How To Write A Children’s Book: All You Need To Know
Interested in writing children’s books?
Maybe you already have a particular smiling face in mind — or a classroom full of them.
Perhaps you already have an idea for a story book, but you’re not sure how to turn it into a finished book for the right age group. And once you get it written and illustrated, do you know how to get a children’s book published?
Fortunately, once you do learn how to write a children’s book, getting it published is a matter of following a few easy steps, much like publishing books for older readers.
And today’s children’s book authors have plenty of helpful tools and resources at their disposal.
Are you ready to get started writing books for children? Read on to learn all you need to know to get started.
How To Write A Children’s Book
Types of Children’s Books
Most children’s books fall into one of the following categories:
- Board books (Ages 0-3): Fewer than 100 words
- Picture books (Ages 2-7): 500 words or fewer (about 32 pages)
- Trade books (Ages 4-8): 400-800 words
- Early Reader books (Ages 6-10): 2,000 – 5,000 words
- Children’s Chapter books (Ages 6-10): 3,000 – 10,000 words
- Middle grade chapter books (Ages 8-12): 15,000 – 50,000 words
- Young Adult (YA) books (Ages 12+): 50,000 – 100,000 words
Writing for Children (as your audience)
Writing for children is not the same as writing for an older audience.
It’s not just a matter of simplifying the language or adding pictures. Keep the following in mind:
- Children — particularly the youngest — want a happy ending. They want to see themselves in the main character, who should be their age or a little older.
- Children want to see themselves as the hero of the story.
- The language should not get in the way of the story, but neither should it be too simple. The more exposure kids have to books, the more their vocabulary should grow.
- This doesn’t mean, though, that your sentences should be long and complex. Your audience is likely to be restless and easily distracted, so keep their attention with simple but interesting sentences.
- More important than language, though, is the use of age-appropriate themes. If your book’s theme is more appropriate to toddlers or teenagers, it probably won’t hold the attention of an audience of eight-year-olds.
And don’t forget that when you write a children’s book, you’re writing to appeal to two different audiences:
- The kids who read the book or have it read to them
- The grown-ups who buy the book and (may) read it to their kids
More than 70% of those grown-ups are women, and many of them are teachers.
If one of them picks up your book and isn’t delighted by the story and its illustrations, chances are their children will never get to read it or have it read to them.
Do your research into the types of children’s books you’d like to write.
Look up the best-sellers in each category, read them aloud, and see what sets them apart from the books that languish on the shelves.
Go to the library and see which of the kids’ books are falling apart from having been read so many times. Frayed corners, dog-eared pages, and Scotch tape are the hallmarks of a book well loved.
Children’s Book Writing Style
In your research, you’ll encounter different writing styles, and the style you choose might imitate that of a favorite children’s book in your household or in the classroom.
In general, your book’s style will involve the following choices:
- To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme: This is a tricky one. Better to avoid rhyme than to force it. If you’re determined to rhyme, it wouldn’t hurt to find some qualified beta testers to compare two different versions of your story: one with rhyme and one without.
- Past or Present Tense: Kids generally prefer stories that happen in the present tense, since it makes them feel more involved in it. Past tense is more appropriate, though, if your story is set in the past or if one of your characters is remembering something from the past.
- First, Second, or Third Person: From whose point of view (POV) is your story being told — the main character or an all-knowing narrator? Pay attention to the POV in the books your kids or students read. Which do they usually prefer? First person might be more engaging for some because they can substitute themselves for the main character. Second person directly addresses the reader but is not often used for stories. Third person might be more engaging for some readers, especially if the story involves multiple main characters.
Elements of a Children’s Book
Stories for children should have the following elements:
- Relatable characters — Kids want characters they can relate to and whose situations interest them. They want to identify with the heroes and cheer them on to action.
- A hook — The story has to begin in a way that grabs the attention of the reader or listener and holds onto it. Something about the main character or about the situation should get people feeling something and caring about what could happen.
- A suspenseful storyline — The entire story should build on the hook, keeping a firm grip on your attention until you see the final piece of the puzzle. A story outline template can help with this by mapping out the different points in the story.
- Believable dialogue — To help kids identify with the characters, the dialogue should sound as natural and believable as possible — using familiar expressions and avoiding stiff, pedantic phrases or preachy monologues.
