The Basics of Writing Children’s Books
Actually getting a children’s book published is difficult. If you don’t know the conventions and styles, if you don’t speak the lingo, if you don’t have someone to advocate for your work, or if you or your manuscript don’t come across as professional, you’ll be hard pressed to get your manuscript read and considered, much less published.
Know your format and audience for children’s books
Before you do anything else, figure out what kind of children’s book you’re writing (or want to write). Formats involve the physical characteristics of a book: page count, trim size (width and height), whether it’s color or black and white, has lots of pictures or lots of words, is hardcover or softcover, comes as an e-book or an app — or both.
There are also lots of genres your book may (or may not) fall into. So figuring out your format and genre will help you determine exactly how to write and present your book.
You also need to ask yourself: Who is my audience? Believe it or not, children isn’t the correct answer. Children of a particular age bracket, say infant to age 2, or ages 3 to 8, may come closer to defining the target age you’re trying to reach, but are they really the ones who buy your book?
Because books are ushered through the process by grown-ups — signed up by agents, acquired and edited by editors, categorized by publishers, pushed by sales reps, shelved and sold by booksellers, and most often purchased by parents and other adults — your audience is more complicated than you may think.
Get into a good writing zone
If you thought you could just grab a pen and paper and jump right in to writing, you’re right! But you may also want to consider what will happen when your life starts to intrude on your writing time. How do you work around the children needing to be fed and your desk being buried under mounds of bills and old homework? How do you figure out when it’s best to write?
Transform yourself into a storyteller
By making sure your fiction story features these key elements, you’ll be one step closer to publishing success:
Memorable characters: Whether it’s a child who can fly, a really hungry wolf, a boy and a slave floating down the Mississippi River, or a smelly green ogre, characters are the heart and soul of children’s books.
An engaging plot: What exactly is a plot, and how does one figure out what constitutes a beginning, a middle, and an ending?
Realistic dialogue: Kids can tell when dialogue doesn’t sound right.
Interesting settings: One way to engage young readers is to set your story in places that intrigue them.
Of course, you also need to consider your author voice or tone. Do you want to sound playful by incorporating word play, rhyming, and rhythm (the music inherent in words well matched)? Or do you want to make youngsters giggle uncontrollably?
Polish your story and get it ready to send to a publisher
After you’ve written your first (or tenth) draft, you may be ready for the revising or editing process. Revising and editing aren’t just exercises to go through step by step; they are processes in which the writer gets to know his story inside and out. Characters are fleshed out, the story is honed and sharpened, the pacing is fine-tuned, and the writing is buffed and polished.
In the process of rewriting and editing your story, you may find that you have some serious questions about your manuscript, such as “Is this really final, or does it need work?” or “Is this supporting character turning into more of a distraction than anything else?”
Seek out feedback from others to help you find answers to any and all questions you may be asking. You can join (or start) a local writer’s group, attend book conferences or writing workshops, or participate in writing message boards.
In the publishing world, first impressions carry a lot of weight. Your thoroughly revised, well-written, and engaging manuscript may fail to wow editors if it looks unprofessional. Proper formatting goes a long way toward making your submission look as professional and enticing as possible.
Sell your story
After you have a well written, carefully edited, perfectly formatted manuscript in your hands, you’re ready to launch it on its first (or 17th) journey out into the big, bad world of publishing. At this point in the process, you have a few different options:
You can send your manuscript to an agent, a person who will best represent your interests and do all the photocopying, query-letter writing, submitting, tracking, and negotiating on your behalf. The good ones are well worth the 15 percent they typically charge to take your career from amateur to professional. Finding the right one, getting her attention, and then negotiating your contract is a process unto itself.
You can submit your book to publishers on your own. Finding the right match and submitting to only the “right fit” publishing houses is an art form requiring in-depth research and quite a bit of sleuthing.
You can opt out of the submissions game altogether and choose to publish your book all by yourself.
Promote your children’s book
After you have your finished book or its actual publication date, how can you be sure anyone else will ever see it or buy it? If you’re working with a traditional publisher, that company likely has a marketing team dedicated to spreading the word about your book, but you know what?
The efforts your publisher is planning on making on your behalf may not impress you, which means you need to do some marketing and publicizing of your own if you want your book sell over the long run.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware that social media has become a powerful force in promoting everything from products and politics to — you guessed it — children’s books.