As an editor of children’s books, I have assisted so many authors in writing, editing, and publishing their children’s books. It sounds like a fairly simple idea to start off writing a book, but a few special tips can take your book to a bestselling level. Just imagine yourself sitting down in front of a group of children as you hold your own book and read it out to them for the very first time. A dream, isn’t it? Just go through these 12 easy tips, and your dream of writing a children’s book will come true.
An Editor’s 12 Steps for Writing a Children’s Book
So, my friends, these are the 12 steps that you have to follow to write a good book for children:
- Find an idea that works.
- Work on your main character.
- Write the perfect length.
- Get into the story soon.
- Think about the main issue.
- Use some repetition.
- Weave in illustrations.
- End your story quickly.
- Choose a title.
- Use a revision technique called “walk the plank”.
- Find the right editor.
- Find the right illustrator.
This article will talk about 12 steps to write a Children’s book and publishing it:
- Coming up with a good concept
- Creating a loveable main character
- Ensuring your book is the proper length
- Structuring the plot
- Working with illustrators
If you have any questions about your book, scroll right through to the bottom of this page, where I have answered the most frequently asked questions. Chances are that I have already answered your question, otherwise you can just drop me a question and I will be sure to respond!
So let’s actually get to the 12 steps that you need to keep in mind when you are writing your book.
#1 Find an Idea That Works
You might have a rough idea already, but you can polish it up further by:
- Googling “children’s book” followed by a phrase which you think describes the book well,
- Going through the summaries of the similar books that come up in your search
- Figuring out if your book can be different compared to the ones already out there
It sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? Well, you would be surprised to know that a lot of people actually skip this step! It takes barely 2 minutes to do and will give you an idea of what your competition looks like.
When people actually start following my advice, a lot of them find out that someone else has already worked on the same idea. That is not always bad news though! In fact, that also means that kids will actually like your topic.
What you have to keep in mind here is that your story needs one plot twist so that it is not like all the other stories out there. For example, if you are writing about bullying, you could think about writing it from the story’s perspective. Or if your story is about dogs, you could make your dog into a stray dog.
Your story could be different if there is a surprise right in the end. It could also cater to younger kids or older kids. You could add a touch of magic to your story by talking about elves or fairies. One twist is all it needs.
#2 Work on Your Main Character
As an editor, I go through so many children’s books each year. From my experience, I can tell you that those books that have nice, unique characters definitely stand out from the rest. The character might have a special quirk or funny habits. Their physical features may be different, or they might talk in a different manner compared to everyone else.
If I come across a book whose primary character is just like every other child I know, then I know that the book needs a lot of work. When working on your character, remember that he/she should feel real, but he or she does not have to represent every child in the world.
If you are confused about how to go about this, you can come up with a character questionnaire, and see how well you know your own creation. You can ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there anything in particular that the main character wants?
- What are their best and worst habits?
- Are they introverted or extroverted?
- Do they speak in a particular way? For example, what do they sound like? Do you they speak loudly or softly? Do they have a certain accent? Is there a word or phrase that they repeat?
- Are they brave? Do they have self-doubt?
- Do they own any pets? Is your main character a pet animal?
- What makes them happy?
- Are they harboring any secrets?
- What is something that sounds very unlike them?
- Is there anything this character really loves but other people do not like too much?
You can grade yourself using the following:
8 – 10 – good news! It seems that you have fleshed out your character really well.
6-7 – well done! You have put in a lot of thought for your character.
5 or under – you should flesh out your character a little more, and then go through this questionnaire again.
Under 4 – My course has some more information on this topic as well.
#3 Write the Perfect Length
Many people struggle with getting the word count right, and this is probably the one question that I get asked a lot.
When you are thinking about your word limit, think about the age group that your target audient forms, and then write according to that. You can refer to the figure below to find out which word limit works best for different age groups.
The books I receive the most usually picture books that are written for ages 3 to 7. A good word count for this age group would probably be around 750 words.
After you have written your first draft, you might find out that you have written more than 1000 words. It is time to take out your red pen and cut out all the extra words you have penned down because that is one of the main rules of the industry.
#4 Get Into the Story Soon
One of the biggest mistakes that authors make is that the story is started way too late. As a result, it does not get the attention of the parent or the child. For example, if your story is talking about a kid in the circus, then make sure that the kid has joined the circus latest by the second page.
You do not need to give too much detail about the context of the child or the season or any other such information. Simply talk about the circus coming to town, and the child wants to become a lion tamer or clown.
