This post is all about writing a book for children and the necessary steps it takes to become a children’s book author.
I want to start a children’s book. Where do I start?
I hear this question a lot as a book editor.
Many people assume writing a book for children is an easy task, whether it’s a picture book, board book, or chapter book. But becoming a successful children’s book author is quite the challenge.
Learning how to write a children’s book requires an understanding of vocabulary, word count, page count, reading levels, and how to fit text with illustration in a way that’s engaging and well paced.
Here are the 7 steps to writing a book for children.
My Guide: How to Write a Children’s Book
- Read comparative titles
- Start the storyboard process
- Write your draft
- Read and revise
- Read out loud to a child
- Find a children’s book illustrator
- Find a book editor
- Resources for children’s book authors
- Types of children’s books
- Frequently asked questions
1. Read comparative titles.
If you have children’s book ideas, it’s time to narrow your focus and read as many books about that topic as you can. You will quickly discover there are so many different children’s book writing styles. Research is your friend.
This isn’t about plagiarizing.
Studying comparative titles means you assess what publishers are giving attention to—as well as marketing dollars—the type of illustrations, whether or not there’s a gap in the market, and how other authors master their craft.
2. Start the storyboard process.
Once you’ve extensively researched your idea and other books that may be in the same category, it’s time to map out your book. Creating a storyboard is so important if you’re writing a picture book.
If writing a children’s book template or free guide is what you’re after, you won’t find an exact formula. However, a basic layout of your picture book can help you determine what to show in the illustration rather than the text.
The standard picture book is a 32-page spread, but you’ll also see some that are 24 or 40 pages. The front page is your title page, and the second page or the back page will be reserved for your copyright page.
If you’re working with a publisher and you aren’t the illustrator, you won’t be in charge of the book’s layout, but creating a storyboard will help you with pacing.
3. Write your draft.
Now that you have a direction for your illustration and you’ve mapped out your pages in a big-picture sense, it’s time to write the story.
Don’t get too hung up on vocabulary here—if your language is too advanced or the rhythm is clunky, you can always mix up your word choices later.
For this draft, get your story on paper and focus on the overall flow of the book.
4. Read and revise.
Now’s the time to make word-by-word edits. Read out loud to check rhyming and rhythm. This is most applicable for board and picture books.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to read your picture book out loud! Consider what you can cut. With children’s books, word count is precious.
5. Read out loud to a child.
Once you’ve thoroughly checked the rhythm of your book and made sure it’s enjoyable for an adult to read aloud, it’s time to make sure your intended audience likes the story and follows it easily!
6. Find a children’s book illustrator.
If you are self-publishing, this is the most expensive and, arguably, the most important step.
And if you’re working with a publisher, you won’t really be as involved in this part of the process, but you can still set the illustrator up for success by thinking through the text and what your words would need to come to life.
Keep in mind you’ll likely need to book an illustrator several months in advance if you are self-publishing.
Among other things, a good illustrator should:
- Understand page breaks and how to design and manage them
- Provide insight on the right type font and size as well as text placement
- Know how to tell a story alongside the text
- Create engaging artwork that fits the heart of your story
- Offer opportunities for the author to give feedback or request changes through full sketches, color studies, final sketches, et cetera
7. Find a book editor.
An experienced children’s book editor will be able to evaluate your story arc, hook, voice, and characters while eliminating wordiness, issues with plot or pacing, and language that isn’t appropriate for the reading level.
Among other things, a good children’s book editor should:
- Provide a free sample edit for longer chapter books
- Specialize in children’s books
- Have training through specific courses
- Understand readability, word play, rhyming, and other elements of kid lit
- Have a firm grasp on storytelling techniques like pacing, plot, dialogue, et cetera
Don’t forget you will need to closely proofread your book. Finding a typo in a picture book that’s only a few pages anyway is a hard pill to swallow!
Resources for Children’s Book Authors
- Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
- Second Sight by Cheryl Klein
- The Magic Words by Cheryl Klein
- Writing Children’s Books for Dummies by Lisa Rojany and Peter Economy
- Children’s Writer’s Word Book, second edition
- Fry Sight Words
- Writing Books for Children by Jane Yolen
Note: Anything written by Cheryl Klein is basically a children’s book writing course, so I highly recommend her books.
Types of Children’s Books
- Board books: These are books for babies and toddlers. Usually, they are more durable and square or die-cut. Some board books have pop-ups or other fun surprises, and they typically focus on the alphabet, counting, colors, et cetera. Because board books don’t have a lot of words, the pictures are usually straightforward and simple.
- Picture books: These are books written for children ages three to eight years old, but anyone can enjoy picture books! For the older crowd, they’re often called picture storybooks. Early picture books tend to be read aloud to kids who aren’t old enough to read but have a better attention span than the average toddler. Since these books are intended to be read by an adult or older child, the vocabulary is usually a higher grade level than easy readers.
- Easy readers: These are pretty straightforward and focus on word lists for certain reading levels. Easy readers are divided into four levels: pre-emergent, emergent, early fluent, and fluent.
- Transitional books: Pretty self-explanatory, but these are books that are more complex than easy readers but not quite middle grade chapter books.
- Graphic novels: These books are written for all age levels. Sometimes, they are designed for older kids who are reluctant readers.
- Middle grade chapter books: Once children can read, they’re able to move on to chapter books. Chapter books are usually written for children ages five to ten and are anywhere from 1,000 words to 20,000 words. Chapter books lead to more complicated middle grade books in the 25,000- to 50,000-word range, which are typically designed for ages eight to twelve.
Frequently Asked Questions about Writing Kid Lit
How much can you make from writing a children’s book?
It’s rare to make a lot of money in the children’s book market, especially if you have a first book and it isn’t a series. According to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, you might expect to split an $8,000 to $12,000 advance with the illustrator for a 32-page picture book (in traditional publishing).
Picture books typically sell between 5,000 and 10,000 copies in hardcover and go out of print after two years. For easy readers, you don’t split royalties on a novel, so you can earn anywhere from a $5,000 to $8,000 advance against 7% to 10% royalties.
Most full-time children’s book authors also supplement their income by teaching writing workshops or courses, speaking at school visits, offering editorial services, or working on the side as a copywriter or freelancer.
How do I start writing a book for kids?
Once you have a children’s book idea, write it out on a 32-page spread. You don’t need to worry about illustrations before sending your manuscript to agents or publishers. You can write your ideas or directions for the illustrator in brackets to show how the art would work alongside the text.
If you are an illustrator, include your illustrations when you submit your work.
Is it easy to write a children’s book?
It’s a common misconception that writing a book for children is easy. Because it’s such a competitive market and the books are shorter, you have to be more concise with your language and more intentional with your story in general.
You don’t have the luxury of hooking readers a few chapters in; you have to grab their attention immediately—and keep it!—which is no easy feat for little ones.
How long does it take to write a children’s book?
This depends on a lot of different factors. If you are self-publishing and need to collaborate with an illustrator, you’ll likely need to book a designer several months out from your intended publication date.
The whole process from start to finish could take anywhere between 18 and 24 months, especially if you are traditionally publishing, but it could be a longer or shorter process. Marrying the text and illustration takes time and precision.
Now that you know the main steps to writing a book for children and all that becoming a children’s book author entails, you can begin mapping out your ideas.
What are you most looking forward to in the book publishing process? What are your reservations? Let me know!