Writing and publishing your own children’s book is much easier (and cheaper) than it used to be. This article will show authors how to write, edit and publish their children’s book.
Imagine how it feels to read your own book to a child for the very first time!
Many authors have great ideas for story books for kids, but don’t know how to turn that idea into a popular children’s book. It’s true that any writer can put together books for children, but with the help and support of this article, yours can be the one that kids love to read.
How to write children’s books? To write a children’s book you must choose an age range for your idea, create popular story characters and then illustrate your book. Children’s books can be self published or you can submit them to traditional kid’s book publishers.
BOOKMARK this step-by-step guide on how to write children’s books in 15 easy steps. Then use this list to create your own amazing story books for kids!
One children’s author who has achieved her dreams of publishing a story book for kids is Claire Owers, who has published a trio of popular children’s books featuring her Labrador, Monty.
As a fantastic children’s author and mum of two kids, Claire took her children’s story idea and turned it into a physical book she can hold and read to her children. And she’s here to provide support and author insights into how you can achieve this too.
Inspiration can strike us at any time, so you may already have amazing ideas for your children’s book. Perhaps it’s one of your children’s favourite bedtime stories that you made up together. Or maybe you are still looking for that brilliant idea to turn into a great story.
I’m inspired by the energy, creativity and brutal honesty that children have when coming up with story ideas and reading their favourite books!Claire Owers, Children’s Author
Whatever stage you are at, researching and refining your book ideas will help:
Doing your book research is vital for all authors before you start writing, regardless of the genre or target audience, and can save you a lot of time and effort (or help shape a better idea).
Don’t be disheartened if you find your children’s book idea has already been published. This simply means it was a fantastic idea that kids want to read about!
You just have to find a way to make your story unique, with fun twists or surprises.
Make sure that you have a fresh take or a point of difference. Mixing the familiar with the unexpected can work well.Claire Owers, Children’s Author
This could be with a main character that is different in some way (a pirate too scared to sail) or told from a different perspective (a parrot tells the story of the pirate overcoming his fear). Anything that can turn your children’s book idea into one of the best kids books.
A key point to remember is that, to write popular books for younger children, your book idea also has to appeal to their parents!
So when writing a children’s book, keep in mind that parents are looking for specific books. For example parents may be looking for books for 9 year olds, books for 5 year olds, books for girls, books for boys or simply just the best picture or story books for kids.
The main purchaser of children’s books are females between 29 and 45 years old. So if you can sell your book idea to this audience then you have a better chance of success!
The most memorable children’s book characters have an aspect that makes them stand out from the crowd. This could be the unique way they look or dress, their quirky habits or something else that makes them interesting to read about.
At the same time, your characters should feel like well-rounded characters that you would find in any book. They have their own personalities, goals, wants and needs. Just remember that books for 4 year olds will contain vastly different characters to books for 10 year olds.
I find that children identify well with a main character that is around the same age as them, or slightly older. If your reader wants to be friends with your main character then you’re on the right track!Claire Owers, Children’s Author
The best way to write memorable main characters for children’s books is to have a checklist and write down all the things that make your character who they are:
A great starting point is to look at classic children’s books and see what kind of characters they had to make them so popular.
Unless you have a great reason to stray from the path, my advice would be to stick close to the average word count for children’s books that are used in the mainstream, popular books.
To achieve this, you need to decide what age range your target audience will be, as books for younger children will generally be shorter than books for older children. You will also alter the number of illustrations and many other aspects of the book, depending on the kid’s age.
|Age Range||Book Type||Pages||Word Count||Illustrations|
|0-3||Board Book||8-32||0-20||All Pages|
|2-5||Picture Book||16-48||150-500||All Pages|
|6-10||Chapter Book||32 -80||3,000-10,000||70%-90% of Pages|
|8-12||Children’s Novella||80 -150||20,000-50,000||5%-10% of Pages|
|13-18||Young Adult Book||150 – Full Novel||60,000-90,000||Very Few (if any)|
If you feel the target age range for your book spans across multiple categories, then simply work out the average and you should be able to find the perfect length.
For example, if you’re writing a children’s picture book for 4 to 8 year olds, then 750 to 900 words would be a great aim. Note that most children’s book publishers will not even look at a picture book that is over 1,000 words (which isn’t an issue if you are self-publishing). You will also good justification for why your book would appeal to both the lower and upper age ranges of your target audience.
Even Amazon asks you to list what age range your children’s book is aimed at. Don’t just pick as wide a range as possible, or your book may suffer from negative reviews if parents or carers decide that the subject matter or story wasn’t suitable for their child!
