Children learn more about people, places, and events through reading. Children are exposed to different ways of thinking, beliefs, and lifestyles. While this is an important learning experience for its own sake, it also provides a foundation of knowledge that helps children learn how to read confidently. How do you write children’s books? Continue reading to learn more.
How to Write Children’s Books?
You don’t have to be a professional writer or artist to create a children’s book. With a little guidance and help, you can make it appealing enough for thousands of children.
Nothing beats the feeling you get from holding a printed book and reading it to your child for the first time. These 12 steps will get you there quickly.
This article will teach you:
- How to create a concept that works
- How to make a main character children love
- How to write the perfect length
- How to structure your plot
- How to work with an Illustrator
- How to revise
- How to publish
You can read the entire post to get an understanding of writing a children’s novel. But, if you want to learn more, with videos, PDFs, and quizzes, my 30-video course, “Two weeks to your best children’s books,” will give you the complete experience.
Now, buckle up! These are the 12 steps for writing a children’s book.
1. Find Your Best Idea
You may already have an idea, but you need to refine it. Here are some ways to do it:
- Google “children’s Book” and enter a phrase to describe your book.
- Look at the summary of similar books once you have found them.
- Find out what makes your book different from the published versions.
While it may seem obvious to do basic research before you spend your energy on a book, many authors neglect this important step. It’s basic research you can do in two minutes to get a good idea of the competition.
How to Brainstorm a great idea for a Children’s Book This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s evidence that children love to read about their topic.
It’s important to add a twist to your story that makes it unique. Perhaps your book is about bullying, and you tell the story through the eyes of the bully. If it’s about dogs, you can make the dog blind or a stray.
Need more ideas for children’s books? These are nine zany and quirky ideas for children’s books.
Perhaps your story has a surprise ending, or it is for a younger audience. Or maybe your character has a magical guide, such as a fairy or an elf, to help them on their journey. You can add one twist to make it stand out from other books.
2. Develop Your Main Character
Each year I edit hundreds upon hundreds of children’s literature books. The best books are full of unique characters. They are unique in their way. They are funny. They are strange. They speak differently from everyone else.
However, I worry when I see a book in which the main character is identical to every child. The main character should not be a substitute for every child.
I would recommend that you go through the Character Questionnaire to find out what you know about yourself.
- What do you want for your main character?
- Which is their worst/best habit?
- Are they extroverts or introverts?
- What makes them speak differently from everyone else? (simple sayings, repetition of phrase/words, dialect, high/low volumes)
- Are they too confident in themselves?
- Are they pet-owners? (Or does your animal character have human parents)
- What makes your main character happy?
- Are they hiding any secrets?
- What would this character do if they were completely out of character?
- What is the one thing that this character loves, and most people don’t like?
Score yourself now on how many you know right away.
8-10: I’ll give you a thousand gold ribbons. You probably feel like your character is a real person.
6 – 7: Bravo! You’ve thought about your character deeply.
5 and Below: Before you begin writing, take a few more character questions.
You can find an extended version of the questionnaire in my course if you have more questions.
3. Write the Right Length
What is the correct word count for your book’s title?
This is the most frequently asked question I receive and the one most writers make mistakes with.
You must determine the age range for which you are writing and then stick to that word count.
Most children’s picture book writers write for children ages 3-7. Shoot for 750 words if that’s you. This is the sweet spot.
You’re doomed to write a picture book that exceeds 1,000 words. It is essential that it not exceed 1,000 words. This is the most rigid rule in the industry. Take out all red pens, and start slicing until you have it down.
4. Get started quickly
Many children’s books that aren’t published have a low success rate in grabbing the attention of parents and children. They start too slowly. If the story concerns a child joining a circus, they should be on the first or second pages.
Do not tell backstory about the child’s childhood. Do not set the scene or tell us what season.
Let the circus arrive in town and have the child become a tightrope walker, clown, or lion tamer as soon as possible.
Your story has such a limited space that it is impossible to waste time. Children’s stories move quickly, so write slowly.
Take, for example, the picture book “HippoSPOTamus.” How do you think the hippo finds the red spot on her bottom when she is a youngster?
Yes, it is on the first page.
That event is the beginning of the whole story.
You can start your book as quickly as possible.
5. Find the main problem
Each character has a problem. It can be a mystery or a person. Or it could be a crisis in confidence. This is the problem they will have to deal with throughout the book.