Since you have a very small word limit, you should not waste a lot of time or space in providing context. In children’s books, we usually dive into the story very quickly and move right ahead.
For example, there’s a very famous book call HippoSPOTamus. It’s a picture book about a hippo discovering a red spot on its bottom. And when do you think that takes place? You guessed it – right on the very first page! And from there, the story just kicks off.
#5 What is the Main Issue?
Each book talks about the main character that is facing an issue. Whether the problem is another person, a bullying situation, or a mystery, this is what the main ‘struggle’ is going to be throughout the book.
The book will talk about the different obstacles faced by your main character, and the different hurdles they overcame to come to a solution.
It sounds pretty simple, but writers make some very common mistakes:
- The issue might get sorted very easily. Your character has to struggle as well as fail. As a rule, your character should fail for approximately three times at the very least, and for a maximum of 5 times. After that, you may consider solving their problems.
- There isn’t a series of hurdles. When you are writing a proper narrative, there has to be a series of problems that the main character is up against. You can’t just have them emerge victorious after a single problem. For example, they might lose something in the middle, they might get scolded by their parents, their younger siblings might ruin their hard work, or the weather might prevent them from being successful.
- The character doesn’t sound too concerned. Now think about the audience you are writing for. The problem should seem BIG to the child. In fact, they should feel like it’s a life or death situation going on, even if it is something very small. If the character sounds concerned, your reader will become concerned too.
#6 There Should Be Some Repetition
Younger children love it, parents love it, and your publishers are going to love it too!
Basically, we all love it. So you need to keep this in mind when you are writing your book because it won’t be very popular otherwise. Take a look at the ever-popular Dr. Seuss books, some of the most famous books across generations, and you will see what I mean.
There are three main repetition types that can be used:
- You can repeat a phrase or a word on the same page.
- You can repeat a phrase or a word throughout the book.
- You can repeat the structure of the story.
Books that sound like they rhyme use the same words throughout the book. In my personal opinion, the most important thing is to repeat the story.
I can teach you more about this in my course. I use helpful videos and examples to explain this point in even greater detail, so it will become easier for you to write your book.
#7 Think About the illustrations
You need to work with illustrators when you are writing a book for kids because you absolutely need to have illustrations in your book as well. You have to write the content and give it to the illustrator to work with, so make sure you give them proper content. Most writers forget this aspect of their books, and so the illustrators have a really hard time coming up with interesting visuals.
If you have good illustrations, it can really take your book to the next level, so don’t discount this point. Instead, add more to your content so that they can also provide fun illustrations.
Here is what you can do:
- Throw in some interesting buildings as your settings, such as a greenhouse instead of a school.
- Make your characters look different and funny. For example, replace dogs with lemurs.
- Picture everything happening outside in a field rather than inside classrooms or bedrooms.
An inside setting may be limiting (left), but illustrators have more creative freedom with outside settings (right).
When your book is being reviewed by a publisher, they will look at the content and the pictures and how well they connect to each other. If they think that the link looks weak, they might just say no to the book! So good visuals can make or break your books.
#8 End Your Story Quickly
When you are writing a book for kids, try not to drag it on.
Once the main issue of your story has been resolved (let’s say the cat was found or the bully says sorry to everyone), you can wrap up your story in one or two pages. This is because the reader would not really care about reading further once you have solved the main problem, so there is no point in adding pages and pages after that.
You should think carefully about the conclusion, so that your story can be effective and interesting, without sounding like a bore.
A very popular technique that I personally really like to use for conclusions is called the “call back” technique, and it is also used by stand-up comedians. This technique involves referencing a joke that they made earlier. You can use the same trick by talking about something that you mentioned in the first few pages of the book. For example, if you talked about the character eating some special candy, you can wrap up the book again by saying that the character happily settled down with the same special candy in peace.
#9 Choose Title for Children’s book
Another common mistake made by amateur authors is that they want to come up with a title before they actually write their books.
Please don’t make the same mistake. Most times, we don’t really know the true essence of the storyline until we are done writing it. You can come up with a working title, but keep in mind that the title is quite likely to change.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with having to revise your work. Almost all people revise the title several times until they find the right one.
Remember, the title will be the main marketing tool of the book. A lot of people actually base their decisions on books on the title itself. So you have to choose the right title for your work. Here are a few tips that you can use:
- Alliteration: (or using the same first letters). If your book is about a girl called Amelia who finds some mice that do magic tricks, you can call your book “How Alice Found the Magical Mice” instead of “The Mice Who Can Do Magic Tricks”.
