Children’s books might seem like an easy way to get started and get your first book published, but it really isn't as simple as it looks. Madeline L’Engle, the author of “A Wrinkle in Time” once said:
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
And this couldn't be more true! If you feel like you have what it takes to write for children, take a look at our top tips for children’s writers.
1. Know your age range – Very few authors are lucky enough to write a book that works for all age ranges, so you need to narrow it down before you start writing. Children at twelve or thirteen will not be reading the same books they were at six, so pick your age range before you start writing or you might find yourself with a lot of editing to do!
2. Don’t talk down – This is probably the most common mistake people make when writing for children. You really don’t need to simplify your writing that much – and doing so will make your book boring. Children like to be challenged, and they are more likely to enjoy your book if it gets their brains working. Think about the books you loved as a child. What did you do if you came across an unfamiliar word? You looked it up!
3. Know your audience – You don’t necessarily have to have children of your own, but you do need to know something about them! We’d always advise that you go back and read some of your childhood favourites for inspiration, but you also need to know what children are interested in now. What’s popular and what isn’t can change overnight, so you need to get yourself up to speed! Take some time out to speak to children in your chosen age range and find out what they like to read and, more importantly, why.
4. Don’t forget the parents – Children might be your target audience, but bear in mind that not many of these children will be going out to buy your books themselves, particularly those in the younger age ranges. Parents, other family members or even teachers will be the ones spending money, so you need to appeal to them as well. Speak to parents or people working closely with children to find out what they look for in a good book and use this to tailor your work.
5. Think about the message – Not all children’s books need to have a moral to the story, but a book with a message is always going to be popular with the parents. There’s no need to overdo it, but try to think of a story that might model some good behaviour, or help children to deal with a difficult situation.
6. Mind your language – This might seem obvious, but it’s worth saying. There are very few publishers who will publish a book for children or teenagers containing even the slightest hint at a swear word. Even words that we as adults might not consider “swearing” need to be replaced with something else. If in doubt, leave it out!
7. Don’t forget the teens – The young adult market is thriving at the moment, and is aimed at teenagers from 14/15 upwards. You’d be surprised how many adults seem to think that children go from picture books to adult fiction all at once, but there’s a huge market available for this “in-between” stage. Writing for this genre gives you a little more freedom, as you can tackle more sensitive or grown-up issues.
8. Read! – As with writing for any genre, you need to know your market inside out if you want to be successful. Look at the bestseller charts for children and see if you can borrow copies of the top few from a local library. You’ll start to notice patterns which you can use to improve your own work when you start writing. But remember...
9. Be original – If the bestseller charts are full of witches and wizards now, there’s a good chance the trend will have passed by the time you’ve finished your book - children get bored of reading the same old thing very quickly! But don’t despair, your research will serve you well and you’ll start to be able to predict a trend before it even happens. Can you see a gap in the market? Fill it!
10. Have Fun! – You might not think it, but children are far more perceptive than adults when it comes to enthusiasm. If you haven’t enjoyed writing your book, that will come across in your writing style and children just won’t engage. To write successfully for children, you have to love children and love what you’re doing, so pick an idea you can be passionate about and enjoy it!