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Writing for Children is Not Child’s Play

Many people think writing children’s books must be easy. After all, they are shorter than adult’s books and most have pictures that use a lot of space. The truth is, writing a story with fewer words is much more difficult than writing a lengthier story and there are many elements to consider when writing children’s books. It is a good idea to keep these tips in mind if your goal is to write for children.

Types of Children’s Books

Children’s books fall into several sub-categories:

Toddler Books (ages 1–3)
Books for toddlers are usually 12 pages long, under 300 words, and contain very simple content. They should be about everyday life that very small children will recognise or provide information about colours, the alphabet, numbers, shapes, etc. Often printed in a board book format, they might contain features that allow readers to interact, such as lift-the-flaps or buttons that can be pressed to hear sounds.

Early Picture Books and Picture Story Books (ages 4–8)
The picture book category can be divided into two – early picture books (for younger readers in this age range) and picture story books for older children. The average early picture book contains fewer than 1,000 words while picture story books are usually 32 pages in length with 1,000–1,500 words.

Picture books rely heavily on the words and pictures working together to tell a story. The text should be minimal and whatever is left out of the text should be obvious from the illustrations. Picture books need to include multiple scenes or locations so that there is plenty of variety in the images. The pictures help children who can’t read yet to understand the narrative; therefore they should incorporate bright colours and simple sans serif fonts in order to be appealing to small children. For children who are beginning to recognise written words, the pictures work as an aid to their learning.  These type of stories are basic, written in chronological order and from the main character’s point of view. Using third-person (he/she/they) narration is the best choice for small children who might otherwise become confused when being read to by an adult. Younger children respond well to poetic techniques such as alliteration, rhyme and repetition.

Easy Readers (ages 6–8)
Aimed at children who are starting to read on their own, the length of this type of books varies. However, on average, it is somewhere between 1,000 and 2,500 words. They are highly illustrated but have a more grown-up format, often with short chapters. The story works without pictures but the pictures help early readers to feel less daunted than being confronted by pages of text.

The grammar used in easy readers is simple, with short sentences, short paragraphs and age-appropriate language. A few words above the reading ability of this age group are often included to challenge the reader. Right from the opening scene, the narrative is fast paced with the story being told through action rather than commentary and dialogue rather than indirect speech.

Chapter Books (ages 7–10)
Chapter books are longer and have a more sophisticated style than books for younger children. Chapters are still short but sentences are more complex and if there are any illustrations, they are usually black and white line drawings. Plots are more developed involving multiple conflicts for the main character to overcome. Characters should be of a similar age or a little older than the upper age limit of these readers.

Middle Grade (ages 8–12)
These books are longer again, with longer chapters, more sophisticated themes and complex plots and subplots involving more characters. This is the age where children become obsessed with characters so books for middle grade readers are often written as a series. The pace is still fast but may be interspersed with more interior monologue, encouraging readers to think for themselves. First person point of view is popular with this age group as it allows more intimacy with the main character and readers feel more involved in the action as it unfolds.

Book printing options for self-publishing authors

As a self-publishing author, it can be challenging to make a decision about the best printing options for your book. Once your manuscript has been edited and typeset, and the front and back covers have been designed, your book is ready to be printed. At this point, however, there are all sorts of different choices you need to make ranging from: what book printing process to use, book trim sizes, hardback or paperback format, full-colour or black and white interior pages, book cover finishing treatments and binding styles.

The first consideration is to select the best book printing process for your own publishing objectives in terms of price and print quality. And, as with everything in life, there are always associated costs to consider and practical decisions that have to be made.

Types of Book Printing Processes

There are three main types of book printing formats: Print On Demand printing, Short run digital printing and Offset printing.

Print On Demand
Print on demand (also referred to as POD printing) is a digital printing process that produces books on an ‘as needed’ basis – even for a single printed book. When a customer orders a book title, the copy is printed on demand, bound, laminated, and then shipped directly to them. In this way, Print on Demand is a process which makes it possible to publish books only as they are needed in response to a customer’s order. As a result, Print On Demand offers authors the freedom to publish their book without having to store any inventory (i.e. printed copies of their book) and thus removes the costs associated with storage and handling.

Short Run Digital Printing
Short run digital printing is a cost-effective method for self-publishing authors to order smaller print runs than would normally be possible via traditional offset printing.

Unlike offset printing, digital printing does not have the upfront expenses associated with the creation of printing plates or time-consuming set-up processes. This ensures that the unit cost of each book is relatively low and hence an affordable option for printing less than 1,000 copies.

Offset Printing
Offset printing is a printing process which involves using a sequence of rollers (also called cylinders or drums) to deliver ink to the paper surface. Offset printing is cost effective for large print runs (over 1,000 printed copies) and produces very high-quality printed books. Offset printing is effective for any book size, paper type and cover style (i.e. paperback or hardback).

Should you publish your manuscript as an ebook?

Ebook_formats

As a self-publishing author it is quite likely that you’ve considered publishing your book as an ebook. Ebooks offer a very low-cost way to publish a book, whether you do it yourself or use a paid/royalty-based ebook conversion service. Self-publishing (whether ebooks, print books or both) is becoming increasingly popular as it means that you can earn higher royalty rates, get your book into more online book stores and, of course, gives you full control over the pricing and other aspects of the publishing process.

