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 storybook, 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.
- Types of Children’s Books
- Is It Easy to Write A Children’s Book?
- Why You Should Write a Children’s Book
- Take Your Best Kid’s Book Idea and Refine It
- Writing for Children (as your audience)
- 9 Tips for Writing a Story Kids Can’t Put Down
- 1. Jump Right Into the Action
- 2. Identify the Big Problem
- 3. Use a Series of Obstacles
- 4. Use Repetition
- 5. Have the Character Think of Giving Up
- 6. Give the Main Character a Breakthrough
- 7. Show the Main Character Solving the Problem
- 8. Don’t Forget About the Supporting Cast
- 9. Respect Their Intelligence
- Children’s Book Writing Style
- Elements of a Children’s Book
- Children’s Book Characters
- Children’s Book Covers
- Children’s Book Titles
- Things to Avoid When Writing a Book for Children
- Editing a Children’s Book
- FAQs for Writing 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
Is It Easy to Write A Children’s Book?
While children’s books are typically short and written in simpler language, they’re not easier to write than stories for older readers — any more than short stories are easier to write than novels.
Writing for children requires an understanding of how a child’s mind works and what it finds both meaningful and captivating.
Kids want to be entertained and to feel seen and understood by the author.
With that in mind, steer clear of the following:
- Condescending language — talking down to the reader
- Unnecessary details — slow down the narrative
- Preachiness — turning a story into a sermon
- Shallow stereotypes — assuming all kids are selfish, bratty, etc.
- Mixed up POV — head-hopping confuses your readers
- Miraculous solves & saves — the main character should solve the problem
- Stories with zero tension — nothing is at stake for the main character
Why You Should Write a Children’s Book
If you’re even a little inclined to write a children’s book, let the following list of reasons nudge you a bit closer to getting started:
- Kids read more books than most grown-ups do;
- Hollywood (i.e., the film industry) loves children’s books;
- Children’s book authors can make a living with them;
- Speaking fees for children’s book authors range from $1,000 to $2,500 per day;
- It’s a (cheaper) form of therapy;
- Fan mail for children’s book authors can’t be beat;
- It’s harder than it looks — but also more fun.
Take a moment to imagine a child so captivated by your story they want to read it — or have it read to them — again and again. If your heart swells at the thought, and you have an idea rattling around in your head for just such a story, you owe it to yourself to try.
Take Your Best Kid’s Book Idea and Refine It
Start with a Google search using the term “children’s book” plus a short phrase describing your book idea. Scan your results for books and investigate each one that interests you.
Don’t worry if you see several books already written about your idea. Take it as proof children want to read stories like yours.
The more familiar you are with similar books out there, the easier it will be to find a way to make yours different in a meaningful way.
All you need is one twist that makes your story stand out from the competition. Once you have that twist, outline your story from start to finish.
As you’re doing this, keep your illustrator in mind and add details that will make for more engaging illustrations. Picture your story as you tell it.
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 for 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.
9 Tips for Writing a Story Kids Can’t Put Down
1. Jump Right Into the Action
Here’s a shocking fact: Over the past 15 years, the average human attention span has decreased from 15 seconds to less than 8. That’s right: people, generally speaking, have lower attention spans than goldfish.
Since the typical reader’s focus quotient is short, dive right in with a strong hook to grab your reader’s attention.
But remember to keep the action age appropriate. There’s no need to start a book for 7-year-olds with a gunfight or assault. Remember that children are very sensitive and scare easily. They’re also filled with questions, so be kind to the parents.
2. Identify the Big Problem
The sooner you identify what’s at stake for the main character, the sooner your reader will find a reason to keep reading.
Human brains — even the young ones — love stories in which people beat the odds. Establish stakes that grip the reader by introducing the problem early. Too much description at the beginning can be boring, and young readers usually don’t have the staying power to wade through much landscape setting.
You’re penning a children’s book, not auditioning to be the next Emily Bronte.
3. Use a Series of Obstacles
Stories like Star Wars and Harry Potter pull readers in because the stakes are constantly rising.
Children’s books usually jog along briskly, and while there may be some character development, the main draw is an exciting plot. Try not to rely on a single main event (although it’s good to have a climax); also, litter the prose with smaller hurdles that your characters must clear along the way.
Ultimately, give your main character real obstacles to overcome and make each feat more challenging than the one before it.
4. Use Repetition
While themes and motifs can enhance a story, blatant repetition is frowned upon in adult literature, with critics preferring more linguistic finesse.
But a little repetition can go a long way in children’s books. Young kids are still learning to recognize patterns; writing in a way that allows them to develop these skills is helpful.
Hold your reader’s attention by repeating phrases, images, or other visual or textual elements as breadcrumbs leading the reader along the plot’s path.
5. Have the Character Think of Giving Up
Hope works like a drug on the human brain. We love it — crave it, even!
As such, when you give your characters seemingly unscalable mountains to climb, readers are more likely to stick to the tale. We like it even more when the problems seem insurmountable, and you give your reader a reason to hope your main character keeps going.
This is effectively accomplished by having the people in your stories think of giving up but deciding to forge on.
6. Give the Main Character a Breakthrough
Oprah calls it an “A-HA!” moment. In the children’s literature sphere, it’s known as a “breakthrough.”
To add interest and enhance character development, show how the story’s young hero finally sees what they need to do about the problem to get the best result.
