Writing a children’s book is a fun and rewarding experience, but sometimes it’s hard to know how to begin. You have an idea, but how do you translate that into a children’s book? This article will talk about how to write a children’s book, and the 5 steps for success that are essential in learning to writing your first children’s book.
How to Write a Children’s Book
Step 1 – Read
Reading is an important part of writing, especially when it comes to writing your first children’s book. With so many varying children’s book formats, in an ever-evolving market, it’s important to read what is coming out to day. Rule of thumb is, familiarize yourself with the classics, but read and keep up with books in your format that came out in the last five years.
Reading books in your format will give you insight on age-appropriate themes, language, book length, and structure. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the craft you intend to learn.
If you’re looking for a structured reading list, you might check out these resources.
- ReFoReMo – Short for Reading for Research Month, the ReFoReMo event takes place in March annually, though their blog is chock full of book recommendations year round.
- Betsy Bird’s 31 lists in 31 days, Top 100 Picture Books, and Top 100 Children’s Novels
- Newberry Winners – Here you can download a PDF of all the medal and honor books.
- We Need Diverse Books book recommendations – We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.
- Following along with state (or nationwide) Battle of the Books lists is a great way to keep up to speed on Chapter books and middle grade novels
Step 2 – Learn about the Craft
While you’re reading, spend some time learning everything you can about the craft of writing for children. A good place to start is with my article, What Genre is my Children’s Book, which explains the different formats in which children’s books are categorized.
Some of my favorite books that can can help you learn craft can be found in this article.
You also might benefit from taking an online course, joining your local SCBWI chapter, or attending a workshop or two that focuses on your format of choice. Here is a list of organizations that offer paid courses and workshops in person and online:
- The Writing Barn – The Writing Barn offers opportunities for creative study through classes with local and visiting authors, weekend, and week-long intensives, Write Away Days, and Write NOW! sessions.
- The Highlights Foundation – The Highlights Foundation positively impacts children by amplifying the voices of storytellers who inform, educate, and inspire children to become their best selves.
- The Writing Loft – The Writing Loft specializes in creating confident writers who are able to write captivating and compelling material each and every time.
- The Storyteller Academy – Storyteller Academy helps storytellers hone their storytelling skills by sharing techniques, experiences and lessons learned by published storytellers.
Step 3 – Write
Write, write, write. Write every day if you can. If you can’t, that’s okay too, but find time. Writing looks different for everyone. Some people get up before work and write as the sun comes up while other jot ideas – maybe even whole stories or chapters – on a napkin during a lunch break.
You want to write in a way that suits your current lifestyle and personality. For example, if you are usually a goal oriented person, you might assign yourself a certain number of words to complete each week. If you live a less structured life, you might commit to one hour a week, at any time.
When I’m working on shorter pieces, I like to use the Pomodoro Technique, writing in twenty minute increments when I have time. When I’ve got an idea for a novel, I try to find time to put words down on the page as often as possible, sometimes giving up my nights and weekends to do so. Or I set aside a day or two to get all the words onto the page, then revise in shorter sittings, when time allows.
Essentially find time – whatever amount works for you – and stick to it as best you can. This is really the most important step of all. Good writing comes with practice. You would not expect someone to run a marathon without running a mile first. The same goes for writing. BIC, or butt in chair, is the only way you’ll reach your goals. Two of my favorite books on writing are Bird by Bird by Annie Lammot and Sister Fox’s Field Guide to the Writer’s Life by Jane Yolen. If you need some inspiration, check them out, or any of these other inspiring books about writing. This article on writing prompts may help you too. Write, write, write.
Step 4 – Find a Support System
Writing can feel like a lonely profession at times, but the truth is, it takes a village to write a book. Besides reading other books in your format, the best thing any author can do for their craft is find a critique partner or group. If possible, strive to find partners who are writing in slimier formats too. You can find critique partners through your local SCBWI chapter, the 12×12 Picture Book Challenge, Inked Voices, or the kidlit411 manuscript swap group.
Locally you can check in with your library to see if they offer any writing groups, or look out for local meetups. You might look for meet ups through local, regional, or statewide writing organizations. For example, in North Carolina I connect with other authors through the North Carolina Writers’ Network.
There are also a number of fun writing challenges that happen online annually. For example, NaNoWrMo, which takes place in November, is a great time for novelists to get their first drafts down.
5 – Revise
Many people think that once you write a children’s book draft you are finished. The revision step is really when all that hard work you did in the beginning – the reading, researching, learning about craft – will come into play. Revision is when you hone your craft. It’s when you manipulate the chapters, paragraphs, sentences, even individual words — especially if you’re writing a picture book, every word matters.
Revisions are difficult to navigate on your own, so it’s important you have someone else read your book and give you feedback, see Step 4. I advise writing a full draft, whether it be a picture book or a novel, and then revise. Here is a short article with tips for tackling revisions. The kidlit411 website is brimming with links to helpful articles and blogs on the subject of revision. This resource list from Harold Underdown is particularly comprehensive.
You may also benefit from hiring a freelance editor to review your manuscript and offer insight and suggestions for revisions. This step can be extremely helpful, but it’s not always necessary, especially if you are working with a critique group.
After your drafts are complete, you can move onto self-publication, or begin to query an agent.
By following these five steps, you’ll be well on your way to writing a children’s book.