Most of the book will have obstacles that the main character must overcome before solving the problem.
These are the top mistakes that beginning writers make when dealing with their Main Problem.
- It is too easy for the character to solve the problem. Your character should struggle and fail. If you are writing for older children, your main character should fail a minimum of three times before overcoming the problem.
- There is no need to overcome multiple obstacles. The main character must face many obstacles on his way to solving the problem. He shouldn’t just be able to overcome one obstacle, and then the problem is solved. The main character must lose parts to build a rocket ship that can fly to space. His mother should call him and tell him to eat dinner.
- The character isn’t interested in solving the problem. This must be a huge problem for the child. They have to feel that it is a matter of life or death, even though the problem is a missing button. The reader will also feel it is a big problem as long as it feels to the child.
6. Repetition is a good idea.
Children love repetition! Parents love repetition! Publishers love repetition!
Everyone loves repetition! Check out my post about 17 great examples of repetition in literature.
It’s not a good idea to repeat something in your children’s book.
You see, Dr. Seuss’ entire work is built on repetition. He’s the father of children’s books.
These are the three types of repetition you can use.
- Repetition of a phrase or word on a page
- Repetition of a word/phrase throughout the book
- Repetition of story structure
A book that rhymes use repetition of similar words. I believe story structure repetition is more important than language repetition.
7. Write for Illustrators
The writer’s main job is to make sure the illustrator succeeds. You can also hire an illustrator through the SCBWI illustration gallery.
Many writers don’t think about the type of material they are giving to the illustrator.
The illustrator will struggle to create visually appealing images if a book takes place in a shared house by two characters.
An illustrator can make a huge difference in your book. However, they are only as good as the information you provide. Give them more.
Make sure to choose fun buildings for your setting.
- Consider funny-looking main characters. A lemur is much easier to draw than a dog.
- Be outside, not inside. Wheatfields are much more fun than a bedroom.
- Illustrations are limited to schools and other places. The outdoors offers more options for illustrators.
A publisher doesn’t just evaluate your book based on its words. Publishers are looking at the combination of your words and illustrations. They’ll say no if they don’t get a solid half of the words.
If you self-publish, visuals can make it much more enjoyable for your child.
8. End the Story Quickly
After the main problem is solved (the cat is located, the bully apologizes, and the girls make friends again), only one page is left to complete the book.
The story is over, so there is no tension. This means that the reader doesn’t have any incentive to read more. Do them a favor, and finish the book as soon as you can.
You want to give a satisfying ending and wrap up all of the stories.
A “Call Back” is one of my favorite ending tricks. This is when stand-up comedians refer to a joke from their previous set to end their routine.
This can be used in children’s literature by referring to something on the first five or six pages. If the main character became so obsessed with a purple lollipop that she wandered off and lost her way, the last page might read: “And from then on, she only licked red lollipops!”
9. Select Your Title
Titling your children’s book that’s a good question.
Many writers don’t understand the essence of their stories until they have written them. You can use a temporary title but know that it will likely be changed after you finish the book.
Revising is fine. Everyone revises. You shouldn’t be afraid of changing your title several times until you find the right one.
Your book’s title is also a key marketing tool. The title alone is enough to make most readers choose whether or not they want to read your book. This means that choosing a title is probably the most important thing you do. However, it might not be as important as choosing an illustrator.
- Use similar first letters (Alliteration). Imagine that your book is about Amy’s adventures finding a meadow full of poppies and how she met a mouse there.
- Don’t title: “Amy’s Adventure With Poppies.”
- Do Title: “The Mouse in the Meadow.”
2. Avoid using a descriptive title. Many people simply describe the contents of their book within the title. I wouldn’t recommend this. A book is about a boy searching through a library for a special book on eternal life. How would you name this book?
- Don’t: “The Vast Library.”
- Don’t: “The Library Hunt.” This is better. “Hunt” can be a great word, and the combination with the library is fascinating.
- Do: “How to Live Forever” (This is the real title, and it’s amazing. This is the title of the book that the boy is looking for. It lets the reader know that there will be deep topics covered.
3. Use an Action Title. Your title should be full of energy. A dull title ruins your book’s chances of success. This means that you should use active verbs in your title rather than passive.
- Don’t: “Johnny’s Wonderful Day”
- Do: “Captain Johnny Destroys Dr. Doom” (Captain Johnny is more playful because we have the active verb “defeat” while Dr. Doom uses alliteration.
