Instead, the first step was to chisel away the majority of the marble to form the rough outline of his design.
As a writer, you should consider your children’s book to be your own personal “masterpiece” – the fun nuances, personalities, humor, and ideas will come into play afterwards. Your initial task is to create a manuscript that vaguely resembles the book you have envisioned.
Things to focus on in your rewrites
After you have completed a rudimentary version of your story, it is time to polish it up and make it shine. You may find yourself restructuring, rewriting or eliminating certain parts of your manuscript throughout this process. Remember to focus on the following elements during your revisions:
- Write about what you want, but make it relevant and appropriate. For instance, a child’s book might want to explore the theme of betrayal, but the story would have to be a backstabbing best friend or sibling, not an unfaithful partner.
- Thoughtfully explore the theme(s) you’ve chosen. Your book will have at least one central theme/message, and probably more if it’s a longer book for an older age group. Carefully intertwine these themes with the story; don’t hit readers over the head with it.
- Prioritize visuals while writing. Children’s books are a heavily visual medium, so you want to bear that in mind while writing. Try and include varied and interesting looking settings, to give your illustrator more room to play. If your whole book takes place in one room, you won’t be getting the most out of your artwork.
- Entertain the adults too. This is a bonus tip, and certainly not one to prioritize over entertaining the kids. But if you can slip a pun or (appropriate!) cultural reference in for the adults who do all the book-buying and reading aloud, all the better.
- Read liberally in your genre. If you’re struggling with your story, it may help to gather inspiration from the best children’s books of all time.
What will it cost you to hire a children’s book illustrator?
Now, if you’ve managed to emerge from the sweat and tears with a manuscript you actually like, congratulations! Let’s see what you might need to do with
6. Edit, edit, and edit
If your book is only 1,000 words (or less), why would you need to edit it? Answer: because you only When editing a children’s book, it is important to make sure that every single word counts. This means that each sentence should be crafted carefully to ensure that the story is both engaging and meaningful. Moreover, it is essential to keep the text length within 1,000 words, or whatever is specified by the publisher. This helps to ensure that the book is easily digestible for young readers.
Be brutal in your self-edit
The first thing you’ll want to do is perform a self-edit on your children’s book. That guide is actually perfect for middle grade and YA authors, who have more complex plots, characters, and themes. However, if you’re editing a picture book or early reader book, you really only have to do one thing: cut it down to the bare essentials.
“But my book is so short! Do I really need to cut it down?”Yes, a children’s book can be concise without compromising its quality. It is important to remember, however, that not every detail is necessary – in fact, too many details can distract young readers from the story. Even a minor detail can be enough to cause a child to lose interest.
One way to edit a short manuscript is to consider removing lines one by one. Ask yourself if the story still makes sense without the line and if so, it can be deleted.
In order to ensure your children’s book is the best it can be, ask friends, family, and children’s writing groups (like Children’s Book Authors on Facebook or a local writing group) to review it. Make sure to include actual children in your readership, particularly those in the intended age range.
Kids are usually pretty honest, so their feedback will be the most valuable you receive. Incorporate their suggestions are much as possible, and then send out your book for more rounds of feedback! Only once you have thumbs-ups from all your young beta readers
When in doubt, hire a pro
If you’ve gotten feedback, self-edited extensively, and still feel your children’s book isn’t quite there, consider hiring a professional children’s editorThe collective experience of these professionals will bolster your narrative and ensure that your book is ready to be released.
Fortunately, we have the best children’s editors right here on Reedsy, many whom have worked with major authors like Daisy Meadows (author of the Rainbow Magic
7. Pick your layout
When creating a children’s book, one must keep in mind the desired layout. There is a wide range of options available, although books geared towards children under seven usually have a certain look and feel.
- 5” x 8”
- 8.5” x 8.5”
- 7” x 10”
- or 8” x 10”
It is essential to have a clear idea of the form and size of your book before adding illustrations to it, due to the wide range of trim sizes.
- Portrait (vertical) layout. Rectangular pages with the shortest edge running along the bottom of each page. This layout might lend itself well to any book where the characters are particularly tall, or where action takes place up high.
- Landscape (horizontal) layout. Rectangular pages with the longest edge running down the bottom of the page. This layout is great for portraying — you guessed it — landscapes. If your characters are going on an adventure across a fantastical looking land, landscape orientation can allow you more freedom to show that world off.
- Square: Square pages are a versatile layout which lends itself to a whole variety of compositions.
When deciding on your illustrations, think about whether you prefer them on single pages with accompanying text, or if you would like to create double page spreads. If you are unsure of what to do, an illustrator can provide guidance.
Consider tactile elements
When it comes to children’s books, the fun doesn’t have to end there. Aside from various shapes and sizes, these books can also have interactive components. Such elements can be more costly to manufacture and may require specialized assistance, so it’s important to determine if you want to add features like pop-ups, tactile elements (for example, fluffy textures or cut-outs).
