How to Start a Children’s Book

Table of Contents

Many authors consider trying their hand at writing children’s books — especially authors who are parents reading children’s books for the first time since they were kids. That’s how I got started writing children’s books. I remember reading a picture book to my son and thinking, “Oh, come now. I can do better than this.”

I discovered that it’s a lot harder than it looks, but I didn’t give up, and a few years later, I had a publishing deal with Penguin Random House. (I even used BookFuel to help me on my journey.) If I can do it, you can too.

The power of storytelling

Young children all have hopes and dreams as well as struggles and fears. Great storytelling, with its identifiable characters and powerful metaphors, offers children a way to understand the world and what’s going on in their lives.

Storytelling also fosters imagination and creativity in children, teaches them important life lessons, helps enhance their language skills, aids in their emotional and cognitive development, and builds cultural awareness. You can study the common themes in children’s literature to start brainstorming ideas for your main character, setting, internal and external conflict, and more.

And then, of course, some kids’ books are just flat-out funny. There’s nothing quite like sharing a laugh over a hilarious book to build a bond between children and the parents, teachers, and caregivers who are reading to them.

Kickstarting your writing journey

Motivation can emerge out of eccentric sources, regular experiences, or your very own encounters. This is the way to take advantage of your inventive wellspring. Here’s how to tap into your creative wellspring.

  • Childhood memories.
    Think about your own childhood and the experiences that shaped you. What were your fears, dreams, and adventures as a child? Use these memories as a springboard for your story.
  • Everyday encounters.
    Children’s books often draw inspiration from the world around us. Observe the people, animals, and nature that surround you. Sometimes, the ordinary can be the most extraordinary source of ideas.
  • Unusual sources.
    I love to take inspiration from sources that are clearly not intended for children. I often see something and think, “What about this, but for kids?” For example, my book Pants: Trick or Feet, which is intended for kids aged 5-9, was largely inspired by the R-rated horror classic Dawn of the Dead.

Keep an inspirational journal. Carry a notebook with you to jot down any spark of inspiration. Whether it’s a catchy phrase, a vivid image, or an overheard conversation, your journal can be a treasure trove of ideas. The most important thing is to keep your audience in mind. Try to see the world through your young readers’ eyes.

Choose what kind of children’s book you’re writing

There are several elements that go into creating a good children’s book. They come in all different shapes, sizes, lengths, subject matter, and reading levels. You should decide what kind of book you want to create before you start writing your story since picture books, early readers, chapter books, and middle-grade novels are all very different from one another. Your ability to convey a tale will depend on the kind of book you intend to write.

Create Memorable Characters

The heart of any children’s story lies in its characters. Memorable and endearing characters make a lasting impression on young readers. Here are some things to consider when developing characters that children will fall in love with.

  • Character Traits.

    Create unique, likable character attributes. Imagine a melancholy Eeyore or a crazy Cat in the Hat. Think about the qualities that set your characters apart and how they might change as the story progresses.
  • Explore the motivations of your characters. What drives them to embark on their adventures? These motivations should be universal, relatable, and age appropriate.
  • Character Arcs.

    Just like in real life, characters in children’s books should experience growth and change. Allow your characters to learn and evolve as they navigate the challenges they encounter. This helps kids see how they too can overcome challenges.

Take inspiration from beloved children’s book characters, or better yet, real people in your own life. The Mr. Pants books were inspired by watching my children interact with each other, and the characters in my audiobook Mutually Assured Detention were inspired by real-life middle-school kids.

The Writing Process

You have a book concept, you know what the plot is, what genre it is, and you know who the characters are. It’s time to get writing now. Here, there are two primary methods: panting and charting. Plotting is the process of outlining a story before writing, whereas panting is the act of merely starting to write. For me, I prefer a combination of the two.

If you’re writing a picture book, an outline might not be necessary. Just remember, the pictures and words need to work together. You don’t want to spell out everything that’s going to be in the picture, and vice versa — the picture shouldn’t just copy the words.

Beta Readers and Editing

When you’ve finished your first draft, my advice is to set it aside for a month before tackling the second draft. This break gives you fresh eyes when you come back to it. (In the meantime, you can start working on your next book.

Beta Readers

After you’ve revised your manuscript to a point where you like it, it’s a good idea to get feedback from beta readers. These could be family members or friends, but they might be too polite to be completely honest with you. I advise getting in touch with a writers’ organization or using websites like Fiverr to hire online beta readers.

Editing

Editing is crucial. If you think you can just run your manuscript through Grammarly and be done, think again. While tools like Grammarly are helpful, you really need a professional editor to catch all the things those apps miss.

Adding Visual Appeal

Children’s books use pictures a lot to tell their stories. This is true for early readers and picture books, but images are also frequently used in chapter books and middle-grade novels to improve the narrative. (In middle-grade books, you might find small drawings at the start of each chapter.)

If you’re an author and not an illustrator and you’re aiming for a traditional publishing deal, you don’t need to hire an illustrator. Publishers have their own illustrators they prefer to work with. The last thing you want is a publisher passing on your book because they didn’t like the drawings you commissioned.

If you’re planning to self-publish, then yes, you’ll want to hire a children’s book illustrator or graphic designer.

Cover Design

Every book needs a cover. If you’re hiring an illustrator, you can negotiate the cover design with them. If your book relies on photos or is a middle-grade book without illustrations, you’ll need to hire a professional designer for your book cover.

I trust this gives you some inspiration and kicks you off on making your children’s book. Disregarding the hardships, embracing your inside personality, and make something that beginning readers can associate with is entertaining.

Look at Bookfuel for additional tools and direction, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more information.

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