- A happy resolution — The story should end in a satisfying way for both the reader and the listener. As mentioned earlier, most kids want a happy ending, even if it’s not “realistic.” If it’s at least possible, make good things happen.
Children’s Book Characters
Children’s book editor, Jenny Bowman, gives us the following guideline for developing characters young readers will love:
“Children want to read stories about other children who are a little older than themselves, who are participating in life experiences that mirror their own.”
Relatability isn’t enough, though. Kids are also drawn to the extraordinary – either in the characters or in their situations. The following are good examples of this:
- Harry Potter, at age eleven, appealed to readers as young as nine, though his appeal certainly wasn’t limited to that age.
- The Pevensie children in the Chronicles of Narnia appeal to readers as young as eight but also to adults of all ages.
- And Rick Riordan’s teenage heroes and heroines appeal to preteen, teenage, and adult readers like.
Think of the challenges your own children may be facing right now, and the stories they’ve enjoyed most over the years.
If they love the character you created for a made-up story, how can you further develop that character? And what can you do to him or her that will have your target reader thinking, “That could be me!”?
Children’s Book Illustrations
Your choice of illustrator and the style of your book’s illustrations will depend on the following:
- The age group for your story
- The orientation of your book: vertical/portrait, horizontal/landscape, or square
- Your book’s trim size and the ideal image size for each page
- The number of illustrations you need for your book
If you’re writing a book that grown-ups will read to younger children, it makes sense to include elaborate illustrations that can help hold the children’s attention while the grown-up is reading.
For older kids, though, the illustrations – if there are any – are fewer in number and often illustrate only key moments in a particular chapter or story.
Again, it pays to do some research and look through books written for your story’s age group. For younger kids, every page will be illustrated, and the words will either be separate from the illustration or integrated with it.
Once you have an idea of the type of illustrations you want and how many you need, it’s time to start looking for a professional illustrator — unless you already are one.
Social media sites:
If you participate in any Facebook groups for authors of children’s books, ask your fellow authors if they can recommend any illustrators.
Especially if you happen to see images of an author’s new book and their illustrations make you think, “That! That’s what I’m looking for!” reach out to them and ask some questions:
- Does your illustrator have a website?
- How did you find them?
- What was it like to work with them?
- Would you recommend this illustrator to fellow authors?
- Did you find the rates reasonable?
- Would you work with this illustrator again?
If the illustrator is willing and able to work with you, look for a way to thank the author who introduced you.[ninja_tables id=”3841″]
If their book is live online, share links to it on social media. Write about your serendipitous discovery on your blog — linking to both the author and the illustrator.
And when your book is finished and up for sale — in print and as an ebook — offer a free copy to the author who helped make it possible.
Children’s Book Covers
Your chosen illustrator is your best asset when designing your book’s cover. You want an illustration that’s relevant to the story, but it doesn’t have to summarize it.
As with other books, It’s more important to make people feel something when they see your cover.
The grown-up who looks at your book online or at a bookstore should feel something, and so should the child to whom the book is read.
For children’s picture books especially, the experience of reading them is only partly what the child hears. The story is in the pictures, too.
If the illustrations are subpar, your book will collect dust. Or, in ebook form, it’ll sink to the 7-digit nether regions of Amazon.
The illustration and the fonts you use on the cover should belong together, so it pays to invest in a font that suits the image or to ask your illustrator to include the title and other text in the cover illustration.
Children’s Book Titles
A good title for a children’s book has the following elements:
- Clear, age-appropriate language
A children’s book title should say what the story is about, using language its young audience can understand. It should make them want to know more.
The title and cover illustration should work in concert to attract both your target markets (children and the grown-ups who buy them) and get them curious enough to click on it or take it off the shelf.
How to choose a winning title for your children’s book:
1. Brainstorm some ideas.
Use details from your story, or take a common phrase and change it somehow to say something about the story — just enough to make people curious.
Get into your main character’s — or your ideal reader’s — head. If you’re writing this with specific kids in mind, you can bounce ideas off them to see which titles they find more interesting.
Write down whatever comes to mind. Make a list with as many options as you can think of.
Then narrow down your choices to a few favorites.
2. Look them up.
Do an internet search on each title to make sure no other book, website, blog or anything other copyrighted material is using it.
Other than Google (or another general search engine), it’s a good idea to look up your title ideas on Amazon to see if you find other books already wearing one or more of the titles you’re considering for your book.