4. The Technique of Mystery. Use the Technique of Mystery. Does the title inform the reader all they need to know or pique their curiosity? Your goal is to provide enough information for the parent to say, “Hmmm, that sounds like fun.”
- Don’t put “The Bird in the Window” in your vocabulary.
- Do: “Oh, The Places You’ll Visit!” (Which places?
- Do: “Olivia Saves the Circus” (How? We want to find out.
- Do: “How to Catch an Elephant” (Tell Me More!)
5. Google “Children’s Book [Your Title]”. You can check if the title has been taken (or if it is too similar). Let’s say that your ideal title has been used. Is it possible to use the title? Yes. You can’t copyright titles. However, it is not always the best idea to copyright titles.
6. You can test your title with children and adults. It is important to observe how children respond to your title. Are they happy? Are they bored? Remember that parents are the ones who buy books, not children. It’s important to get their reactions by bouncing them off adults.
10. A Revision Strategy: Walk the Plank
Revision of your children’s book
Nic McPhee photo
Many unpublished picture books are too long.
Agents and publishers will tell you that too many children’s books are what makes them reject a book.
This is how to fix it. Every word, every phrase, and every sentence in “Walk the Plank” should be changed.
You highlight the item and hover over it (this is called “walking on the plank”) and then ask yourself: If I cut this, does the story make any sense?
If the story makes sense, you can PUSH the phrase/sentence to the side and delete it.
If the story is not clear, that sentence or word gets a reprieve (at most for this round of editing). This is the answer.
The odds of publishers/agents liking your children’s book are higher, and you will be more popular with parents and children. These are some examples.
11. How to find an editor
Editor for your children’s books A book editor is a great investment. While I understand that you love the work you have written, there are many techniques and tricks to improve the experience for the reader.
There are two types of editors for children’s books.
- First, you have the developmental editors (also known as content editors). These editors can help improve your story, characters, plot, pacing, dialogue, and other issues. These editors look at the whole picture and can help you revise your book. This is what I do! These are my contacts.
- A copy editor is needed after you have used a developmental editor. This editor fixes grammar, spelling, sentence tenses, style, and other minor details. They will make your book look professional.
Sometimes, you might find an editor who can do both. However, you cannot do both simultaneously. You must first make the big picture changes before you get into the details.
This is a checklist to help you find an editor.
- Editors should have a long history in the industry.
- An example of a children’s book they have edited should be available to your editor.
- You should provide testimonials from satisfied authors to your editor.
- SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) should be your editor.
Editors’ costs vary, but editors who cost less than $300-500 per hour are likely to have little or no experience in this industry. You don’t want someone who is just starting to work on your book.
You can hire me to edit your children’s books.
12. How to find an Illustrator
This is the most crucial step in the post-writing process.
The most costly step in publishing a children’s novel is the illustrator, but it is also the most important for a book to succeed. Your book will look better the more money you spend on this step. Although I have already mentioned SCBWI’s illustrator gallery, I wanted to mention Fiverr as a cheap place to hire an artist.
If none of these options work, visit the website Children’s Illustrators. Or, for an alternative, Illustration X.
This is the first thing you should ask when you are looking for an illustrator.
- You can view examples of past work (do they suit your style?)
- You can request a copy of your contract. Do they retain the rights?
- It will take approximately how long (see the graphic below to see an average time).
- If they do layout, type, or book design, you will need to hire one afterward.
You should be in love with the illustrator’s style, and it should match your vision for how you want the book.
WHAT SUGGESTIONS ARE VERY IMPORTANT?
It’s not enough to just put words on an illustration and expect them to look good. It is essential to find a happy marriage of text and image. Think about the following:
- Font. This is an extremely important aspect. Many self-published children’s books use the wrong font. An illustrator can help you select the perfect font for your illustrations.
- The font size. This is also important. This should be consistent throughout the book and should match the size of the objects in the illustration.
- The location of the words. The placement of the words on the illustration can ruin it. You should balance it carefully and use good composition guidelines such as the rule of threes. The words should complement the illustration, not detract.
- Page breaks. Page breaks. Before your illustrator begins, you should discuss this with them. You need to let them have input on this. Don’t tell them how the pages should be divided up. They might want a two-page spread with no words or to split a sentence across multiple pages. Or to have one page with several sentences and the next with a brief phrase to emphasize. This is the biggest mistake I see in beginning writers/illustrators: they put the same amount of text on every page (usually one sentence).
