Children’s books carry a sense of wonder that frequently adds a touch of whimsy and enchantment to the publishing journey. Such was the case for our client Maria Dektereva-Plant (Marsha) who was thrilled to become a first-time author when she self-published her children’s book, The Tale of the Rainbow Kite, with our assistance earlier this year.

Marsha has enjoyed writing poetry since she was a child and delights in filling her daughter’s world with the fairy tale magic of her own poems. After a lifetime spent writing poetry, she has begun to transform her favourite poems into stories for young children.

Marsha sees children’s writing as an avenue for sharing important life lessons with the younger generation and The Tale of the Rainbow Kite is the perfect example. This charming story aims to help children understand the value of true friendship and the importance of working together and never giving up. Marsha is looking forward to turning more of her delightful poems into captivating stories for children in the near future.

Writing for Young Children

While it can be hugely rewarding, writing a children’s book is harder than it looks. So let’s delve into the world of children’s literature to find out some common pitfalls to avoid and a few key tips and tricks to follow.

Length of the Manuscript

One of the most common problems with an author’s first manuscript is its length. In children’s literature, each age group has a recommended length and all are shorter than most other types of writing genres. It can be challenging to write your story in so few words, but it’s a must for anyone dreaming of becoming a successful children’s book author. Here is a guide to appropriate word count length for each children’s book category:

  • Board books: 100 words or less
  • Picture books: 500 to 600 words over 32 pages
  • First readers: up to 1,500 words
  • Middle grade (8 to 12 years): 15,000 to 65,000 words, with less word for younger readers and more for older readers
  • Young adult: 65,000 to 85,000 words

Editing Your Story

Given the fact that children’s books typically have a low word count, every word must be essential to taking the story forward. Here are some suggestions for how you can self-edit your children’s book manuscript and tighten up your story before it’s professionally edited:

  1. Read through your work with the aim of deleting anything that doesn’t add to the story. After reading each sentence, paragraph and page, consider whether it is necessary and ask what it contributes to the overall narrative. If it’s unnecessary, delete it.
  2. Try to replace sections with lots of words with fewer words wherever you can. Often, two words can be replaced with one. For example, ‘I would really like to help’ could be tightened up by replacing ‘really like’ with ‘love’.
  3. Be on the look-out for excessive punctuation, bold and italic font, capital letters and other signposts that aim to convey meaning to the reader. Meaning should come solely from the words themselves, rather than the way they appear on the page.
  4. Ensure dialogue is succinct and delete any unnecessary repetition and waffling.
  5. Read your writing out aloud. This can help you to identify parts of the story that could be tightened up or that are simply not working well and so should be deleted.

Character Development

Each character in your story should be unique, fully formed and interesting. Read over your story with this in mind and consider whether each of your characters is necessary, whether an essential character seems to be missing, and whether any of your characters are boring. What does each character bring to the story? Often, multiple characters can be merged into one and some characters can be deleted altogether. Below are some suggestions of ways to ensure your characters are essential to the story:

Voice: To help create individuality, each character should have a unique voice. When characters all sound the same, it’s not only confusing to the reader but boring as well. It’s a definite indication that the characters are not yet fully formed.

Dialogue: You may start to notice that one of your characters talks to themselves a lot. This can be a sign that it’s time to introduce a new ‘friend’ who is able to interact with this character. Likewise, if the dialogue seems confusing due to large cast of speakers, it might be a good idea to delete or merge some of your characters.

Character Journey: Each character should develop and demonstrate signs of growth as the story progresses. One way to tell if your characters need more work to flesh them out is to note whether (or not) they have changed by the end of the story. If they are more or less the same from beginning to end, they require additional work to develop them into fully formed, essential and interesting characters.

Writing for Young Children

Young children (2–7 years) view the world a little differently to children who are older, so it’s important to follow some golden rules when writing for this age group.

First, extremes are everything for your children; there’s no black and white (and definitely not grey) in their world. It’s either all black or all white, so keep in mind that what you write will be taken quite literally. Bad characters should never win and young children can triumph over older children and adults. Magic is completely logical and everything to do with bodily functions is hilarious.

Above all, keeping a sense of wonder in your stories will help to ensure that you engage your youthful audience’s minds and add to your chance of succeeding in this rewarding writing genre.