So, you want to write your first children’s book? I am glad you came here, because I am going to give you 15 great tips to help you write your first children’s book and give you an idea of what work is involved along the way!
Chances are that one of the first friends you made when you were just a child came from a magical world that existed inside a children’s storybook. You must have memories of you and your friend going on an exciting adventure, facing difficulties and conflicts along the way, only to end the day with a happy outcome and a feeling of light-hearted joy and inspiration.
Indeed, a well-written and beautifully illustrated children’s book can leave an indelible mark on the minds of young children, and this is one of the reasons it is such a rewarding career path to take.
It might seem like a relatively simple task. After all, what is producing a children’s book compared to writing a 300-page novel with an entire cast of characters and a world more real than the real world itself?
The truth is that if it were that simple, you would find loads of children’s books packed along the lengths of shelves inside every home – only, they’d be dust-ridden, untouched, and completely unappealing. In reality, writing a book that resonates with children and that makes them want to read it every night is more difficult than writing a full-fledged novel.
15 Tips For Writing Your First Children’s Book
1) Explore the landscape
Before you set out to brainstorm your idea, go visit the children’s section in the nearest library and start reading through all the books you can lay your hands on. Take note of the different types and structures you come across, notice the various plots and themes that emerge from these books. All this knowledge will prove to be incredibly helpful when you’re narrowing down ideas for your book.
If you’re proficient in multiple languages, don’t limit yourself. Go pick up that children’s book in French and read through it – who knows, you might end up finding a story that’s better than all those you read in English!
2) Take care of the length
It should not come as a surprise that you need to be wary of the length. Ideally, a children’s book should never be more than 1000 words long. That is if you don’t want to be left abandoned on the shelves of the bookstore.
With children’s books, you should focus on using as little words as possible and make sure the words you do use carry a lot of weight. Also, it’s a good idea to keep a published book limited to 32 pages, or 16 leaves. Nothing more than that.
3) Pick a unique topic
The more you browse through famous children’s books, the more ideas will start popping up in your head.
However, you need to be wary of picking a topic that has already been used in another children’s book, especially if it has become quite famous.
Sometimes this is okay, and it is perfectly fine to rewrite classics but if you are really trying to stand out and let your creativity shine, don’t.
There is no way you will grab a large enough bite of the market if you don’t bring your uniqueness to bear on the story you write. Of course, you can use a theme that’s been used before as a template, but add a twist that makes it stand out from all the other books on the same theme.
4) Seek inspiration from the audience
How about doing some market research?
Grab a pen and notepad and go spend some time with a group of kids. These could be your young children or those of a relative. Pay attention to the kind of things they talk about, especially the topics they get curious and excited about. Ask them what their favourite storybook is and what they liked about it the most.
Children are very honest, especially when ased to jump into their imagination and retell an event that excites them. Often you will find sparks of inspiration while listening to these children and land upon a terrific idea for your upcoming book.
5) Write as if you were a poet
Novelists can afford to write lengthy sentences and employ an army of words to build their characters and progress their story.
However, know that when creating a children’s book, you are not a novelist.
Instead, it will serve you well to think of yourself as a poet who is ruthless and meticulous in the selection of words.
Once you’re done writing a sentence, switch on your poetry mode, and go back to it. Keep on thinking over the sentence in your head until you’ve eliminated all words and phrases that are extra and add nothing to the story, and you are left with a short sentence that is elegant and precise.
Your short sentences should be constructed in a way that sets the tone but leaves enough for the child’s imagination and the illustration to bring alive.
6) Don’t write as though your audience is dumb
Some writers make the mistake of thinking that they can get away with telling silly stories about a frying pan and his friend, Mr. Cheese, to young children. You do not have to be among those writers. Children are quite sharp and easily put off by disingenuous stories that make them feel ‘dumb’.
The key is to make sure your story has a strong storytelling element to it – an engaging plot, confusing conflict, and an unexpected solution. As long as you take care of these elements, you can easily write up a story about a frying pan and Mr. Cheese that will become an instant hit.
7) Pick a relatable character
Do you think children will be interested in reading your book if it is about a middle-aged man who loses his job and finds himself kidnapped by a gang of bandits? They most certainly will not.
