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Tips for writing children’s books

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Someone recently asked me on Twitter if we had any tips for writing for children.

We’ve already written several blog posts around this topic.

I wrote about the whole approach to writing for children vs writing for adults in this post.

There’s a blog post about writing rhyming picture books.

And there’s one about writing picture books vs writing apps.

But we haven’t done anything more general.

So here are my tips:

Write with a child in mind. If you don’t know any children (you don’t have to be a parent or a teacher, but both kinds of exposure to children help), you are unlikely to be good at publishing for them. And you get out of touch: I used to be BRILLIANT at judging the ages of children, but yesterday evening I thought that a 14 month old was seven months old. If you have a pre-school child yourself, you don’t make that mistake.

I don’t want to rain on your parade, but be realistic about how much money you are likely to earn. Of course there are people who hit the big time, but most don’t.

Don’t kid yourself you’re a writer until you’ve actually written something. An idea is not a book.

Think about joining a writer’s group, like SCBWI in the US or SCBWI UK in the UK.

If you are submitting to a publisher or an agent, follow submission guidelines (here are ours), and don’t be unrealistic about how long it might take a publisher or an agent to get back to you: their first duty is to their existing authors.

I asked other people in the office what their tips were.

Imogen says, “If you find a publisher, meet deadlines!”

Steph says, “Be original.”

Ola says, “Write every day.”

Tom says, “Have a clear idea of who you are writing for”. (He didn’t know I’d said this, but this shows he is well suited to working at Nosy Crow). Asked for something else, he said, “Don’t be a sock-puppet”.

Kristina says, “Don’t take yourself too seriously… and have fun”.

Adrian says, “Never talk down to children”.

Specifically on the subject of writing picture books, Alice, who’s standing in until Louise begins as our new Head of Picture Books, says, “Don’t tie yourself to an illustrator. If you’re a picture book writer, submit your picture book texts separately.”

And, on the same subject, Giselle says, “If you’re writing picture books, think visually as well as in words… which doesn’t mean that you have to do the drawing…”

There are many books and websites that offer advice.

Here are two books I am aware of:

Harold Underdown’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books.

Roz Morris’s Nail Your Novel.

Both authors use Twitter.

The Writer’s Handbook and The Children’s Writer’s And Artist’s Yearbook are both helpful, though they have quite a UK focus.

If you’re writing a children’s book, or thinking of writing one, good luck!

Do you have tips that you would like to share? Do let us know on Twitter or in the comments section below.

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No Responses to “Tips for writing children’s books”

  • Great post! To expand on the concept of knowing your audience, it’s a good idea to have an IR (ideal reader) in mind before you begin a story, be it your child, a niece or nephew, a student, or the neighbor next door. Think: what would you write to your IR to make them laugh, or cry, or simply keep turning the page?

  • Great advice. A couple of books that I found really helpful in turning my first manuscript into a publishable novel were ‘How to Write a Blockbuster’ by Lee Weatherly and Helen Corner (misleading title as it’s really about how to shape a story – any story) and ‘How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published’, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, which has the added bonus of being extremely funny. It’s important to laugh as you delete Chapter One for the fourteenth time…

  • And remember that it is the story that is important, not the message. Probably 60% of our submissions are from people who have started with a message (moral, educational, improving, whatever). Don’t construct a story round a message. Start with the story!

  • Great tips! I’ve actually got a couple more manuscripts to submit to you (I live in hope) once they’re fully polished.
    By far the most useful thing I’ve done so far is to send my manuscripts to a couple of lovely published authors with whom I chat a lot on Twitter; when I really knew nothing about how to construct a picture book they very kindly explained the basics to me, and gave me some fantastic pointers. Although I wouldn’t advise sending manuscripts to authors unless you know them (even if only online) as understandably they can get quite pissed off if they’re constantly being asked to critique manuscripts for free.

  • My favourite tips are Kate’s: to join SCBWI (without which I doubt I’d ever have got published) and Giselle’s: to think visually when writing picture books.

    My three top tips for writing picture books:

    [1] Don’t write your story in rhyme unless you can’t NOT (my latest picture book IS in rhyme but I still have to remind myself that unless there’s a REALLY good reason to rhyme, it’s better not to). If you do write it in rhyme, make sure your story is strong enough by itself (as you’ve said in a previous post); don’t ever use awkward sentence structure in order to make something rhyme; and don’t ever steer your story down a certain path just because you need to find something to rhyme with a certain word. I recently wrote a blog post about how NOT to write in rhyme:
    http://picturebookden.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/how-not-to-write-rhyming-picture-book.html

    [2] Edit well. Most picture texts submitted to editors (according to editors I’ve met at conferences) are in need of a serious word-slashing. Picture books aren’t the same as illustrated stories, so be confident enough to let the pictures carry some of the story, even if you’re not an illustrator. A great recent example of this is Simon Puttock and Nadia Shireen’s ‘The Baby That Roared’ (Nosy Crow): http://picturebookden.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/clue-is-in-name-editing-your-picture.html

    [3] Finally, find good critiquers (writers/editors etc, rather than friends and family) and learn how to listen really carefully to what is REALLY being said (even when it’s not said very eloquently/gently!); don’t act on it immediately, but wait until you feel like you ‘own’ any suggested changes -like you could have come up with that idea yourself, and then rewrite in your own voice. Here’s a blogpost on making the most of feedback:
    http://picturebookden.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/increasing-chances-of-your-picture-book.html

    Thanks for the blogpost and the tips.
    All the best, Clare
    (Juliet Clare Bell)

  • Thanks for the great tips, Kate.
    I’ve read some books and tutorials bit your tips are really helpful ,handy and useful.
    Actually there are some tips I read for the first time in spite for searching a lot in this topic.

  • Classical storytelling structure will never change. Identify the beginning, middle and ending of your children’s book story and the conflict/resolution. These elements draw our interest as readers and get us emotionally involved in the story. Continue editing the word count so your picture book says more with less. This helps the reader focus on the story as well. One last thing to remember is to use fun action words i.e. “the lightening crackled and rumbled” as opposed to “the lightening flashed in the darkness.
    Richard Olson/children’s book illustrator.
    http://braintofu1.blogspot.com

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