The most important rule when starting to write your children’s book is to start FAST!
Throw the main character straight into an interesting situation from the very beginning. This will then capture both the kid’s and parent’s attention and keep them reading until the end.
The word count for children’s books is so tight that you can’t afford to waste any words on backstory or filler that isn’t relevant to their immediate goals in the current story.
You want to hook your reader from the first sentence. In my experience, kids are less likely than adults to stick with a book that doesn’t grab them early on. An action scene can be a great place to start.Claire Owers, Children’s Author
Every children’s book main character should face a problem that they have to overcome. The best kids books do this in a way that will appeal to parents by overcoming the issue through behaviour that sets a good example or sends a good message, subtly educating the child on how to interact with the world around them in a positive manner.
I try to introduce the key problem as early as possible, usually on the first page or two, kids don’t tend to like a slow burner!Claire Owers, Children’s Author
The main character will overcome obstacles to solve their issue throughout your book. The 3 main checks you need to do on your story are:
For example, to go on a treasure hunt, the main character should find many items along the way that aren’t treasure, the weather should work against them, they might have to trudge through thick mud, their parents should call them home right before the end, and any other obstacles you may think of.
When choosing a writing style for your children’s book, you should consider the reading skills of the age group you are writing the story for. This will alter the vocabulary and sentence structure you use, while also being constricted by the word count.
There are 3 tried and tested writing styles that work well for children’s book:
In theory, there is no wrong way of writing your own children’s book in your unique voice and writing style. However, if you wish to make your kids book more appealing to traditional publishers and meet the normal expectations of parents, you should possibly stick to the more well-worn paths.
Point of view and tense are a matter of personal preference, and different styles will work better with different stories. Try writing your opening lines a few times in different styles, and see which feels best, just make sure to stick to the same style throughout the story.Claire Owers, Children’s Author
One of the most important parts of writing a children’s book is structuring it in a way that includes all the expected elements. You may have the best story idea in the world, but it’s the structure that turns it into a popular children’s book.
The best story books for kids have age-appropriate themes, dialogue, characters, emotions and behaviours, with a clear, core message at the heart of their story.
Top 6 Elements of a Children’s Book:
A strong message can be valuable in children’s storytelling, but don’t be tempted to talk down to children. A subtle message should feel organic in the story and will resonate more than a lecture.Claire Owers, Children’s Author
Some of the most loved and successful story books for kids make use of repetition.
Repeating a character’s catchphrase can be a great way to structure a story. For example, the series of That’s Not My books repeat the words ‘That’s not my…‘ throughout the story, until the very end, when it changes to ‘That’s My…‘ once they have found what they were looking for.
That’s an example of not only 1) repeating a phrase on a single page, bit also 2) throughout an entire book, which 3) shapes the story structure through repetition.
You can use any or all of these repetition tactics to make your story memorable. Think of classic children’s books where wolves repetitively huff and puff against various types of houses.
Or flick through any Dr Seuss book to see great examples of repetitively rhyming stories.
Most picture books for younger children will involve repetition of some kind, it really helps them to connect with the story and anticipate what’s coming next.Claire Owers, Children’s Author
When writing a children’s book for younger age groups, the illustrations will be as important as the story.
Publishers will also consider this when reading your story, as your chosen characters and locations can be the difference between getting published or not.
The reason for this is that the best kids books have captivating illustrations. Think of the wild adventures that the band of heroes experience in the Super Happy Magic Forest series of books by Matty Long.
Each of the main characters (a unicorn, a gnome, a fairy, a faun, and a mushroom) are interesting to draw and visually appealing to children. The rest of the pages in each book are filled with many other things happening, in addition to the main story, giving great re-readability, as you sport something new each time.
This would never have achieved the same level of success if it was a story taking place inside a house, with normal, everyday characters or animals. The illustrator would have had very little exciting material to work with. Traditional children’s publishers would then see limited appeal in the book.
Give your illustrator exciting characters and locations to work with. Which will give publishers plenty to get excited about. Kids will then love the book. A winning formula.
Children’s books should have happy, fulfilling endings where the main story book character has overcome their challenges. The book should then finish very quickly after that for a satisfying ending.
Happy endings are important for little ones, but that doesn’t mean that they need to be predictable. As long as all of the story threads reach a satisfying conclusion, then a funny twist at the end can be brilliant and memorable.Claire Owers, Children’s Author
Another great technique used by the best kids books are to refer back to something earlier in the story to double down on a funny joke, or to show how much the character has changed. Perhaps they really wanted something, but unexpectedly found something else better.
