There’s a misconception that children’s books are easier and simpler to write than adult novels. But, the truth is writing children’s books demands the same level of attention, clear language, well-rounded characters, and an exciting plot as books for adults do. If you are up for a challenge, here’s a comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to write a children’s book.
1. Determine Your Target Age Group and Category
Before writing your first children’s book, do you know who you are writing for? “Am I not writing for kids?” Well, technically, you are, but children’s books go beyond board books; there are types of children’s books, including:
- Picture Books (ages 0-6): Predominantly illustrations and less text (typically around 500 words only) compared to other types of children’s books. An example of a picture book is Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
- Early Readers (ages 6-7): This type still includes illustrations but significantly less than picture books. Word length is also higher, averaging 2000-5000 words. Francesca Simon’s Horrid Henry is a book for early readers.
- Chapter Books (ages 7-9): Kids will read about 5,000 to 10,000 words with chapter books. Unlike picture books and early readers, the illustrations are more of a sketch and typically not in full color. Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid falls under chapter books.
- Middle-Grade Books (ages 9-12): The length middle grade books are three times longer than chapter books. They are typically around 30,000 to 50,000 words. It also has fewer illustrations, often used to accompany the chapter headers.
- YA or Young Adult Books (ages 12-18): Young adult novels like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games typically have the same word count range as adult literature. This type of children’s book also does not have any illustrations. The only difference is that young adult fiction books’ subject matter surrounds adolescent issues.
Expert Insight: Most how to write a children’s book guide online have book topic research as the first step. That’s not the best way to start writing children’s books. Sometimes a book idea is too complex for your target age range. So, you either switch to a different genre or do the research process again.
We recommend determining your ideal target age group first and then looking for a book topic, so you can save yourself from the endless loop of researching and scrapping book ideas. And, since you already have a target age range, it’s easier for you to write a children’s book that will fit your audience’s reading skills.
2. Look for a Book Idea or Topic Relatable to Children
When was the last time you read a children’s book? If it’s been years or you’ve never picked up one before, it’s time to check what children love to read.
There are three ways you can find children’s book ideas.
- Visit your nearest bookstore: If it’s been a while since you visited a brick-and-mortar bookstore, shops typically categorize novels per genre. Each section has a bestseller display. Head on to the books for kids aisle and look for the bestsellers stand. Browse through the bestsellers, check the plot themes, characters, etc.
- Research a children’s book author: Another way you can find inspiration for your first children’s book is to research a famous author of children’s books. Find out what he/she typically writes about. Do his/her books fall into fairy tales or fantasy?
- Ask younger family members: You don’t have to travel far or research high and low for children’s book ideas. If you have a younger family member, ask what is interesting to him/her, what would make him/her interested to read a book, and so on. You’ll be pleasantly surprised what kids are interested in nowadays!
3. Choose the Appropriate Vocabulary, Voice, and Point of View
Once you know your target age group and topic, it’s time to set the voice, point of view (POV), and the appropriate vocabulary of your book.
For instance, you’ll have a picture book. As mentioned earlier, this type of children’s book is for newborns to six years old. Obviously, you should not use complex words and confusing sentence structures to tell your story.
For point of view (POV), most children’s books are written in first-person (I, Me, My) or third Person (He/She, Him/Her). These are not set in stone rules. What’s important is that you naturally tell your story (as you see fit) and keep your young readers interested and engaged.
Expert Tip: Your writing style should always match your target audience’s reading and comprehension skills, no matter what book genre you are writing.
4. Develop a Memorable and Solid Main Character
What do Paddington Bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Harry Potter have one thing in common? They are memorable and solid main characters that don’t need any introduction. As a matter of fact, once you hear their names, you’ll immediately think about their storylines, what they looked like, and their personalities.
That’s how impactful the main character of your children’s book should be. Most authors have their main book character static or dynamic. The latter changes throughout the story, while the former remains unchanged until the end.
5. Build an Engaging Plot and Storyline
A poor and boring plot and storyline can ruin the success of your book – even if you have a solid main character. So, what do you need to do to have an engaging storyline? You have to know and understand the six elements of plot:
- Exposition: This is the first few chapters of your book wherein you introduce the setting and the characters.
- Rising Action: Any event that contributes to the story’s main conflict.
- Conflict: The point in the story where the characters face a problem. Keep in mind that conflict is not always external; it can also be an internal turmoil of your protagonist.
- Climax: This portion of your book is where the conflict reaches its boiling point.
