How to Write a Children's Book – The Ultimate Guide [With Template]
The ultimate secret for how to write a children’s book is the same as the secret for how to write a book for adults.
Understand your reader. Really understand them. So many aspiring children’s authors fall short because they assume they can charm young readers by plugging in a few ingredients.
A silly monster. A girl who loves horses. Teen angst.
But writing for kids is just as complex and tough as writing for adults. It’s also a deeply rewarding process that can lead to a deeply rewarding career. You just need a little guidance to get started.
I’ll walk you through everything you need to know, including:
- The different types of children’s book
- Potential pitfalls
- How to write a children’s book
- How to publish a children’s book
You can even put these ideas into action using our Children’s Book Template, which you can download right here:
Let’s dive in.
What are the Different Types of Kids Books You Can Write?
Conveniently enough, children’s books are divided into neat-and-tidy categories based on age. These categories come with standards to help you craft an age-appropriate kids’ book.
Let’s take a look at each one.
What are Picture Books?
A picture book uses illustrations to help communicate a story. Kids usually experience a picture book for the first time through parents or teachers reading it aloud to them.
However, as the child grows, they often use picture books to practice new reading skills. This is worth keeping in mind as you write.
Picture Books in a Nutshell:
- Ages 0-4
- 300-800 words
- 32 pages
- Illustrations on every page
What are Early Reader Books?
An early reader book is a book that an early-elementary-aged child can work towards reading independently. In other words: simple sentences and easy-peasy vocabulary. That doesn’t mean your early reader book has to be all “See spot run.” You can still engage kids using creativity, humor, and unforgettable characters. Check out the examples below for inspiration.
Early Reader Books in a Nutshell:
- Ages 5-7 (Grades K-2)
- Repetition and simple sentences
- 1,000-5,000 words
- Illustrations on every page
What are Chapter Books?
If you’re writing a chapter book, your reader is officially reading on their own. This is exciting, especially if you know how to write a children’s book that turns a curious kid into a lifelong reader.A great chapter book offers an engaging story, a relatable character, and vocabulary that is just challenging enough to help readers advance their skills to the next level.
Chapter Books in a Nutshell:
- Ages 6-9 (Grades 1-4)
- Up to 10,000 words
- Illustrations on most pages, but not all pages
What are Middle Grade Books?
If your reader is around middle school age, you’re writing a middle grade book.
This is when children’s books begin to more closely resemble adult novels. You follow the same basic story structure as you would if you were writing a book for grown-ups. You also pay closer attention to genre expectations. (Mystery, fantasy, and realistic fiction are especially popular among this age group.)
Middle Grade Books in a Nutshell:
- Ages 9-12
- 60,000+ words
- 12+ illustrations
Middle Grade Examples:
What are Young Adult Books?
The readers of young adult (YA) books are teenagers. Also young adults. Also retirees.
Okay, so a lot of people love YA, but you’re writing for teens. In terms of vocabulary and story complexity, this audience can handle the same approach you’d use for adult readers. You also want to follow genre standards closely.
Just make sure your story centers on teenage characters and issues relevant to teen readers.
Young Adult in a Nutshell
- Up to 100,000 words
- Few to no illustrations
Young Adult Examples:
Now that you have a broad overview of how to write a children’s book that’s age-appropriate, let’s talk rookie mistakes.
Things to Avoid When Writing Kids Books
Here’s how not to write a children’s book:
Don’t Get Sloppy with Your Age Categories
A lot changes between the ages of five and seven. Know the expectations, interests, and reading level of your specific audience. In addition to reading a ton of books within your chosen age category, consider consulting an educator or child psychologist. They can help you modify ideas and storytelling techniques to better fit your readers.
Also note that kids gravitate towards protagonists who are a couple years older than themselves.
Avoid Long Sentences
Keep your writing clear, simple, and accessible. The younger the reader, the shorter the sentences.
Note: this doesn’t mean duller sentences. “Chloe screeched” is just as kid-friendly as “Chloe yelled loudly.”
Don’t Get Hung Up on the Moral of the Story
You don’t need a moral to create a great story for kids. But if there is an important message you wish to convey, don’t preach. Let the story do the work. My favorite example of a kids’ book that delivers a powerful message with a light touch is The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld.
Be Relatable… But Not Bland
Understand your readers. What’s important to them? What do they wish for, fear, love, and hate? How do they think and speak? What answers are they searching for?
Give those emotional characteristics to an interesting character who makes bold choices under remarkable circumstances. Create obstacles that are recognizable to your reader... but bigger.
Don’t Fuss Over Illustrations… Unless You Must
If you plan to publish your children’s book traditionally, you don’t need to think about illustrations at all. Your publisher figures that out. But if you’re going to self-publish, then you will need to add illustrations, whether you create them or you hire an artist. In that case, note how frequently illustrations arise in books within your category.
