Writing Children's Books For Dummies
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When you explore writing children's books, you enter a different world, one filled with book formats — from board books to young adult novels — and a whole different set of rules to follow and restrictions to heed for each.

If you want to become a successful children's book author, you need to know how to edit your work and how to promote your book.

Tips for editing your children's book

After you have a solid draft of the children’s book you’re writing, begin the editing process. Here’s a quick overview of the most important points to keep in mind:

  • If a sentence doesn’t contribute to plot, character development, or setting, delete it.
  • Make sure your characters don’t all sound the same when they speak.
  • If you have a page or more of continuous dialogue, you probably need to tighten it up.
  • When changing place or time, or starting a new scene or chapter, provide brief transitions to keep your story moving smoothly.
  • Make sure to keep the pace moving from action to action, scene to scene, and chapter to chapter.
  • If you find yourself using a lot of punctuation (!!!), CAPITAL LETTERS, italics, or bold, you don’t have your words working hard enough for you.
  • If you can find one word to replace two or more words, do it.
  • Be careful with changing tenses midstream. If you tell your story in the past tense, stick with it throughout. If you tell it in present tense, then stick with that. Be consistent.
  • Don’t use an excessive amount of adjectives, adverbs, and long descriptive passages.
  • After you choose a point of view for a character, stick to it.
  • If your character hasn’t changed by the end of your story, you probably haven’t yet fully fleshed them out.
  • If your character talks to themselves or does a lot of wondering aloud, give them a friend to talk to.
  • If you’re bored with a character, your reader will be, too.
  • If you can’t tell your story in three well-crafted sentences — the first one covering the beginning, the second one alluding to the climax (the middle), and the last one hinting at the ending — you may not have a complete story yet.
  • If you find yourself overwriting because you’re having trouble expressing exactly what you mean, sit back and say it aloud to yourself, and then try again.
  • Get quality feedback; you don’t have to edit in an isolation bubble.
  • After you finish your draft, set your project aside for some time — at least one day and sometimes even a few months. Return to it with fresh eyes and a clear head. You can edit much more effectively with some time away, and how to fix sticky places becomes more obvious.

Tips for writing books for children ages 2 to 8

The rules for writing books for children ages 2 to 8 are different from the rules for writing books for middle graders or young adults. Keep the following 12 commandments in mind.

  • It’s okay to be different from others, but it’s not easy.

  • Bad guys never win.

  • The good guy must come out on top in the end.

  • Extremes rule (the world is black or white, not both — most children ages 10 and under can be quite literal).

  • All characters should be drawn with both good points and weaknesses. No one is just one or the other — even the good and the bad guy.

  • It’s fine for something to be scary, but it can never touch a little kid’s body.

  • Little people can triumph over big people.

  • Poopoo, peepee, tushies, passing gas, burping, underwear — they’re all hilarious.

  • Turning things upside down is funny — as long as those things make sense in the first place right side up.

  • Magic can occur as a logical reaction to an action.

  • Regular children can perform extraordinary feats.

  • Regular children can go on implausible missions sanctioned (or not) by adults in charge.

Like with most commandments, you may be able to dance around one or two, but you’d better have a good reason.

What not to do when writing a children's book

In the same way that writing children’s books has a unique set of rules to follow (you know that the good guy or gal always wins), you should never do some things — never!

Don’t even consider doing any of the following in a book for children:

  • Write books that preach or lecture.

  • Talk down to children as if they’re small, idiotic adults.

  • Write books that have no real story (nor a plot with beginning, middle, end).

  • Use art that is totally inappropriate for the story or vice versa.

  • Pack picture books with lots of text.

  • Pack nonfiction books with too much text and too few visuals.

  • Create characters who are boring or unnecessary to the development of the story.

  • Create main characters who have a problem they don’t solve themselves or who don’t change throughout the course of the story.

  • Tell instead of showing by using narrative as a soapbox.

  • Anthropomorphize animals or use alliterative names (Squishy Squirrel, Morty Mole — Wretched Writer).

  • Assume that writing for kids is easy.
  • Illustrate your story if you’re not already an illustrator.
  • Use an adult as the main character (except maybe in young adult fiction).

How to promote your children's book

After you’ve written a children’s book, you have to sell it — you didn’t spend all that time and effort just to entertain yourself, did you? Try to accomplish one of the following tasks each week to help your labor of love blossom to life in the marketplace:

  • Add new content weekly to your website, social media, or blog to keep it fresh.
  • Try to line up live readings in bookstores, schools, or libraries.
  • Do an interview for a children’s book–related podcast.
  • Submit your book for an award or prize — or ask your publisher to do so.
  • Get your book reviewed on Amazon, Goodreads, by a children’s book blogger, or some other review site.
  • Consider creating a trailer for your book and conduct and post a Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok (use the #BookTok hashtag!), and other social media to keep fans updated on professional news related to your book or your writing (or illustrating).
  • Set up a book giveaway, using Amazon’s giveaway feature.
  • Start working on your next book. The next book provides great publicity for previous books.
  • Make business cards for your book, with its website and sales links included, and hand them out to everyone you know.

Age levels for children's books

If you’re writing a children’s book, familiarize yourself with how publishers classify those books. Publishers generally assign various formats to these reader age groups:

  • Board books: Newborn to age 3

  • Picture books: Ages 3 to 8

  • Coloring and activity (C&A) books: Ages 3 to 8

  • Novelty books: Ages 3 and up, depending on content

  • Early, leveled readers: Ages 5 to 9

  • First chapter books: Ages 6 to 9 or 7 to 10

  • Middle-grade books: Ages 8 to 12

  • Young adult novels: Ages 12 and up, or 14 and up

You can veer off a year or so in either direction when you assign a target audience age range to your work.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Lisa Rojany is a writer and publishing professional. Lisa has her own company, Editorial Services of L.A., for writers of fiction and nonfiction.

Peter Economy is a Wall Street Journal best-selling business author and ghostwriter with more than 125 books to his credit, including multiple For Dummies titles.

Bob Nelson (San Diego, CA) is founder and president of Nelson Motivation, Inc., a management training and consulting firm based in San Diego, California. As a practicing manager and a best-selling author, he is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of employee recognition, rewards, motivation, morale, retention, productivity, and management. He is author of the bestselling book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (Workman) — which has sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide — and coauthor of the best-selling book Managing For Dummies, 2nd Edition, with Peter Economy (Wiley), as well as 18 other books on management and motivation.
Bob has been featured extensively in the media, including television appearances on CNN, CNBC, PBS, and MSNBC; radio appearances on NPR, USA Radio Network and the Business News Network; and print appearances in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and many more. He writes a weekly column for American City Business Journals and a monthly column for Corporate Meetings & Incentives, among others.
Dr. Nelson received his PhD in management from The Peter F. Drucker Graduate Management Center of Claremont Graduate University in suburban Los Angeles, and received his MBA in organizational behavior from The University of California at Berkeley. For more information on products and services offered by Nelson Motivation, Inc. — including speaking or consulting services — call 800-575-5521. Visit Bob at his Web site: www.nelsonmotivation.com.

Peter Economy (La Jolla, CA) is a freelance business writer and publishing consultant who is associate editor of the Apex award-winning magazine Leader to Leader, and coauthor of the best-selling book Managing For Dummies, 2nd Edition, with Bob Nelson (Wiley), Giving Back with Bert Berkley (Wiley), The SAIC Solution with J. Robert Beyster (Wiley), as well as the author or coauthor of more than 30 other books on a wide variety of business and other topics. Visit Peter at his Web site: www.petereconomy.com and be sure to check out his Free Book Project at: www.booksforfree.org.

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