Advantages of Ebooks over Printed Books

  • Ebooks are convenient and practical. You can take your bookshelves with you wherever you go. This is particularly advantageous when you are travelling and may have luggage and weight restrictions.
  • You can access ebooks at the touch of a button. Within seconds, you can buy an ebook and download it to a variety of devices, including a tablet or smartphone, a laptop or notebook or a specialised e-reader. You don’t have to visit a book store or wait days or even weeks for your purchased book to arrive in the mail.
  • Ebooks are a cheaper option than printed books. There is no need to store piles of books or pay for packaging and delivery. When books cost less, people tend to buy more.
  • Producing an ebook is kinder to the environment than producing a traditional book as no paper is required.
  • Because of their search function, it is easy to find relevant information in an ebook than a printed book. Just like a search engine, typing in a few words will allow you to find a particular section of a book easily and quickly.
  • Ebooks offer a value-added reading experience as they can incorporate a variety of media such as videos, graphics, audio and animation, to help authors convey their message.
  • Ebooks can be sold and distributed efficiently via online book stores, which means they are available to readers from all over the world. In addition, ebooks are now available from most public libraries.

Different Types of Ebook Formats

Reflowable ebooks
Reflowable ebooks have no fixed pages. Text and graphics reflow to fill the reader’s screen depending on whatever font and type size the reader has selected.
If your book has a simple design that’s mainly text (or it has small images that are embedded between paragraphs), a reflowable ebook format is a good choice because it is versatile and can be viewed on the majority of tablets, smartphones and and e-readers.

Genres that are usually created in reflowable ebook formats include:

  • novels
  • short stories
  • biographies and memoirs
  • non-fiction books with simple page formatting and few graphic elements.

Fixed layout ebooks
A fixed-layout (or fixed-format) ebook has defined pages like a print book or PDF. The elements on the page are formatted and laid out in the same way as for print books or PDFs.
Fixed layout ebooks are visually striking and suit non-fiction books with illustrations or design-heavy page layouts such as children’s books. Fixed layout ebooks can be viewed on all screens except eInk Kindles (original, PaperWhite, Voyage). Consider using a fixed layout ebook format if the text in your book needs to wrap around images; graphics, illustrations or other images need to stay in a specific position within the text; or you would like to set a background colour for your book or create multi-column text pages (like a magazine layout style).

Genres that are best suited to fixed ebook format conversion include:

  • cookbooks
  • illustrated children’s books
  • travel guides
  • photography books
  • health and fitness books
  • art books
  • comic books
  • some types of textbooks and business books.

How long will it take to publish my book?

Time required to self publish a book

One of most common questions we’re asked by authors who have written a manuscript and are now keen to self publish their book is: ‘How long will it take until my book is ready to be printed?’ The answer we usually give them is: ‘Probably longer than you’d ideally like it to!’

While we understand that you are excited to have completed your manuscript after dedicating weeks, months or even years to the writing process, in actual fact this is just the starting point and there are still many steps involved until your book is properly ready to be released out into the world. Of course, if you are impatient to get your book published quickly, it is possible to simply upload a Word file to Createspace and then press the print button. However, if you are serious about attracting a large audience and selling your book, it is a good idea to invest in the self publishing process by engaging professionals such as editors, proofreaders, typesetters and book cover designers to guide you. Regardless of how important the content of your book may be, it is a waste of time and effort if the quality of the writing and the design aesthetics of your book are sub-standard.

Book publishing is a creative process

Publishing a book is a creative process and, like any other creative pursuit, it takes time to produce a high-quality end result. Is is possible for you to write your manuscript in a few weeks? Probably, but the end result will most likely be a reflection of that pressure and contracted time frame. Why spend months (or sometimes years) working hard on a manuscript and then not take the necessary time to have the manuscript properly edited, designed, and printed?

Engage the services of book publishing professionals

Editing your book

All book manuscripts require professional editing (and unless your friend, your mother or your secretary is a professional editor, they don’t count!). An editor will take the time to think about what it is you are trying to say and work with you to express it in the best possible way. Depending on the overall word count of your book, this process can often take 2–4 months as the edited (marked-up) manuscript moves back and forth between you and the editor. This is a very collaborative process so you need to factor in ‘thinking’ time for both you and your editor.

Typesetting and book cover design

Within the book publication schedule, time also needs to be allocated for a professional typesetter/book designer to create the page layout design, as well as the front and back covers that suit your particular genre and will appeal to its reading audience. Complex manuscripts with numerous parts such as graphics, charts, tables and footnotes take more hours to format than straight text. The formatted interior pages are proofread by the author and by a proofreader, and those changes are sent back to the designer to make corrections (which then require further checking).

Book printing

Once the proofreading stage is finalised, the print-ready PDF files are sent to a book printer who will usually provide a hard-copy proof to the publisher or author for checking. The finished book usually takes 4–6 weeks to print and deliver.

Average timeframe to publish a book

So what is an average time frame to produce a book from start to finish? Depending on the length and complexity of your manuscript, between 3–8 months; however, it can easily take longer. In an increasingly competitive publishing world where everybody is now able to produce a book, it is even more critical that your publication stands out as a quality item. For this reason, you must be willing to invest in your book – which means allocating sufficient time as well as money to the publication process. Your readers will thank you if you do.

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