The U.S. Copyright Office doesn’t allow authors to copyright their titles since it doesn’t consider those to be exclusive intellectual property.
For this reason, it’s not unusual to find titles repeated on multiple books. And it’s not illegal to give your book a title already used by other authors.
That said, if you find that a title you like is already on the cover of a well-known published children’s book — especially if it’s also well-loved — you’ll probably want to choose a different title.
3. Put them to the test.
Once you have your choices narrowed down, it’s time to put the few remaining favorites to the test. And you can do this in a number of ways:
- Trust your gut: Try them on for a few days at a time by making an image of your book’s cover with the title your computer wallpaper. Or make a poster of all the available options (as mock-up covers) and post it where you’ll see it.
- Ask your friends and family: Especially if you’re living with members of your book’s target markets, go ahead and ask if they have any preferences or if there are any you should definitely not
- Create and share a social media poll: If you can control the demographic that sees your poll, try to steer it more toward grown-ups most likely to buy children’s books. Since 70% of those are women, and the majority of those are between the ages of 30 and 44, try to get as many likely buyers as possible to vote on your title poll.
- Use Pick.Fu: Authors like S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport swear by Pick.Fu, because they find their own responders who choose their favorite option and explain why. So, you get a generous supply of crowdfunded insight on your title choices, complete with explanations and demographic info for each responder.
It’s also a good idea to create a book dummy — one for each of your final two or three title options.
- Take some paper — half as many sheets as your book’s page count — for each book dummy.
- Take a piece of cardboard the same size of your paper for each book dummy’s cover.
- Fold the cover and the sheets of paper in half.
- Take a printout of your book’s text, and cut it into as many parts as your story has pages. Paste a section of text to each page.
- Add images to each page to coordinate with the text.
- Add cover images — each with a different title option — to the outside of your cardboard “book cover.”
- Get feedback from those in both target markets (kids and grown-ups) on your options.
(Image courtesy of Debbie Ridpath Ohi of Inky Girl.)
Editing a Children’s Book
If your book has more than 600 to 800 words, you owe it to yourself and to your reader to get fresh eyes on it — at least for a thorough proofreading.
It goes without saying that you should read the book aloud yourself — at least once — to check for errors and to make sure it sounds good. Give it a trial run with a young audience and see what kind of reaction you get.
While you’re reading it out loud (especially if you’re reading to an audience), mistakes will jump out more.
Your book isn’t published, yet, so don’t worry if you have to go back into your book’s file to correct those errors. Better to catch and fix them now, so you can avoid bad reviews pointing out the need for an editor or proofreader.
As for those fresh eyes, if you don’t have a budget for a professional editor, you can post a request on social media for beta readers, who will read through your story and report any mistakes.
If you ask, they may also make suggestions on how to improve your story.
Good beta readers can make your story clearer, more compelling, and more memorable. To reward them, you can acknowledge them in your book and offer to return the favor when they need beta readers.
How to Publish a Children’s Book
Amazon’s KDP has a Kindle Kids’ Book Creator tool to help you prepare an illustrated book for publication as an ebook.
You can download the tool (to either a PC or Mac), create your book, and upload the completed file to your KDP dashboard when it’s ready.
For chapter books and other books written for older kids, you can use the Kindle Create tool to put it together and preview it on the built-in Kindle Previewer — which you can also download separately if you’d rather create the entire book in Microsoft Word.
Once you have a finished Word document, you can save it as an HTML file (“web page, filtered”), and upload to Kindle Previewer.
If everything looks as it should, and your links work (if you have any), export a file (in MOBI format) to your computer’s desktop, so you can upload it to KDP for the Kindle version.
For Print Books
Like CreateSpace, KDP Print recommends standard sizes for optimal distribution. Here are the most popular options:
- 5” x 8.5”
- 6” x 9”
- 14” x 9.21”
- 7” x 10”
- 8” x 10”
- 5” x 8.5”
- 5” x 11”
KDP Print provides both text and video tutorials on how to create, format, assemble, and publish your print book.
Once you have your finished PDF files for your book’s interior and cover uploaded to KDP Print and approved for publication, you can order a printed proof to look over before publishing it.
I hope you now have all the information you need to turn your story idea into a beautifully-written and illustrated published children’s book. I bet you can already imagine it on your bookshelf.
Now that you know how to write children’s books, check out other posts on Authority pub for next steps in marketing, setting up ads, getting reviews…etc.