When writing children’s books, you will likely have a work-in-progress title in your head to begin with, but then choose your final book title at the end once the full depth of your story arc has come together.
The title is one of the most important parts of your children’s book.
Along with the cover, your title will decide whether somebody even picks your book up to look at the contents. It needs to appeal to parents, children and publishers.
Fortunately, there are a few tips you can employ to get the perfect children’s book title:
Don’t underestimate the work involved in writing a children’s book. They demand all of the same elements as a book for grown-ups; a strong hook, a well-considered story arc, an inspiring setting and characters to fall in love with.Claire Owers, Children’s Author
One of the most important things you can do when editing your children’s book is to ensure that you get it to the expected length for its age-related target audience.
Every single word and sentence needs to drive the story forwards or be cut out completely. A children’s book that is too long will be one of the greatest barriers you have to getting traditionally published.
Write to the lengths in point 3 of this list to increase your chances of success!
Alternatively, hire a children’s book editor to do the work for you (or improve upon your own editing).
Most children’s books require two types of editing:
It’s generally advised to edit the overall content of your story, before you fix the copy side. There’s no point in fine-tuning the grammatical aspects of a story, only for that story to be changed again.
So how do you find a children’s book editor?
When searching for an editor, follow these steps:
However, keep in mind that very experienced children’s book editors can be expensive. You might also want to look for up-and-coming newer editors whose services are just as good. After all, these high-flying editors were in that position themselves once and they will tell you they still did a great job!
Finding a good children’s book illustrator is an incredibly important part of the process!
They can make or break the success of your book.
It will also most likely be an expensive investment, unless you have good contacts or want to enlist the help of illustrators from sites like Fiverr.
I have some basic graphic design training so initially I did my own cover design, but once the first book started to sell well, I decided to invest in a professional one and used Fiverr to find a designer. The new cover really shifted sales up a level.Claire Owers, Children’s Author
Before you begin, you should imagine what your children’s book will look like in various styles, such as watercolour or cartoon, and look for a book illustrator in that field.
Things to consider when choosing a children’s book illustrator:
It’s a good idea to have a briefly sketched out example of your expectations before you begin, no matter how simple the sketch is. It will help a lot!
When deciding how to publish your children’s book, you have two options, self-publishing or traditional publishing.
Regardless of which one you choose, your book should be available in both paperback and ebook format, to cover the widest readership.
If you go the self-publishing route, I would recommend publishing your children’s book on Amazon in both formats. You then have a second choice to make.
If you wish to earn royalties from Kindle Unlimited, you should solely publish on Amazon and enter the book into the programme. You will then earn royalties for each page a child or parent reads.
The alternative is to still publish your book on Amazon, but not enter the Kindle Unlimited programme (which requires exclusively publishing on Amazon). Then broaden the reach of your book sales by publishing on Smashwords, who automatically distribute your book to major retailers, including Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.
If you decide to go the traditional publishing route, then finding an agent or publisher for your children’s book is almost an identical process to publishing any kind of book. You can find more support for this part of the process (and many other aspects of writing) in my List of Author Resources.
I was filled with a surreal, childlike glee when the first printed copy of my book arrived in the post. It felt amazing to hold it in my hands; a condensed, beautiful version of all the hours of hard work. But the best reward of all is hearing from your first avid reader. Children really are the best fans, they truly fall in love with your world and characters, and being a small part of their childhood is an honour.Claire Owers, Children’s Author
How to write a children’s book?
Please leave a comment below if this material was helpful and if you have any other questions.
Aaron Mullins and Claire Owers
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Aaron Mullins (@DrAaronMullins) is an award winning, internationally published psychologist and Amazon bestselling author. Aaron has over 15 years experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers. He started Birdtree Books Publishing where he worked as Editor-in-Chief, partnered with World Reader Charity and taught Academic Writing at Coventry University. Aaron’s book How to Write Fiction: A Creative Writing Guide for Authors has become a staple reference book for writers and those interested in a publishing career. Find out more.
Claire Owers (@Claire_Owers_Author) is a children’s author living in the North East of Scotland with her husband, two girls and one slightly daft Labrador, Monty – the unwitting star of the show! Her sports coaching background helps her wrangle this unruly mob. She loves working with kids, taking inspiration from their energy, creativity and brutal honesty. Claire self-published her Monty series of children’s chapter books through Amazon. These funny and fast-paced pet adventure stories are ideal for 5-9 year old animal lovers. Find out more at www.claireowersauthor.com