Updated: Sep 22
If want to write a children's book, but don't have any experience, don't worry! In this article, we'll give you some tips on how to get started and point you in the right direction for finding more information.
1. Read lots of children's books
To write a children's book, you need to familiarize yourself with the basics. This includes understanding what makes a good story for children, as well as learning how to write for a younger audience. To do this, start by reading lots and lots of children's books. But — this might surprise you — NOT the classics. Go to your local library or Barnes & Noble and find recent publications.
Why read recent children's books?
To put it simply, the industry changes. What sold well 20+ years ago may not do well in today's market and, often, classics are the exceptions to the rules.
Take Dr. Seuss for example. He made up whole words, creatures, and sentence structures in his writing! But his style is exclusive to him — there aren't really other kid's books out there that are written like his are.
Beyond writing and style, topics and interests change as the years go on. Right now there's a huge push for social-emotional learning in children's books as well as diverse representation. Looking at recently published books will give you a good idea of what sells now.
Plus, reading what's out there will not only inspire new ideas, it will give you real life examples of how to write your ideas well!
2. Start with a concept or story idea
To write a children's book, it's important that you start with a strong concept. It should be something that kids will find entertaining, memorable, or relatable but also that parents will find value in.
As strange as this sounds to type out, your story idea for your children's book doesn't have to be 100% unique. Now don't misunderstand me — your writing should be completely yours (no thieves, please!) but the idea for your children's book is fine to have similarities to other titles. Some authors think they need to write something that has never been done before but often, there's a reason a concept hasn't been done before. It's better to write about something kids care about with a fresh twist or perspective instead.
Just for example, think about how many books there are about a mother's love. A ton, right? (I have SO many on my daughter's bookshelf!) But even though they all have a similar core concept, there's something about each one that makes it special.
Think about a subject you know well or what you're passionate about and start there! Is there something you want to teach? Is your intent to make kids laugh? Whatever your inspiration or reasoning, keep in mind that your concept for the book is what readers will truly connect with so make it exceptional.
3. Develop your plot and characters
Before you start writing, you need to think about the journey you're taking the reader on. Unless you're writing something like an alphabet book, your children's book should follow a proper story arc - readers expect that!
Note: I once had an author state that a book like EYES THAT KISS IN THE CORNERS does not follow a story arc. Although that particular book doesn't have a traditional plot with action, if you look more closely, you'll find that the emotional journey the narrator takes actually does follow a story arc. It's more subtle in this author's writing but that tension and release is what makes the ending of that book so satisfying!
Developing your plot and characters is essential to writing a children's book. You need to decide who your characters are and what they are going to learn and discover by the end of the book.
If you need help, check out this step-by-step video training on how to write a children's book with a solid story arc:
Common mistakes new authors make when plotting their book:
They create a character who is absolutely perfect with no flaws. Nothing bad happens to them in the book and they don't learn anything or develop as a person. The end! (Booooring!)
They create an unrealistic character who doesn't speak or behave like a child would and therefore the readers don't connect with them.
They give the main character too many problems, making the resolution feel unreal and making the book an overall negative or heavy experience for the reader.
They create too many characters so there isn't enough time to get to know any of them that well.
They don't write about a problem or concern that children actually care about or face. (Children do not care about taxes or the purpose of a placenta. Yes, I've seen authors try to write picture book fiction about both.)
Those are just a few examples of issues I've seen in the thousands of picture books that have come across my desk. As you're planning, try to be objective, and don't hesitate to ask for outside opinions for honest feedback.
4. Write your first draft
Now, it's finally time to get your book on the page...or the screen, if you prefer to type. Don't overthink it, just get the words down. Your first draft isn't supposed to be good. The purpose of a first draft is simply to get the story going because editing is where the real magic happens. ✨
No matter who you are, your first draft is not ready for publication. Even the best authors go through dozens of drafts (or more) before the book is ready for the next step in the publication process.
Why am I still harping on this? Well, as coaches, we tend to see three types of first time children's book authors:
The Impatient Writer 🚩 - Those who write their first draft and immediately start querying agents for traditional publishing or searching for an illustrator for self-publishing.
The Overthinker 🚩 - Writers who have the idea in their head but are so worried about making a mistake that they can't get words on the page at all.
The Hardworker 🤩 - Aspiring authors who do their best to write, revise, and learn on an ongoing basis. They recognize that writing is a process and they're determined to work at improving and creating great children's books.
We want you to be the hardworker! So get that first draft written and then, it's time to revise.
5. Revise and polish your children's book
First off, take a moment to 🎉 CELEBRATE! 🎉 Writing your first children's book is a big deal so make sure you acknowledge every milestone.
Next, you need to start revising your book. If you haven't watched Chelsea's video on the different types of editing, pause your reading for a moment and watch it below.
Here are some quick tips to polish your picture book:
Read your work aloud. This will help you to catch mistakes and awkward phrasing.
Use Grammarly to make sure your grammar and spelling are correct.
Trim the word count. If you can take it out and it doesn't affect the plot, delete it.
Take a break. Sometimes it's helpful to put your work away for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes.
Seek feedback. Ask friends, family, and fellow writers to read your work and give you honest, actionable feedback.
6. Decide on a publishing route
Once you've finished your children's book, it's time to think about the next steps. There are two publishing routes to choose from, and it can be confusing to figure out which one is best for you and your book.
What are the options for publishing a children's book?
With this route, you submit your book to agents or directly to publishing houses and the publisher completely handles the production of the book for you. This can be a great option if you don't want to deal with publishing tasks yourself, or if you don't have the time or resources to do so.
This route is 100% free to you (yes, you read that right!) but that means that publishers are picky about the books they take on. Don't let this discourage you though: if you have a well-written book with a strong concept and a captivating pitch, you have a good chance of securing an agent and a publisher. Just be patient because it takes time!
When you self-publish, you are the publisher. That means that you handle all the publishing tasks yourself: editing, illustration, formatting, printing, distribution, and marketing. Anything you can't do yourself, you'll need to outsource and it's expensive.
Self-publishing can be a great option if you have the time and resources to do all the work yourself, or if you want more control over the publishing process. However, it can also be costly and time-consuming so make sure that this truly is the route for you.
Which publishing route is best?
The experts at At Home Author hear this question a LOT. There are gurus out there who will argue in favor of one publishing route or the other for a variety of reasons but the truth is this...
One isn't better than the other. It's about what's best for YOU.
No two aspiring authors have the same publishing goals, priorities, financial situation, values, or time to commit to getting a children's book written and published. So what is best for someone else and their book might not be for you.
Keep in mind that once you've committed a book to one publishing route, that's it. You as an author can be both traditionally published and self-published but each book can only be one or the other.
Weight the pros and cons carefully before you do anything and make sure you've read up on publishing scams.
Take the Fasttrack
Want to get your picture book written in record time? Join our Write Your Picture Book 3-Day Challenge. This is completely free to you and delivered to your email inbox.
Start by taking another read through of this blog post and then take action. Because the truth is, you don't need connections or writing experience to become a published children's book author. You just need the motivation to learn and see this through to the end.
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