How to Start Writing Your Children’s Book
Here’s how to write a children’s book, step by step.
1. Research books in your category.
Read the books that are succeeding now. What children’s book ideas are succeeding? How do parents review them? What do your children, nieces, nephews, and that really chatty kid in the Target checkout line have to say about their favorite reads?
2. Research your audience.
How can you get to know your readers better?
Is there a volunteer program that gives you an opportunity to read to kids? Can you ask your friend’s twelve-year-old what they love and hate about being twelve? Are there books you can read to better understand your target age group?
3. Come up with an idea.
Some things to keep in mind as you brainstorm children’s book ideas:
First, young people take the lead in children’s literature, from baby books on up to YA. Sometimes the protagonist is an animal or a crayon or Amelia Bedelia. But even then, the main character reflects a child’s perspective.
Second, kids want to see themselves as complex heroes who face challenges, discover inner strength, and save the day. While an adult character can help, keep your young protagonist in the driver’s seat.
4. Establish voice and style.
Grover’s hysterical pleas in The Monster at the End of this Book. Holden Caulfield’s 1950s slang. That iconic first line: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
A strong narrative voice demonstrates that the reader is about to be entertained. Even understood.
A few considerations:
- Picture book and early reader audiences tend to prefer present tense, third person narration.
- Rhyming well is hard. Do write in verse if you’ve got it in you. But workshop it a lot.
- Don’t condescend to your reader, no matter how young. They know when it’s happening and they don’t like it.
5. Leap Into the Story Right Away.
Take a note from Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Guess who’s already trying to creep behind the wheel by page two? BAM. Immediate conflict.
6. Follow standard plot structure
...and keep character arc in mind as you execute your children’s book ideas.
You have a protagonist.
The protagonist has a goal. They face an obstacle in trying to achieve that goal. In facing down the obstacle, they discover something about themselves.
By the end of the story, they have changed in some way.
7. End the story to satisfy your reader.
For picture books, early reader books, and chapter books, you want a clear resolution and a happy ending.
For middle grade or YA, defer to the standards of your genre.
Before you ask for anyone else’s input, do some self-editing. Is your book the best it can be? Does it keep in line with the expectations of your age category?
Try reading it out loud. Rework any sections that feel wordy or clunky.
9. Get Feedback
Share your manuscript with people who can help make it better. Consult a wide range of beta-readers and editors, including:
- Educators or psychologists familiar with your target age group
- Other children’s book authors
The great thing about writing a children’s book is that your target audience also makes for super honest beta-readers. There is no feedback clearer than a three-year-old going full-on ragdoll and sliding off your lap out of boredom.
10. Revise it until it shines.
Publish Your Children’s Book
Woo! You learned how to write a children’s book and you made it happen!
Now, how do you publish a children’s book?
To publish traditionally, you’ll want to find an agent. Search agent databases and query the representatives who seem like a good fit for your book.
Pay close attention to each agent’s submission guidelines. They may want to see a full manuscript, a book synopsis only, the first five pages… whatever they request, make it happen.
Once you find an agent to represent your book, your agent works on finding a publisher. It is possible to just shop your book to publishers yourself. However, you are more likely to get a better deal or a bigger publisher through an agent.
In self-publishing, you do everything yourself.
You hire an illustrator, hire an editor, format your book, design a launch plan, and handle marketing. Essentially, you’re running your own business.
It’s thrilling, liberating, and puts you in control. It’s also a challenging journey with a steep learning curve. You really have to be as excited about the journey as you are about the outcome if you’re going to go this route.
Remember the Power of Your Product
The final piece of advice I’ll offer you on how to make a book for kids is this:
Remember your reader.
Not just when you’re coming up with children’s book ideas. Think of them when you feel burned out, discouraged, or lost.
All writers know the struggle of discouragement. In these moments, it helps to recall why we do what we do. We write to entertain, to bring joy, to inspire empathy… to connect. When you do those things as a children’s author, you help kids develop a lifelong love of literature.
How powerful is that?
So hang in there. And start writing.
And if you want to make the process a little easier, consider writing your book with Dabble. Dabble has great features to help you plan, write, and edit your story. Click here to try it for free for 14 days.
The inciting incident is the make-or-break moment for your story. It’s the catalyst for change. It’s the thing that sets your entire tale in motion. It’s the kick in the pants your protagonist needs to force a change in their lives they probably never saw coming. Novel openings are one of the hardest things to nail and you can’t do that without a compelling, disruptive, and logical inciting incident. But how do you create an inciting incident that will carry your whole story?
Do you have a story in you? Of course you do! Come write with us for the Dabble Writing Challenge.
Essentially, a beta reader is an (hopefully) objective third party who will read your novel or story and provide (hopefully) constructive feedback. A beta reader is not an editor, and often they’re not writers either, though there’s a good chance a lot of your beta readers are going to be authors as well.