How to Write Children’s Books
Writing for children needs a different box of tools than writing for adults.
When writing for children, a new set of skills come in to play. Writing for adults means writing for anyone in their late teens or older, but a book for a five-year-old is completely different from a book for a 16-year-old.
To help aspiring children’s book writers, here are some factors you may need to consider:
- How old is your target audience?
- Are they likely to read themselves or have a book read to them?
- What is their reading age and vocabulary?
- Are they learning to read and count?
- What is their attention span?
- Are you writing fiction or non-fiction?
- Do you need just words or words and pictures?
For younger readers, you may have to consider book format - generally the type face is larger with fewer words on a page.
If the book is being read to them, consider how they will discuss any images along the way and the time reading a book may take. Five or 10 minutes at bedtime is often long enough for tired, worn out children and work-weary mums and dads.
Writing for children is often more structured than other forms of writing, because the book is making a point - like teaching a toddler how to count to 10 or presenting a message, almost like a modern day fable.
Books for children are also more likely to run in to a series - look at the Beatrix Potter books, Noddy and the Mr Men. The popular Thomas the Tank stories about the little train and his friends runs in to more than 60 titles.
Finding a publisher is harder for a children’s writer as well. Most titles are commissioned by a publisher, in which case the job often goes to someone they have worked with before. Sending in a story idea on spec is likely to lead to a stack of rejection slips.
Writing for children is also massively based on trends. Teen vampire movies are the current big sellers, while Harry Potter was the next big thing before that.
Books are produced in cycles - what you are writing now won’t be bought by the children you have tested your writing for you, but children who are a year or two years younger who will move up to take their place.
Best guessing trends and reinventing your stories and characters for an ever changing and more sophisticated audience goes with the territory when writing for children.
For those who will never win a publishing deal, the alternative is plunging in to self-publishing.
Some extra skills are involved - like formatting a book for publication and marketing.
Self publishing is not for the faint-hearted, but can offer a road to market when all other doors along the way are closed.
The main thing to remember about writing for children is it’s certainly not child’s play.