- Stay away from descriptive titles: A lot of people try to use very basic adjectives, like “The Big Library”. Think about other aspects of your book that you can incorporate into your title, like “The Midnight Scavenger Hunt in the Library”.
- Use action titles: This will bring some energy to your novel, while a boring title can ruin your book. Instead of using passive verbs, you should think about using active words. For example, “The Mystical Creations of the Friendly Fairy” sounds much better than “The Creative Fairy”.
- Throw in a touch of mystery: Your title should not tell your readers all that they should know about the topic, and you should ignite their curiosity. Give them some bait to draw them in, but let them go through the book to resolve the mystery. For example, you can call your book “How Olivia Saved the Circus” instead of “The Town Circus”.
- Google the title of your book: This will tell you if there are any other published books that already have the same name. Of course, there is nothing stopping you from having the same title, but the only problem is that people won’t be able to tell the two books apart then.
- Give your title a test run, both with adults and children: See how children respond to the title. Do they look bored or excited? But keep in mind that it is the parents who will be buying the books, so you should try out the titles with adults as well.
#10 Use the Right Revision Strategy
A lot of books are very wordy when they first come in. In fact, that is the biggest concern of most agents and publishers. So it is important to make sure that you use a good revision strategy that can address this concern.
You should use a revision technique that goes through each word, phrase, and sentence. This technique is called “Walk the Plank”.
The technique is fairly basic. Hover over your sentence, and think about whether you want to keep it or not. If you cut it out, will the story stop making sense?
If it doesn’t take away from the story at all, then you can go ahead and delete the phrase.
However, if you think that the story will stop making sense, then you can stick to that sentence for now.
As a general rule of thumb, your book is more likely to be picked up by agents and publishers if it is shorter. It is more cost-effective to illustrate shorter books, and they also appeal more to parents and children.
#11 Find the Right Editor
After your book has been written, the next step is getting an expert to give feedback. It is important to find a suitable editor. Think of it is an investment that you are making in the book. Even though you have written it, there are lots of techniques and tricks that can be used to make the story even better and provide a better experience to your readers.
Usually, there are two types of editors of children’s books that you will come across.
- Content editors or developmental editors: these are the people who can help you work on the plot, concept, pacing, characters, and anything else that needs some more work. They will look at the overall picture and work with you in revising the book.
- Copy Editor (Proofreader or associate editor): who is also known as the proofreader. This editor will work through grammar, formatting, style, spelling, tenses, and any other language and style related errors. On the whole, your book will start looking more polished now.
There are some editors who provide both types of services, but you have to do them one by one. Get your story in order before you start fixing the smaller things.
To help you look for an editor, you can use the following checklist:
- Go for someone who has been around for a while in the publishing industry.
- Make sure they have samples of works edited by them that have been published.
- Ask for testimonials provided by other writers.
- Ideally, they should have a membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
Cost-wise, it can really vary, but you can expect to pay upwards of $300 to $500 to an editor. If someone is charging less than that, there are a lot of chances that the person is not as experienced. You should not go for a beginner.
If you want to work with me, you can find more details about the services I offer on my editing page.
#12 Find an Illustrator
As mentioned earlier, good illustrations can bring your book into the highlight. This is probably the only expensive part of the entire process, but it is also super important. If you invest in a good illustrator, your book is going to fare much better.
Here are a few things you can keep in mind when looking for an illustrator for producing illustrations for the children book:
- Ask for samples of their work to see their style
- Go through the contract to see who retains rights of the images
- Ask them how long they will require to produce images
- Ask them if they can work on type, layout, and the book design.
Make sure that you have answered the above questions for yourself properly because the success of your book depends on this step.
But this is not it!
Children’s Book Format – Font style, font size, word placement, page breaks, etc
There are also a few more factors to think about regarding the image and the text:
- Font: a lot of books remain unpublished because they don’t have the right font. You should work with the illustrator in coming up with a font that matches the illustrations.
- Font size: this should remain the same throughout the book, and should go well with all the drawings as well.
- Placement of words: it is important to place all the words on the right part of the image, otherwise the illustration gets ruined. It should be well-balanced, and proper rules of composition have to be followed. The text should add to the illustration, instead of taking away from it.
- Page breaks: you should talk about which words should go where on the pages with the illustrator. They can have helpful ideas, such as having two pages with no text at all, or to breakdown one sentence into several pages. They might suggest having a couple of sentences on one page, and then just a few words on the next. This is why you need an experienced illustrator because an amateur individual won’t be able to have a well-balanced breakdown.
