Writing Children's Books
Children’s books play a significant role in teaching kids about life, family structures, and moral values. To those who think that dashing out a children’s book is a two-week project, we say think again. Children are highly sensitive beings. They are idolizers and imitators. They learn through their eyes.
Children's literature is one of the most complex writing styles to master, as you need to think not once, not twice, but thrice before scripting each sentence. For instance, let’s look at this sentence below.
“Oh bugger, he is at it again! When will Peter stop playing with his food and just eat it?” Grandpa sitting at the dinner table thought to himself.
To an adult, the sentence seems alright. But you will never find it in a children’s book, or at least not one that is written with the young readers in mind.
Why? Take a look at it again and see what we are trying to say.
Yes, now you see! It has the word bugger in it. Since kids have a limited vocabulary at an early age, they will open a dictionary to find out its meaning. Here is what he is going to find out.
- Used synonymously to abuse, especially for someone that causes harm or trouble
- Someone who penetrates someone’s anus during intercourse
So you understand, now? Although the writer merely wanted to surge up some humor with it, it can have the kid asking his parents or teachers at school a hundred different awkward questions. Every sentence in a children’s book has to go through this personal critique. What will the little reader think of it? Is it too harsh for such an early age? Will he be able to add it to his vocabulary? Will that negatively affect him somehow?
And since we are going to be talking about creating a bestseller, you can imagine the eyes of everyone on it as it starts to earn some fame. So, how do you write a children’s book? Let’s take it one step at a time.
Step 1: Who Will You Write for?
The first step to writing children’s books is gathering information about the target audience you wish to cater to. You need to decide which age group you are going to be writing for. Secondly, publishers and agents don’t consider you as a serious writer when you say your story is “for all ages”. When writing a bestselling children’s book, you must have everything sorted out. Choosing your target audience is the first step.
Step 2: Choose a Format
Are you going to be selling it as a paperback or an eBook?
Think both. EBooks are still not the first choice of parents and kids, as children want something they find in a shop and not something they have to search for. Besides, the exposure your book can get in a toy shop is greater, as printed books are instant attention-seekers.
Step 3: Pick a Genre
If you are aiming to write a bestseller, you must have a clear idea of what you are going to write about. What genre are you going to pick? As a budding author, it is ideal to look for niches that get the highest sales. Several online websites show you what keywords are trending. Pick something that piques your interest. Writing about something you don’t enjoy writing about will only delay the writing on your part and you won’t be able to create an interesting product.
Step 4: Choose the Right Set of Elements
Your unique idea will only be a bestseller if you tell it uniquely. Children’s literature is designed to be simple but still keep the reader hooked. Therefore, it comes down to three areas you need to work on: the beginning, the end, and the middle. There should be one or more likable protagonists with a relatable problem to solve. Let’s break it down in detail below.
Simple Dialogue: Simple dialogues are preferable because kids have a limited vocabulary. Their sentences aren’t nicely formed or in flow, which means your story should also have dialogues that sound like real people talking.
A Recall Factor: Your story should have an instant recall factor. Meaning, you want the kids to remember the characters in your story long after they have put the book down. More importantly, they should be willing to pick it up over and over again.
Memorable Characters: An ideal protagonist should be brave, intelligent, curious, and a go-getter. He/she must have a relatable personality, be able to pursue his/her dreams, and make bad-ass moves.
Storyline: Tiny humans love happy endings. You don’t want them to be upset after reading it. They want everything to come to a nice and predictable ending. However, that doesn’t mean you create for them a flat story with no challenges, obstacles, or escalations.
A Hook: Some authors always begin their stories with some unexpected or shocking action/event. A hook is an effective way to keep the young readers intrigued about what’s to come next. Since your goal is the same, provide your readers with some action throughout the book and try to incorporate cliffhangers at the end of each chapter to keep them turning pages.
Step 5: Pick a Writing Style
This next step is as crucial as the one above it in the guide on how to write children’s books. Why? Because picking a writing style sets the tone of your children’s book. Although it mostly comes down to your preference and what you are good with, the writing style you pick must also take in the following considerations
- What age group is it targeting?
- What word count are you aiming for?
- What story will you tell?
Below are some styles you might want to consider.
Present Tense: Kids love to be a part of something happening in the “now”. If you are writing for 5 to 6 year olds, they might not have the concept of the past and therefore fail to link with it.
Narration: Who is telling the story? Is it the main character? Is everything happening to him? If so, then you may want to consider writing in first-person. Alternatively, a third-person narrative is also a great choice as it gives you, as an author, more flexibility and freedom.
Rhyme: If your strongest suit is poetry, there is nothing better than writing a children’s book in rhyme. However, you have to make it stand out. Be persistent. You don’t want to skip rhyming or deliberately force words that make no sense.
Step 6: Get To Writing
Although it makes sense to have a story with a valuable lesson, avoid being too preachy. You want kids to figure out the message on their own rather than rubbing it in their faces.
Secondly, use fewer words and leave room for illustrative imagination. Showing them what you want to say is a more effective means of communication. Besides, isn’t that what the challenge is about? Writing something meaningful in few but potent words?
Thirdly, does your story has something new to tell? What is it that will make a potential publisher invest thousands into publishing, advertising, and selling? More importantly, why would someone pick it up? Your story should be unique, by all means. Try bringing something new to the table so that it can become a bestseller faster.
Step 7: Pick a Title
Once you are done with the writing, the next most crucial step involves generating a title. Thankfully, there are many professional and user-friendly title generators online which offer title recommendations for free. If you have given up on coming up with one on your own, try a few and it might give you some ideas. Just be sure to make it catchy and interesting as it will be on the front cover and précis your story in a few words.
Step 8: Have it Edited Professionally
Once your children’s book is past the writing round, next comes hiring a professional editing agency to edit it. Of course, you must have proofread it a hundred times already, but there might still be some sentences that can read better coming from another person’s perspective. Besides, you can have the grammar and punctuation rechecked.
Step 9: Hire an Illustrator
Picture books are a hit with kids. Illustrating your book should be next on your list. If you lack that artistic streak within you, there are many freelance and professional illustrators who would love to work on your project and bring your characters to life. Thanks to modern technology, you are no longer limited by location. You can easily hire an artist online and make your children’s book aesthetically appealing.
Step 10: Send it for Publication
If you don’t have an agent helping you throughout the process, know that becoming a bestselling author is going to be long and tedious. Your work will be rejected multiple times. Many budding authors get rejected a lot before someone finds their work worthy of print. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter is a prime example of this. Try sending your work to multiple publishing houses so that rejection from one will still keep your hopes up.
Just remember, a rejection doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough. You just need to find the right match, so hold on tight!
If you are looking for some inspiration to get started, here is a video of J.K. Rowling talking about her "10 Golden Rules" to get you started. All the best!