As parents and educators know, books are more than just tools to teach children how to read — they are also a way to introduce young minds to the many complexities of the world, while always nurturing their imagination. Children’s books can carry very impactful messages, like discussing the topic of race or inspiring love for our degrading environment.
And it’s not just professional authors who can share these tales. If you’re a parent or a teacher or just someone with a message to share with children, you can write a children’s book, too! How you may ask? Well, to tell you the truth, it takes work — but it’s far from impossible. Today, I will give you a brief breakdown so that you can get started (or simply to show you a glimpse of what’s behind the scenes in children’s book publishing).
1. Know your type of children’s book
As you know, the genre of books for children is quite diverse. There are five categories, characterized by the age group of their audiences, that books can fall under:
- Picture books for children under 6, and who can’t read yet;
- Early reader books, which are short and sweet, for learners aged 6 to 7;
- Chapter books for 7 to 9-year-olds who are beginning to enjoy stories on their own;
- Middle-grade books for those who are ready to take on longer tales;
- Young adult fiction, which revolved around teens and, well, young adults.
Every type caters to a group with specific skill levels, which means that it’s incredibly important to keep the subgenre in mind as you write, design, and market your children’s book (if you decide that you want to sell to the wider public). As such, the most crucial thing, to begin with, is to know what children’s subgenre you want to write in.
Each will come with its own challenges: picture books may be shorter, but they require a lot of design work and careful consideration when it comes to language. Middle-grade fiction is more time-consuming to write and more expensive to print, but you can pour yourself into the writing if that’s appealing to you. Don’t base your decision on what you consider ‘easier’ to accomplish — what matters most is who you really want to tell your story to.
2. Write a fun but simple book
Writing a children’s book is more complicated than you’d think. As adult writers, we tend to be more elaborate, both in vocabulary and in the plot, than children prefer. Most books are written to help children fall in love with the act of reading — if they have to pause every five sentences to search up a word, it may not be very effective. Of course, you’ll still want to introduce some new vocabulary in your book — but you should do it with careful consideration, particularly when you write for a very young audience.
Similarly, a plot that is too complicated may lose the attention of young readers. Avoid having too many subplots, for instance, to avoid distraction from the main story. Focus on your main theme, and how best to flesh that out, before you think of complicating your plot.
3. Edit your manuscript
You’ve got the manuscript — now you want to polish it. This is the chance for you to review your story and make sure that it is clear as well as engaging. There is always something to improve when it comes to writing, so take your time with it.
Generally, it’s good to take a step back and leave your manuscript for at least a few days before coming back to it with fresh eyes. You can also read it aloud, as if you were reading to a child, and see how that goes. And if you’re extra careful, or if you’re aiming to sell your book, then working with a professional editor is a must.
4. Illustrate the book
If you’re an artistic parent, then this is the perfect chance for you to pull out those paint brushes! What better way to bring your story to life than art? The typical picture book has 24 pages of story, and sometimes two pages can feature a single spread, so you’ll draw roughly 12 to 24 illustrations. These drawings don’t have to be complex. Keep in mind that for early readers, the layout of every page can make all the difference to the reading experience. You want to keep it clean rather than cluttered since readers will have to process both the text and the image you’ve written.
And if you’re not writing a picture book or a book for early readers, you can still use artworks to create cover designs or custom maps for your title. Be mindful though, that cover art is not easy — you’ll have to balance your piece’s composition with the title text and author’s name, among other things. Should you choose to use your art for your cover, I advise you to talk to a professional cover designer, or even collaborate with them to come up with a harmonious design.
5. Choose your printing method
Finally, once you’ve got a complete digital copy of your book, it’s time to produce the actual volume. You can also definitely go with an ebook — though it’s a lot more common for children’s books to be printed. Children’s books tend to have very specific trim sizes that are better enjoyed properly printed than on Kindles — and in any case, most parents prefer physical books.
So how should you print your book? Well, there are two broad options: you can print on demand, or you can print by batch. What’s hard about batch (or offset) printing is that it often only works if you order a big quantity, 500 being the common minimum. So if you’re just distributing to a few friends or family members, perhaps this isn’t the best choice. Do consider services like Amazon KDP instead, which would only print whenever there’s a purchase order. It is usually a more financially viable option for those who want to self-publish a children’s book.
Hopefully, this short overview has given you a general look into what should happen if you want to produce your own children’s book and tell your own story. It’s not the easiest path, but the result will be worth it!
Thao Nguyen is a writer at Reedsy, a publishing marketplace for indie authors. She writes short stories and researches traditional Asian theatre.