When it comes to choosing a format for your book, it is important to consider whether you would prefer a board book, paperback, or hardback. Board books are often preferred for small children as they are more tactile and simpler to hold. It is essential to decide early if this is a viable option, as it could have an impact on the design of the book.
8. Team up with an illustrator, or go it alone
It’s now time to move forward with the captivating part – having your book illustrated! Unless you have complete certainty in your artistic skills, it’s best to seek experienced help with this. However, we will provide some guidance for both potential scenarios.
If you are going to be hiring a pro, you can find more more in-depth information in our handy guide on how to hire a children’s book illustrator,
Identify the visual style for your book
When creating artwork for your story, it is important to consider the audience and the desired tone. For example, if you are writing for a young audience, consider using vibrant and eye-catching graphics. On the other hand, if you are writing for an older audience, a softer and more subtle color palette may be more suitable. Before beginning, it is beneficial to research a variety of references and ideas, as they can provide inspiration and act as a source of guidance.
Browse through your favorite kids books, or the portfolios of some professionals, and identify what you like — and, perhaps just as importantly, anything you definitely don’t like. This post on 20 children’s book illustratorsThis can be a great starting point to locate visual examples and the words to describe what you want.
Make sure your text is illustration-ready
It is essential to provide guidance for an illustrator if you have a specific vision for the illustrations in your book. You can provide page-by-page notes to help explain what you have in mind or just give them the main images and let their imagination take over.
Look for artists whose work already aligns with your preferences
For those who want to be sure they like the outcome of their artwork, it is best to find an artist whose style closely resembles their own vision, instead of requesting a drastic change that may not yield desired results.
Checking out the portfolio of a cover artist is a great way to evaluate their work. Looking through the Reedsy marketplace, you can see the examples of their previous work, as well as reviews from customers they have previously worked with. This will give you more insight into their artistic style and what you can expect when working with them.
Know what’s included in your deal
For children’s books, it is important to have a unified look, both inside and out. Consider employing the same illustrator and cover designer so that the cover stands out and makes an impact. Make sure to communicate your desired cover illustration to the illustrator, and ensure that it is part of the budget.
It is essential to determine early on if the illustrator you are working with will be designing the whole book, including font, text placement, etc., or if you will need to hire a professional for those elements. This may not always be the case with all illustrators, so it’s important to consider this before starting the project.
If you’re DIY-ing your images, check the requirements
Creating your own illustrations can be a great option, however it is essential to ensure the scans are of a high enough quality to reproduce in your book and meet industry standards. Before committing to this option you should always check with the POD service to find out if there are any specific requirements for image resolution or file size. This will ensure that the finished product will be exactly what you are envisioning.
9. Choose your perfect print service
There are a lot of options available for book printing, and it can be overwhelming trying to figure out who to go with. We’ve already put together some tips for kid’s book authors which you should check out in our guide to the cost of publishing a children’s book,
- Authors of kid’s novels, which are largely text based, should favor print on demand services like KDP, Lulu, or Blurb. These services provide the lowest risk, as you won’t need to pay for big bulk orders in advance.
- Authors of picture books may want to consider offset printing services like PrintNinja or IAPC, which offer cheaper cost-per-volume but also require a greater upfront cost.
The price and decision on which printing service to use for a book depends on several factors such as its size, color, and paper type. If a more specialized service such as PrintNinja is chosen, more complex print options like pop-up and board books may be available, however they may be more expensive than the simpler formats.
Once you have finished taking these steps, you will have a children’s book that is ready to be published. Be sure to explore the rest of our guide for more details on how you can share your work with the world.
Frequently asked questions
What is the best way to start writing a children’s book?
The best way to start writing a children’s book is to think of an idea that is both entertaining and age-appropriate for the intended audience. Once the idea is chosen, create a story outline that includes a beginning, middle and end. Then start writing the chapters, keeping in mind that the language should be simple and engaging for younger readers.
How long should a children’s book be?
Children’s books typically range from 500 to 1000 words. Picture books are typically the shortest and can range from 500 to 1000 words, while chapter books range from 6000 to 10,000 words.
What should I consider when writing a children’s book?
When writing a children’s book, consider the age group of the intended audience and choose a story that is age-appropriate. Additionally, use language that is simple, engaging and easy to understand. It is also important to consider the illustrations and how they will compliment the text.
Are there any resources available to help write a children’s book?
Yes, there are many resources available online to help with the process of writing a children’s book. These include books, websites and webinars that can help with the development of a story, the writing process and the publishing process.
How do I get my children’s book published?
Once the book is written, it is important to have the book professionally edited and proofread. After that, authors can submit their book to traditional publishing houses, or self-publish their book independently.