How to Write a Children's Book: Tips on Length, Illustrations, and More Image

If you have a great idea that you’d like to turn into a children’s book, you might think the process should be quite simple, considering the age of your target audience.

But not so fast! Kids are often among the toughest critics, and though they may not be swiping credit cards at Barnes and Noble or adding items to their Amazon cart, their parents will be doing that for them, based on the books they love right now.

That’s why it’s so important to do your research (as you would for any book) and really figure out what your audience wants more of, and how you can add something new that they haven’t seen yet.

We’ve created the below guide with tips and information that will help you create a book kids (and their parents) will love.

How Do I Start to Write a Children’s Book?

Follow these steps to ensure that your children’s book is a hit with both young readers and their parents.

1. Choose Your Audience

Below is a table that illustrates the average statistics for the most common types of children’s books, including the word count, average page length, and frequency of illustrations.

Book Type Age Word Count Pages Illustrations
Picture book 0-3 0 32 Every page
Young picture book 2-5 200-400 32 Every page
Trade picture book 4-8 400-800 32+ Every page
Picture story book 6-10 1,000-3,000 32+ Every page
Chapter book 6-10 3,000-10,000 32+ Almost every page
Middle grade 8-12 15,000-40,000 82 12+

You’ll want to study these statistics to determine the age range you’d like to target, and to help guide you through the decisions you’ll have to make about your book’s structure and design.

2. Study Your Audience

Once you’ve chosen your audience, it’s important that you take the time to actually get to know them. This is especially important for children’s books since usually, the people writing them aren’t children.

Do some research (this can be as simple as browsing Amazon’s bestsellers for your selected age range) to find out what kinds of stories your audience likes. Hit up your local library and browse the children’s titles, and skim through as many as you can.

However, the children aren’t the only audience you’ll have to appeal to: you’ll also have to learn the tastes of their parents, and figure out what they like to read to or with their kids.

Spend more time socializing and getting to know the parental demographic that your book would be targeting. You can also talk to teachers or ask some acquaintances in this ideal demographic to complete a short survey.

3. Develop Your Best Idea

Once you’ve done a little digging about the kinds of stories your audience loves, take your best idea and find what makes it different from what’s already out there.

The trick is to find something that makes your story unique. There are thousands of books about bullies, for example, but why not try writing yours from the perspective of the bully?

Share your ideas with some of the audience members you studied in the second step, just to check the temperature and see if you might be onto something.

4. Develop Your Characters

Once you’ve figured out the premise of your story and adequately developed it, it’s time to start developing your characters. (Yes, you need to be thoughtful about this even for picture books!)

Relatability is important if you want to keep the attention of your young readers. What about this character will your audience see in themselves? What are their goals? Their strengths? Their fears or limits?

Answering these questions will help you bring your protagonist to life, and create a character that kids will find relatable and interesting.

5. Stick to the Right Length

Returning to steps 1 and 2, know the ideal page and word length for your ideal audience and stick to it! These numbers work for a reason—kids tend to have short attention spans (and usually the younger they are, the shorter they are).

As much as you might be tempted to get carried away, remember that your audience is likely looking for a short and sweet story before going to bed or making macaroni art, not the next Gone With the Wind.

6. Hire (or Be) a Fantastic Illustrator

Since most of children’s books rely heavily on images, finding a talented illustrator is critical. You can browse freelancer sites like Fiverr or Upwork to find an artist whose past work aligns with your current project.

Always read their reviews and ask for samples of their past work, and discuss your vision for your book with them before making any agreements.

Be sure to check out our guide on how to write a children’s book and work with an illustrator with AJ Cosmo for more tips on collaborating with illustrators and marketing your book.

7. Test the Waters

Before publishing, read your book to kids or give a few copies to parents within your social circle. Ask for their honest opinions, so you can still make changes if you’ve missed any marks.

You might also volunteer to read your book in classrooms or after-school clubs. It’s a fast, free way to test the waters and see how your book fares with your audience.

Tips for Writing for Children

Here are some tips you’ll especially want to keep in mind when writing for young readers.

Start the Story Quickly

The start of your children’s book presents a critical moment: will you be able to grab the child’s attention, or will their focus shift to the Legos on the other side of the room?

Remember: you shouldn’t be writing at Tolstoy-level here. You don’t need to spend page after page setting the scene. The quicker you immerse your readers in the thick of the plot, the better.

Write for Illustrators

As we’ve already emphasized, illustrations are so important for younger readers. Do yourself and your artist a favor and write for illustrators.

Consider the setting where most of the action will unfold. Setting your story in an outdoor environment, for example, will likely give your illustrator much more creative freedom than a bedroom or classroom.

Small in the City, for example, was selected as a New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Book of the Year. It imagines a young child’s day out in Toronto from the child’s perspective, offering lots of opportunities for creative, outdoor illustrations.

Include Realistic Dialogue

Of course, kids will only read (or listen to) what they can understand. They want to hear characters who talk more or less like them (or their parents, for the adult characters).

Realistic dialogue is very important for young readers, and crafting dialogue with them in mind will help make your characters more relatable and hold their attention.

Write Suspenseful Action

Suspenseful action—especially at the end, but also throughout—will go a long way when it comes to keeping your young readers intrigued.

A suspenseful and exciting conclusion (perhaps with a twist thrown in) will also help to ensure that your story stays in the reader’s mind and becomes a frequent repeat-request at bedtime.

End the Story Quickly

Once the main conflict is resolved, you should tie things up within the next page or two.

After you’ve passed the biggest action moments, you’re once again at risk of losing your reader’s attention, and you want them to close the book with feelings of contentment and excitement, not tiredness or boredom.

What Should You Not Do When Writing a Children’s Book?

Don’t make these rookie mistakes when writing your children’s book:

Don’t be clueless.

Do. Your. Research, Again, if you’re currently working on a children’s book, the odds are (though it’s possible) that you’re not a kid, so don’t pretend that you know everything they want.

Research the market for your target age range, talk with the kids in your life, and ask for feedback from the parents in your social circle. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!

Don’t be preachy.

Most good children’s stories come with a moral or lesson worked in, but it must be done carefully (and a little slyly).

Kids don’t want to sit down for a bedtime story only to hear a lecture that sounds like what their parents say when they misbehave on the playground.

Include a lesson, but make sure it’s not so blatant and preachy that all the fun and intrigue gets sucked out.

Don’t buy into stereotypes.

While many think it must be easy to write a book at a kid’s level, don’t assume that kids have remained the same since you were one.

Not all kids are the same, and as the times change, so too do children’s interests. This all comes down, again, to research, so take the time to get to know the kids of today that you’re writing for.

Don’t miss out on suspense.

Obviously, you don’t want to write some traumatic cliff-hanger that will have kids screaming and crying until it’s over.

But understand that even in children’s books and films, suspense plays a huge role (haven’t you ever seen The Lion King?!)

Even if the average adult could easily predict the outcome, kids will love the action and suspense of something significant at stake, and they’ll be eagerly turning the pages to find out how the story ends.

The Next Steps

Kids can be tough critics, so it’s always wise to do plenty of research to find out what kinds of books they’re looking for.

And when you’re ready, check out our lists of children’s book editors, literary agents, and publishers who can help you make your book even better.

Have you ever thought about writing a children’s book? What would yours be about? Share your ideas in the comments below!

 

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