It is important to work on the book design, and you can talk to your illustrator about it or work with a separate book designer. Make sure you get an expert to work on the font, font size, and placements.
Commonly Asked Questions by Children Book Writers
- Do I need to copyright my book?
People have different ideas regarding it, but I wouldn’t suggest it. You do not really need to worry that someone will steal the book. If you opt for a traditional publishing method, the copyright will be done by the publisher. If you choose to publish it yourself, then you already have ownership of the book, and copyright will provide additional protection.
You do not need to be too concerned about this. In the United States, you can visit the website of the United States Copyright Office, and registration will set you back by a hundred U.S. Dollars. In my course, I provide step by step instructions on how to do this.
- Should I have the illustrations ready before the book is sent to editors or publishers or agents?
Not at all. Your editor will just be concerned with what you have written. You do not need to add in the illustrations unless it’s absolutely necessary for your words to be understood. Even if that is the case, you can just add descriptions of the illustrations in brackets [such as this].
If you go to a publisher, they like to hire illustrators on their own, so you can skip that task entirely. Choosing the right illustrator is more of a marketing technique, so you can leave it to the published. A decent publisher might cost somewhere around $20,000, and I am sure you won’t have all that cash to spend on this.
However, if you are illustrating yourself, then it is important to send them in. In case of a rejection, it might be because of the words or the write-up, and you need to figure out what is the weak link here.
Keep in mind though that most agents want to represent individuals who are both writers and illustrators, instead of just the writers. The main reason is that illustrators of children’s books rake in more money than writers (just saying it as it is!).
- Do I need any non-disclosure agreement (NDA) for my book?
If you really want one, you can go ahead and get NDA. But there is a very slim chance that someone would steal your book.
In the unlikely scenario that it does happen, you can just sue the person and also keep the profits. So people do not really have a reason to go around stealing.
Writers tend to be more concerned about this than they need to be. As an editor, my personal advice is that you should invest this energy towards putting together the best possible children’s book. If you do come up with something great, agents and publishers and editors will love to sign you on, and they won’t have any reason to steal your work.
- Can you also work as a literary agent?
Unfortunately, no. I work as an editor, and editors and agents play very different roles. The editor works on the book and polishes it up. On the other hand, literary agents play the role of matchmakers – they look for publishers who are hunting for the type of book that you have written.
You can join my email list of children’s books, and I can send over a list of all agents I know about.
- Can you help me with finding a publisher for my book?
That is what literary agents help you with. However, I have compiled a list comprising 30 publishers on Bookfox, who can also accept submissions even if you don’t want to go through literary agents.
If I work with you as an editor, I may offer some recommendations of publishers who might work well with your book, if I know of any. Please keep in mind that publishers are sent so many submissions each year, and they can really sign on those people whose books are going to sell for sure.
- Do agents and publishers get a lot of book submissions each year?
Agents who are relatively newer can get almost two to three thousand submissions sent each year, while more established ones might receive up to eight thousand submissions.
As for publishers, they usually get two to fifteen thousand submissions. If someone gets a lot of submissions, they might not accept submissions temporarily. This is because it can be very costly to hire other people for the sole purpose of sifting through all the work sent in.
This is by no means meant to discourage you, but it important for you to be aware of this so that you can make a proper decision regarding whether to opt for a publisher or publish yourself. It is difficult to connect with the right publisher or agent and requires a lot of work and time. That is why publishing on your own can be easy because you can have your book ready within a few days.
- Should I contact a publisher or self-publish the book?
There are a few advantages of publishing on your own. You do not need to wait around and you have full control over the project, like the illustrations and cover design. It will not cost you a lot either.
However, it also means that you need to take charge of the marketing aspect as well, which can be difficult without the right guidance. Plus, your reputation is also not that high up if you haven’t been promoted by traditional publishers. If you are really determined to have your work published and you think you can do a decent job with marketing it, then go for it.
There are several advantages of traditional publishing as well. You are paid an advance amount, and they take care of all other aspects, like ISBN, cover design, proofreading, and illustrations. Plus, you will gain guidance about all the promotion and marketing.
- Is it tough to get my book accepted by publishers?
However, it is tough to get accepted by publishers or agents. It can take some people several submissions over a couple of years before they get accepted. If you want to make sure that your book is marketed well and you are armed with patience, you can consider opting for this.
If you found this guide helpful or have any concerns or questions, drop me a comment in the comments section.