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Ten Top Tips for Children’s Writers

June 9th, 2014

Children’s books might seem like an easy way to get started and get your first book published, but it really isn’t as simple as it looks. Madeline L’Engle, the author of “A Wrinkle in Time” once said:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”  

And this couldn’t be more true! If you feel like you have what it takes to write for children, take a look at our top tips for children’s writers.

1. Know your age range – Very few authors are lucky enough to write a book that appeals to all age ranges, so you need to narrow it down before you start writing. Saying that you write books for “children” is not enough, and if you visit any book shop you will see that they have different categories for different ages. Children at twelve or thirteen will not be reading the same books they were at six, so you need to make sure that what you are writing is appropriate for the age range you have chosen.

2. Don’t talk down – This is probably the most common mistake people make when writing for children. You really don’t need to simplify your writing to the point that it becomes boring or un-challenging. When you start writing, keep in mind that your audience might be young, but they aren’t stupid, so there’s no harm in including some longer or more challenging words here and there. Think about the books you loved as a child. What did you do if you came across an unfamiliar word? You looked it up!

3. Know your audience – You don’t necessarily have to have children to be able to write for them, but you do need to know something about them! We’d always advise that you go back and re-read some of your childhood favourites for inspiration, but this alone will not be enough. You need to know what children are interested in now, because what’s popular and what isn’t can change overnight. Take some time out to speak to children in your chosen age range and find out what they like to read.

4. Don’t forget the parents – Children might be your target audience, but bear in mind that not many of these children will be going out to buy your books themselves, particularly those in the younger age ranges. Parents, other family members or even teachers will be the ones spending money, so you need to appeal to them as well. Speak to parents or people working closely with children to find out what they look for in a good book and use this to tailor your work.

5. Think about the message – Not all children’s books need to have a moral to the story, but a book with a message is always going to be popular with the parents. There’s no need to overdo it, but look at books like The Rainbow Fish, Elmer the Patchwork Elephant or the Peppa Pig collection. These are all short stories for younger children, but each story has a moral or a message hidden behind the characters.

6. Mind your language – This might seem obvious, but it’s worth saying. There are very few publishers who will publish a children’s book containing even the slightest hint at a swear word. Even words that we as adults might not consider “swearing” need to be replaced with something else. If in doubt, leave it out!

7. Don’t forget the teens – The young adult market is thriving at the moment, and is aimed at teenagers from 14/15 upwards. You’d be surprised how many adults seem to think that children go from picture books to adult fiction all at once, but there’s a huge market available for this “in-between” stage. Writing for this genre gives you a little more freedom with your subject matter, as you can cover more controversial topics and adult issues.

8. Read! – As with writing for any genre, you need to be familiar with current trends in publishing if you want to be successful. Look for the bestseller charts for children and see if you can borrow copies of the top few from a local library. Make notes on everything from the style, structure and tone to the characters and the plots. You’ll start to notice patterns which you can use to improve your own work when you start writing. But remember…

9. Be original – If the bestseller charts are full of witches and wizards now, there’s a good chance the trend will have passed by the time you’ve finished your book – children get bored of reading the same old thing very quickly! If witches and wizards are popular, then it’s likely that other magical creatures will be too. Can you see a gap in the market? Fill it!

10. Have Fun! – You might not think it, but children are far more perceptive than adults when it comes to enthusiasm. If you haven’t enjoyed writing your book, that will come across in your writing style and children just won’t engage. To write successfully for children, you have to love children and love what you’re doing, so pick an idea you can be passionate about and enjoy it!



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