Deciding what character to pick as the ‘protagonist’ for your story is difficult and crucial. You should choose one that children will find relatable, one that acts like children and exhibits qualities that seem realistic.
You can even pick an animal, either for its unique characteristics or for no particular reason except for adding a non-adult element on which to base the story.
Kids are fascinated by animals and things which are personified. For some reason, they just love the idea of things that shouldn’t be able to talk and express emotion being able to.
8) Everything does not have to rhyme
Contrary to popular belief, a great children’s book doesn’t necessarily have to rhyme.
Children are fascinated by rhymes, but that does not mean you have to forcibly grab a rhyme by its throat and drag it through every sentence of your story. Know that it is perfectly okay to have sentences and entire pages that do not fit into a rhyme.
Remember, the most important element is your story and how you express it. Use a rhyme if it enhances the effect of the story. If not, you’re better off without it.
9) Inspire, don’t preach
Children’s books are an effective medium to teach young minds important moral lessons and help them grow, but it should never seem as if you’re trying to preach directly to them. Notice that all the best children’s books always have an underlying message, but it is never made explicit inside the story itself.
Instead, develop your characters and story in a way that the lesson emerges through thinking and reflection. Children love it when they get this ‘magical’ feeling of inspiration!
10) Give the illustration its due importance
Illustrations are an essential part of children’s books and can prove to be the difference between your story spreading all over the world like wildfire as opposed to ruffling a few feathers and ultimately be forgotten.
So if you’re going to do the illustrations yourself, think carefully. You do not want your illustrations to get in the way of your story, or to merely mirror what your words are expressing. Your illustrations should add an extra element to your story, one which your words are unable to capture.
If you’re hiring someone else to do the illustrations for you, choose carefully. Make sure the illustrator has the skills and the creative spark to understand your ideas and bring them to life.
11) Send it over to a fresh pair of eyes
No matter how good of an editor you think you are, you should always have someone else take a look at your draft and rip it apart (not literally). When you’ve spent so much time invested in a particular story and set of characters, it can get difficult to think about it objectively and find out what is working and what is not.
This is where a fresh pair of eyes can make a huge difference. Find yourself an editor who is experienced with children’s books, and let them critique your story. Listen to their feedback carefully, and incorporate whatever you feel fits into your overall theme.
12) Run a test, and learn
Just like we discussed in the last point, you can get so invested in your story arc that you lose the ability to determine what part works and what does not. After all, you’re not your audience.
So take a finished draft and request a teacher at a school to read your story to the children in the class. While the teacher narrates it, carefully observe the children – notice the parts where they get excited and those where they start dozing off, and make changes to your story accordingly.
13) Keep pushing forward
Regardless of how your test run turns out, do not give up. It doesn’t matter if the kids went to sleep halfway through the narration – hardly anyone ends up writing a killer first draft. Go about your work systematically: find the parts that turned out to be weak and uninteresting, replace them with new ideas that you think will work, and go and test your new draft again.
Eventually, through loads of practice and trial-and-error, you will reach a promising draft – one that makes children excited for the sequel even before they’ve finished with the entire story.
14) No need to rush
The mind loves to do calculations. It will make you think that if it takes a novelist 6 months to write a good 300-page novel, it should take you just a couple of weeks to write a 30-page children’s book, right?
Not quite. Writing a children’s book requires you to carefully select every word that goes into your story, and this is a painstaking process. On top of this, you shouldn’t forget that getting the illustrations made and going through a series of revisions is going to take a lot of time. There is no need to rush; be patient, and embrace the process.
15) Know the cost
Finally, you should estimate how much the book will cost you even before you get started with the project so that you don’t have to face unpleasant surprises along the way. Illustrations, especially the ones you should be looking for, are not cheap at all and will cost you several thousand dollars for the entire book.
So reach out to potential illustrators beforehand and get quotes from them so that you know how much you need to have ready before you can go ahead with your full plan. If it’s too much, try to look for alternatives, or wait until you can afford such prices.
Writing a children’s book is no child’s play. It takes months of brainstorming, writing, editing, rewriting, and testing to get it just right. Even then, there’s no guarantee that your story will be successful.
So make sure to follow all the tips I’ve described above – I am hopeful that these will make the process a lot more pleasant and smooth for you!