- Falling Action: At this stage, characters are resolving the conflict.
- Denouement: The last stage is the end of the story.
Expert Insight: The main character shouldn’t be the only one carrying the storyline of your book. Minor characters and the antagonist are also crucial to an engaging story.
6. Consider the Word Count and Chapter Length
So, what is the page count of a children’s book, and how many words in a chapter? Well, it depends on the storyline and, again, the type of children’s book you are writing. For instance, a picture book is illustration-heavy, meaning it has less text per chapter. On the other hand, a young adult novel has a higher word count and more chapters because it doesn’t use any illustration.
7. Write Your First Draft
Regardless of what genre or type of book you are writing, you’ll always start with a first draft or the preliminary version of your novel. During this stage on how to write a children’s book, you’ll be:
- Fleshing out ideas for the plot
- Discover and set the theme, setting, and other aspects of the story
- Identify conflicts
- Set the resolution
- Develop characters and their arcs
For aspiring authors, writing the first draft can be intimidating. Here are some tips when creating your first draft:
- Set a writing schedule
- Research, research, and more research
- Throw perfectionism out of the door
- Write the chapters in any order you’d like
Expert Tip: If you find yourself jumping from one chapter to another, don’t stress yourself out. Your first draft doesn’t need to be organized; First drafts are meant to be messy! What’s important is you write. And, keep in mind that there is no time limit in finishing the first draft. You can take as long as you need to.
8. Proofread and Edit Your Manuscript
The next step in how to write a children’s book is purging your first draft, meaning you’ll proofread and edit it. Not right away, though. Ideally, you should step away from your first draft for a few days before purging it.
The reason why you should let it sit is to give your brain a much-needed break. And by the time you pick up your draft for proofreading and editing, you’ll have fresh eyes. You can instantly identify your grammar mistakes and even be critical of the flow of the story.
Keep in mind that proofreading and editing go beyond fixing grammar mistakes. It also involves taking a closer look at the finer details of your children’s book. Here are some editing tips:
- Read the entire first draft in one sitting
- As you go through the chapters, make a list of problems (for instance, the characters are dull or the setting is vague).
- After reading the draft, find a solution to each listed issue.
- Revise the book and make a second draft based on your assessment.
9. Hire a Children’s Book Editor for Feedback
Revising the first draft on your own is an excellent step to ensuring your characters, setting, plot, and overall storytelling is on point. You can take it a notch higher by having a new set of fresh eyes to critique it.
An editor can make your manuscript ready for publishing by:
- Fixing plot holes
- Ensure there is character development
- Check syntax, spelling, grammar, and overall coherence
- Identify age appropriateness of the language, vocabulary, and theme
- Fix the flow of the story or story pacing
- Suggest the number of illustrations needed
So, how much does a children’s book editor cost? Cost can vary on the type of children’s book, length, and what type of editing you’ll need. On average, you need a budget between $2000 to $3000. Rates can even go higher if you need developmental editing or you approach a well-known children’s book editor.
10. Hire an Illustrator
Can you write a children’s book without illustrations? Yes, you can, but only if your book falls under the young adult genre. Keep in mind that you’ll still need an illustrator’s help to design the cover or jacket of your book.
For other types of children’s books, you still need some artwork, more so if you are writing a picture book. If you are worried about the cost, you are looking at anywhere from $120 to $600 per illustration. That means a 20-page children’s book with 15 illustrations will be $1,800 to $9,000.
In addition to the graphics within your book, professional illustrators can also ensure the font is consistent throughout the pages and fix the layout of your book, whether you need paperback, eBook, or PDF formats.
11. Approach Publishers
There are three ways you can publish your book. You can self-publish and approach either a traditional publisher or a hybrid publishing house. If you are self-publishing, you don’t need a literary agent since you’ll be managing every aspect of your book, from printing to marketing.
In the case of hybrid publishers, requirements vary from one publishing house to another. Ideally, you should send a copy of the first few chapters of your final manuscript, including a query letter and novel synopsis.
On the other hand, traditional publishers like Penguin Random House, one of the big five publishers in New York, will require literary agent representation.
We have a complete and step-by-step guide on how to get your book published.
Start Writing Children’s Books
Children’s books may be shorter and appear simpler than books for adults, but it also requires the same level of dedication and attention to detail to make them stand out from the rest. Hopefully, our how-to write a children’s book guide has given you all the details needed to start writing children’s books.