You can either hire an illustrator to design your book or hire a designer. You can’t decide the fonts, placements, and font size by yourself. A book designer will help you.
- Do I need to copyright my book?
Although there are many opinions, I believe the consensus is NO. There is no need to be concerned about your book being stolen. If you choose to publish your book through traditional publishing, the publisher will copyright it. You already have the material when you write it. Self-publishing gives you additional protection.
If you are going to spend your life worrying about it, then relax. Go to the U.S. Register for Copyright Office at the cost of less than $100. In my book course for children, I will walk you through how to do it.
- Are illustrations required before I send my book to publishers, editors, or agents?
This is a no-no. Editors prefer to work with the text alone. If your book does not require illustrations to make sense, don’t send them. You can also put the explanation of the illustration in brackets [like this].
The publisher will always employ their illustrators. If you don’t have the budget, submit your text by itself. Because choosing an illustrator is a marketing decision that they have to make (not you), a great illustrator can run up to $20,000. This is because you probably don’t have the money.
What if you are the illustrator? You will want to send the images. If you do get rejected, it could be due to the story or your illustrations. Sometimes you won’t even know what the weak link was.
Agents are more likely to look to represent illustrators/writers than they are to represent writers. This is because children’s illustrators make a lot more than children’s writers (sorry, it’s just how it is).
- Do I need a non-disclosure arrangement? (NDA)
You can eat whatever you like, but a bear eating your book is a far better option than someone stealing it.
You can sue them if they steal your book, and you can take all the profits. So there’s not much incentive for someone to steal your book.
This is a fact that authors worry about far more than what happens. I would advise you to focus all your efforts on creating the best children’s book possible. If you have a great book, editors/publishers will be more inclined to collaborate with you than steal.
- Do you want to be my literary agent?
Yes, I am an editor. The roles of literary agent and editor are quite different. The job of an editor is to make sure your children’s book is as good as possible. A literary agent’s role is to match your book with a publisher.
If you sign up for my children’s books email list (via the pop-up on this page), I will send you a list with the children’s agent. Here’s another list.
- Can you help me find an editor?
This is primarily the role of literary agents, but I have a list of 30 publishers on Bookfox who will accept submissions from authors without a literary agency.
If you hire me to edit, I might be able to recommend publishers to whom your book might be a good fit. However, it is not a deal. Publishers receive many submissions, so they must take on only the books that they are confident selling.
- How many submissions can an agent or publisher receive in a single year?
An agent who is just starting might receive between 2,000 and 3,000 submissions per year. A more experienced agent may get between 3,000 and 8,000 submissions.
Accepting submissions from publishers can get anywhere between 2,000 and 15,000 submissions. However, almost all publishers that start receiving too many submissions stop accepting them (because it is too expensive to hire people to go through all the submissions).
I don’t mean that you should be discouraged, but rather to help you make an informed decision on whether you should self-publish your book or go to a traditional publisher. It can be difficult to find an agent or publisher. This takes a lot of work and time.
Self-publishing is a wonderful way to publish your book quickly.
- Should I self-publish or look for a traditional publisher to publish my work?
Self-publishing has many advantages. There is no waiting time, and you have complete control over the project (such as cover art, illustration, etc.), and it’s cheaper than if you do it yourself.
You have to market your book yourself. There is no one to help you. If you are a true go-getter who believes you can spread the word about your book, self-publishing is for you.
Traditional publishing has many advantages. You would receive an advance (money is nice). They would do all the proofreading, ISBN, illustrations, and cover art. You would also receive guidance on marketing and promotion.
It can be difficult to get an agent or publisher to accept your manuscript. Sometimes, you will need to submit the story to more than 100 outlets for acceptance. This route is best for those who have patience and want to see the book reach a wider audience.
- Is it possible to write a book for children?
Publishing books is not a lucrative business.
Anyone can write a children’s book. A good book is not for everyone. It takes a great book to sell. You will be disappointed if you don’t understand the process before you begin publishing.
- Is it possible to make a living writing book for children?
It is possible to make a living as a children’s author. It is possible, but it isn’t easy or luxurious. The data shows that children’s book authors make more than $20,000/year. Most have been working as a writer for at least six consecutive years.
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Watch more https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsAtwkHRorY