How to Write a Children's Book: Beginner's Edition
On the surface, writing children's books seems like a piece of cake. But a children's book author is no less of a writer than the book writers of other genres.
Children are like flowers. They are delicate but beautiful. Going through the ordeal of entertaining the fragile creatures is no walk in the park. If you disagree with us on that, try comforting a crying baby. You can try all the tricks in the book and they're not going to be enough, but the mother of that child would know exactly what the crying baby wants.
While anyone with kids can tell bedtime stories, writing a good children's book is not something anyone can pick up. It is more than just telling a bedtime story.
It takes great skill, creativity, and imaginative prowess to write children's books. The best children's book authors are geniuses of wordcraft. Think about Dr. Seuss, Judy Blume, Mem Fox, Roald Dahl. These personalities may work in children's literature, but their work is no child's play. They are like those mothers who know exactly what their child wants, and they deliver on the demands of their audiences perfectly. A great many writers of our generation grew up reading Judy Blume and Dr. Seuss in their childhood. They inspired us to be book writers like them.
A lot of people have the impression that since kids are not intelligent, a subpar writer can take the shot at children's books to make some money. Although it's true that the market for children's literature has been growing over the past decade, and more and more children's books are being sold each passing year, it's also getting more competitive. Should that stop anyone from writing tales for the early readers? Absolutely not.
Children are the best audiences in the whole world. They are very vocal about their desires. They have no filters on their expressions. They are very particular in their likes and dislikes. They have favorites and hold strong ideals in their minds. They remember the things they love and don't forgive easily. They are a tough bunch, but the reward of success is just as sweet.
So, for all those sweet reasons, adorable giggles, delightful squeaks, and precious smiles let's get started on how to write a children's book.
Step 01: Define Your Goals
Just like with every other project you would take on, defining the objectives of the children's book that you want to write is important. When the project's purpose is clear, the authors can direct their focus and energy in the right direction from the beginning.
Ask yourself what is the purpose behind you writing this book. Are you writing a children's book because you think they're easy to deliver rather than a fictional story aimed at adults? Are you planning to write a children's book to make some money on the side? Do you intend to tell a story that you think does not qualify as adult fiction? Do you wish to leave a legacy behind for your children or grandchildren? Do you have ideas for children's books you would want to self-publish? Or do you just have a burning desire to share an extraordinarily amazing story?
Whatever your motivations might be, defining them in clear terms will help you devise a strategy to make it happen. You can look at other children's books and study the market to see what works and what doesn't. Most authors don't start writing their first draft without an action plan to aim for their goals.
Defining the objectives of your book will also make it clear to you if you really even need to write this book or not. And if you don't believe without the shadow of a doubt that you have to write a children's book to fulfill your purpose, you are going to face trouble taking the project to completion.
Step 02: Know Your Audience
Authors who have a clear idea of the end result they want out of the process know where to aim to achieve their objectives. So the next step is to get to know your target audience before you begin to write a children's book. Children's books vary a lot between categories.
The differences in the categories of children's books are:
• Total word count
• Language difficulty
• Complexity of ideas
• Heaviness of emotions
• The density of illustrations with content
Types of Children's Books
Let's discuss in detail what the different categories of children's books are so you can decide which category you want to target the most.
Board books are the first books the kids get to experience. They are 16 to 24 pages long with as few words as possible. They are read through pictures and not with words. In fact, they are not even read by the children themselves. The target age group of board books is five-year-old kids or younger. These babies don't read the stories themselves. They listen to the stories from their parents.
There is very limited room in a board book for a story. They are used more to teach children simple concepts like the alphabet, counting, small words, etc. So they are one of the earliest lessons of the child.
These books are made of cardboard so the babies can spill as much cereal as they like, smear fruits, and chew on them, carry, and throw them around, and the book remains intact.
The main creator of a board book is the illustrator because there isn't much to write.
Picture books take things one step forward. They have somewhat of an equal ratio of pictures to words. They don't completely rely on illustrations to share the information, but they're not independent of them either. Their word count ranges between 100 to 1,000 spread across 32 pages or other multiples of 8.
Picture books, even though they're called picture books, are the entries to short storytelling for children. They can either be read by the young readers or told to them by guardians. In any case, they are meant for kids under the age of 10, so the language and concepts remain simple and easy to follow. They don't contain multiple subplots because that can be confusing for kids of that age. They only center around a single character.
This is the phase where children learn to read books and find pleasure in them. So it's important for the words of a picture book to be straightforward and clear. They want to cater to a varying range of intelligence amongst their target age groups and even slightly longer than necessary sentences can confuse the children and lose their interest.
Chapter books are the ones in which words take over the book completely. As the name suggests, chapter books are structured as one plot divided into multiple chapters. The contribution of the author of a chapter book is far greater than that of the illustrator. They don't rely on illustrations like picture books do, but they still have to be engaging for the average child reader in the age range of 6 to 10 years old. So the sentences have to remain short; the content, simple and straightforward; the story, easy-to-follow; and the vocabulary, easy.
Chapter books are the first experience of the early readers to start discovering underlying themes and multiple characters other than the protagonist. The readers do not have prior experience of the complexities of storytelling. So the focus of the chapter books is to tell stories in a manner that is as simple as possible. They just have the freedom to let go of the limitations of a picture book to not get into descriptions, multiple characters, antagonists with good intentions, and other complications that could get too much for 7-year-olds.
The length of chapter books remains under 100 pages. They are simpler in language and shorter than middle-grade books but not as simple as picture books. Since they don't contain as many illustrations, they are in a category of their own.
Middle-grade books are longer than 100 pages. Their word count can go up to 50,000 words. Middle-grade books are an extension of chapter books. Their target market is middle-grade kids aged between 7 to 12 years old, which is the pre-teen age. So they are focused on such themes and issues that middle-grade children usually face.
Middle-grade readers are enthusiastic readers and admire their heroes and protagonists. The best thing about middle-grade books is that they give writers the freedom to explore subplots, character development, slightly mature themes. The target audience is still children so romance, drugs, aggression, and suggestive humor are a no-go area. But the readers of this age group can understand deeper concepts than just good and evil. The lessons in this category of books are usually about morals and ideals.
Young adult books are for readers that are more than 12 years old at least. They do not have any limitations on the subject of themes that can be portrayed. Young adult books can include romance, drugs, aggression, gore, and other adult themes. They can include complex subplots, twists, multiple characters, good-willed antagonists, and other complicated ideas of that sort.
The young adult category is the most popular category of children's books. Although their target audience is teenagers, the books in this category are also enjoyed by adults. There are a lot of movies and television series that are based on young adult novels. To be fair, their book ideas make great movies. For example, Harry Potter is a successful multi-million dollar franchise.
The word count of these books is more than 20,000 words and can go up to 100,000 words per book. But if you've written a book that's a hundred thousand words, chances are that it can be shortened without removing anything that changes the impact of the book.
The lessons in the young adult genre are more practical and attuned to real-life than ideals.
Now that you know about all the different categories of children's books and how each one varies according to the type of story and the age of the children it is targeted at, you can decide what type of book you want to write.
Step 03: Write a Summary
Now that you know the different categories of the children's book, decide which kind of book you want to write. We can divide all the categories into two kinds. The first is where the story is told mainly using pictures, drawings, and other types of illustrations. The second is where the words do the heavy lifting.
Whether you want to tell your story with pictures or words, you need to define the main plot first. Try writing down the main story on one page. The thumb rule to follow here is that your summary should be 1% the length of your complete book. So if you're planning to write a young adult fiction novel of 60,000 words, your summary should be about 600 words.
When you start writing the summary of your book, you will come across other ideas to explore. Do not ignore those ideas. Note them down in a different document on your PC, make a different note on your phone, or take another page.
Whatever method you choose for creative writing, make sure you use it liberally. If you're old-fashioned and prefer the feel of writing by your hands with a pen, then keep a notebook or a stack of papers handy when you sit down to write. If you make notes on your laptop, tablet, or phone, make sure it is charged or there's an outlet near you. You do not want to cheat yourself out of taking side notes because you're running out of juice.
Every side note can turn into another potential book idea. Even if your first idea looks perfect and you're ready to write a book on it, the other side notes can help you in the future.
Comparison between Multiple Ideas
Some of the sidenotes that you write will take the shape of another book summary. Compare them to your original idea. Do not be afraid to consider a different idea because it lies in another category. Every single idea is valuable on its own. A good children's book is not the best story, it's the way it is told and how much it appeals to its readers.
Compare all the different ideas that you write down and pick the best one that you think you can write about.
After settling on one book idea, polish that summary as much as you can. Try to be specific in the summary. Keep it concise and to the point. The purpose of the summary is to look at the big picture. More than that, when you're writing the summary, your brain will be forced to think creatively and convert thoughts into words. That process helps uncover if the concept makes a good children's book or not.
This is only a rough draft. No one has to look at your notes. They won't directly go into the book. So, be frank in the language. Write informally if that's what you're comfortable with. By polishing the summary, we do not mean copyediting. It is the improvement, cutting, slashing, and addition of ideas as you see fit.
Make sure not to miss any necessary components in your summary.
Step 04: Chapter Outline
If the book that you want to write is a picture book, then you can skip to the next step.
Once the summary of your book looks pristine and ready to go, you can move on to the next step, i.e. writing the outline of your book.
The outline of a book is a list of chapters and their descriptions. Use the summary you've written in the previous step to divide the plot into portions and explain what happens in each chapter.
This is the point where you might want to start including details like locations and character descriptions. Moreover, you also have to decide what's essential in your story and what's fluff. Keep in mind what category you're aiming at, and the number of words to write for a book of your category.
You might want to break the order and write the descriptions of some chapters first, for example, the last chapter of your book so you know all the different details and elements that are essential for the conclusion. Then you can use those details to write chapter descriptions that create and maintain conflict and tension in your book. This way you will know how to write the chapters to keep your readers hooked when you get to the actual writing part.
Step 05: Research
Research is an important step in the writing process, not just for the beginning of the writing, but also while you're writing the book. You may get questions in your head which you can't answer. But the internet can answer all of your questions.
Check what the other children's book authors are writing about in your category and how they're doing it. Don't just look at the successful books; take a look at the books that aren't selling so well too because those are the ones that will tell you what is not working out in your target market.
Buy the books that children want to read and observe the details.
• The tone and writing style of the author
• Is it written in the first-person perspective or third-person?
• What makes their main character admirable
• Length of the book
• The kind of world the story is set in
These details will help you tune your mind for writing a children's book of the same caliber or better. For example, when you pick up a popular children's book similar to yours, you might realize that their story is set in a world of children with problems that children care about and characters they admire.
Know What You're Writing About
Search and learn about the facts that you're writing about, for example, cultures, locations, history, and anything else that you don't know for a fact and it's part of the book. Even if you know something and just have a slight doubt about it, it never hurts to double-check. Young readers are not as forgiving as adults.
Your research should not only be limited to the beginning of the writing process either. Feel free to continue researching, checking for facts, and discovering new information related to the details of your book.
Step 06: Write
Here comes the part that you would've been preparing for all this time. But beware of overpreparation. It's easy to get carried away with preparation, planning, and thinking about writing for months on end, and never actually writing.
When you have enough research to get started with the first chapter, start writing. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you're writing a children's book, so it should be easy. The children's book market is highly competitive. You need a considerable amount of patience, passion, perseverance, and professionalism to even write a children's book; writing a good one is a different story.
On the other hand, do not let competition influence your creativity. Remember, the most popular children's books are successful because the writers were original and they all brought something new to the table. But at the same time, their books were praised and embraced by the market. Be original, but at the same time, try to be relevant.
When you're writing, forget about being a perfectionist. You will be tempted to cross all the t's and dot all the i's, but let go of your temptations. Editing should always come after the writing. In fact, everything should come after everything else when you're in the writing zone.
It is very easy to get distracted while writing, and it takes a lot of time and effort to get back to that freeflow of creativity. That is why it is advisable to keep everything outside of the head when you're writing, including editing. The purpose is to keep the creativity flowing freely. The richness of content is the main element in this phase. All the issues can be resolved later.
Pick a point of view to write from, i.e. first person or third person. Use the chapter outline for guidance and write with consistency. Set the image of the average reader in your target age range and write for that reader. All your characters, the world they live in, the plot they follow, the pace of the story, everything should be aimed at that ideal reader. This could be your child, student, nephew/niece, or even your own childhood self.
Keep that image in mind while you're writing, and picture the kind of book that the reader from the image would want to read. If done right, this can make you write a children's book that destroys the competition in your target age group.
Continue to write, one chapter at a time using the chapter outline as your guide, the internet as your source of information, and the ideal reader as your source of inspiration. Plan all the points of the story that you have to cover before starting each chapter. Collect research material and make notes.
Cover all the side tasks before starting to write. So that when you do sit down to write, you don't have to pause and start your creative engines all over again. Breaks in the flow of writing are usually detectable by a keen reader. Children are keen readers if they have started to like the book. Breaks in the flow of the story can lose their interest.
That is why the books are divided into chapters. Even though the word count for each chapter is fairly smaller than adult books, the book still has to be divided into chapters to accommodate the breaks in the flow for said reason. All these little things are important while writing a children's book.
A simple thumb rule for dividing the book into chapters is that each chapter should be of the same length more or less. They don't have to have exactly the same number of words. But if a chapter is twice the size of the rest of the chapters in your book, then maybe that chapter should be divided into two.
Step 07: Review
After the first draft is finished, it is time to review what you've written. Reviewing means being your own critic. Read the manuscript you've written with the same judgment as people will. Put each word paragraph under a microscope and question yourself if it's the best that you can do. If the answer is not, then ask yourself what would be better in its place. Page by page, line by line, go through your draft, making changes until you can read the manuscript from beginning to end without finding anything worth replacing.
Then start removing extras from your story that doesn't help the plot move forward. Keep in mind that you have to write a children's book. Your readers are children with short attention spans. Especially if you're writing for children 10-year-old or younger.
After you've done your best refining the manuscript to perfection, you need proofreading. It is advisable that a different person is employed for proofreading the book. Even after re-reading the book multiple times, you still might miss some errors and mistakes if you're used to overlooking them.
A professional proofreader will be able to catch all those mistakes that your eyes can't detect and clean your manuscript from all the invisible errors too.
If you can't hire a professional proofreader, ask an avid reader from your friends and family to do it for you. It is always better to get the proofreading done by someone other than the author.
Step 08: Format
After the reviewing is all complete, it's time to give your manuscript the finished look of a book. Book Formatting is like the interior design of the book. Although there are some set standards for the formats of books, there is some room for the author to alter the outlook of the book. The options depend upon personal choice, the type and topic of the book, and the process of publication.
In the publishing industry, each publisher has its own guidelines for the format of the manuscript. If you plan to publish a children's book using the traditional publishing method, then you need to follow their guidelines which are available on their website.
However, self-publishing is the best way to publish a children's book these days, because traditional publishers usually don't accept books for children from authors other than the ones they know to be popular. More or less the same applies if you're an illustrator too. In self-publishing, on the other hand, you have complete freedom over your books.
So, use the formatting guidelines of the platform you choose for self-publishing a children's book.
Leave Room for the Illustrator
Do not forget to leave room for the illustrator. Writing children's books involve not only the authors but also the illustrator. Illustrations are an important factor in books for children. Early readers are imaginative, and it helps them connect with the characters and locations.
If you want to write a book for the younger age group, then collaborating with an illustrator early on is the way to go. Authors writing for children younger than 12 years of age collaborate with illustrators before they start writing a children's book. But since our article is about how to write a children's book, the extras of publishing, drawing, designing, etc were left for another time.
As far as the manual on how to write a children's book goes, feel free to leave us a message with your queries. We provide free consultation to all authors and writers.
We wish you the best of luck with your children's book.