Breakthroughs usually happen right before the climax action. Ideally, you want to give enough clues along the way but hold back until the peak of the rising action. Also, if possible, try to plot the clues so your readers have a shot at figuring it out also.
7. Show the Main Character Solving the Problem
All books — whether for adults or kids — should include problems that characters must solve. Ingenious fixes are the most popular, so get creative!
Not only does this keep the plot moving, but it also models problem-solving skills, which is helpful to a growing mind.
The solution should come from the protagonist — not from a miracle or a grown-up taking over and fixing everything. After all, your main character is the hero of this story.
8. Don’t Forget About the Supporting Cast
Don’t forget about your protagonist’s crew! Adding a “supporting cast” is fundamental, and in the best children’s books, these characters rank among the most beloved.
Where would young Master Potter be without Hermoine and Ron — or Luke Skywalker without R2D2, Princess Leia, and Han Solo?
9. Respect Their Intelligence
Sure, kids may not be able to do advanced calculus — (simmer down “actually,-my-kid…” parents; this is not an invitation to backdoor brag) — but they are quite observant and don’t like being talked down to.
Additionally, write with the targeted age group in mind. For example, what works best for 3rd graders is different than what 6th graders will find engrossing.
Moreover, they can smell a forced “lesson” from miles away. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t infuse your story with wisdom and moral messages — just try not to be clunky about it.
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:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 alike.
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 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 in 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 of 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 PickFu: 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.)
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Things to Avoid When Writing a Book for Children
We’ve discussed tips on how to write an engaging story for young people. Now, let’s look at what to avoid.
- Problematic Graphics: Implicit bias is a quirk of the human brain. We subconsciously form opinions about people based on their characteristics and may not even realize we hold these prejudices. For example, assuming men are aggressive and women are submissive is a common implicit bias. These stereotypes are built into the media we consume. The good news is that once we recognize our subconscious judgments, we get better at shedding them. So make sure your book isn’t full of unintentional biases (i.e., certain ethnicities uniformly depicted as misbehaving, blonde girls always represented as dumb, et cetera).
- Bad Graphics: Common wisdom holds that it’s always better to write the narrative before hiring an illustrator. We concur. We also advise not to skimp on the graphics. Children use images to help them navigate the story. Plus, visual representations stimulate the brain. Bad pictures have the power to ruin a book.
- Big Words: Are you a vocabulary hound? Us, too! However, when penning books for kids, hold back. You won’t win any fans by using 50-cent words. In fact, you’ll probably repel them. You don’t want to frustrate your readers, so be mindful of word choice.
- Long Sentences: No need to bring your Faulkner-esque, long-sentence style to children’s writing. Adults have a hard enough time reading over an 8th-grade reading level. For younger people, it’s even more challenging. Again, you don’t want to alienate your readers, and a lengthy sentence structure is like Kryptonite to inchoate brains.
- Overwriting: Little kids aren’t interested in reading thousands of pages — at least not the tykes who are just learning to read. So, there’s no need to go all Karl Ove Knausgård. And remember that illustrations will speak volumes. You don’t need to describe every detail, especially in picture books.
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 thorough proofreading.
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.
FAQs for Writing a Children’s Book
So many questions come up about writing children’s books. We’ve picked a few of the most persistent ones.
#1 — How do you start off a book?
Once you have your idea for a children’s book and you’ve outlined it, giving it just the right beginning can still be a challenge. Try any of the following to grab your reader’s attention from the very first sentence:
- Start with a startling first line — make your first line something that starters your reader and gets them immediately curious about what’s going on;
- Start with a unique character detail — use an unusual character trait or a detail about the character’s life that intrigues the reader;
- Start with a life-changing moment — dive right into a life-altering moment for the main character and allow them to react to it in a way your reader will understand;
- Start with something ominous — start with an “Oh, no!” moment or by creating an ominous feeling in your reader with details that immediately put them on edge;
- Start with a unique detail about the setting — start with interesting detail about your story’s setting, making it a supporting character or an antagonist;
- Start with the stakes and ramp them up — start by immediately showing your reader what’s at stake for the main character, and then add to it.
#2 — Should I give my children’s book a subtitle?
We can think of a few reasons why giving your children’s book a subtitle is a brilliant idea:
- Subtitles can help you connect with your ideal reader;
- Subtitles give you an opportunity to use more keywords or key phrases, making your book easier to find;
- Subtitles give you more creative freedom with your title.
Publisher Rocket is an excellent tool for identifying the best keywords and key phrases to use, making it an excellent tool for maximizing your subtitle’s marketing potential.
Aside from that, pay attention to titles and subtitles that stand out for you when researching books similar to yours. What details make you smile when you see them?
When in doubt, ask a child in your target age group which subtitles they prefer.
#3 — How many pages should a children’s book be?
Word count is actually a better number to keep in mind since your word count per page can vary widely.
Most children’s book authors are writing books for ages 3 to 7. If that’s you, 750 words are the sweet spot. Whatever you do, even if you think every word is gold, keep it under 1,000 words, and — if necessary — cut away until your word count is under that.
When writing chapter books for older children — ages 5 to 10 — word count falls between 3,000 and 10,000 words for the entire book.
Middle-grade books (ages 7 to 12) can have 10,000 to 30,000 words.
As with other details, it pays to do your research. Look at books similar to yours that are doing well. Look at their word count and the number of words they put on each page (on average) or each chapter.
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 the next steps in marketing, setting up ads, getting reviews, etc.