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So You Want To Write A Children’s Book?

Aspiring children’s book writers often contact me for advice. Here  are some tips I compiled, based on my experience over the past twenty-three or so years:

Tips for Aspiring Children’s Book Writers:

1- Read! Read as many children’s books as you can get your hands on.

2- Sense of wonder- Look at the world around you with childlike awe. Children find joy in the simplest things. When you see the world through the eyes of a child, what a truly wonderful world it is!

3- Engage your readers- Make them giggle, or move them to tears. Comfort them. Delight them. Inspire them. Above all, tell the story with a big heart.

4- Age group- Is your story for preschoolers, early or middle grades? Is it a concept book, picture book, chapter book, or early reader? Consider your audience, identify with them and tell the story in a way that is suited to them.

5-  Originality- Ideas are universal, but stories need to be original. Make sure you tell your story in a fresh, new way.

6-  Poetry or prose? You choose, but if you write in rhyme, the meter must be consistent. Awkward, uneven rhyme will stand out more than poorly written prose. Conversely, good rhyme will not redeem a weak story.

7- Language- Whether your story is poignant or playful, we have a rich language of words to choose from. Be creative and expressive. Have fun with words.

8- Imagery- Consider the illustrations. Does your story evoke good imagery? Is there enough action in the story to suggest exciting and varied scenes?

9- Plot- Something has to happen! Keep the plot simple and uncontrived, but not insignificant. Most children’s books are 32 pages long. The first 3 to 5 pages are front matter (title, copyright, dedication), leaving 27 to 29 pages to tell the story. That’s not a lot, so make sure the plot moves forward from page to page. Avoid superfluous text. Think CPR-concise, precise and rounded.

10- Tension- A simple plot can still build with tension. Keep it moving.

11- Resolution- Round out and resolve the story at the end. Tie it all together. Do not leave questions unanswered. If the story is sad always end with a message of hope.

12-  Revise! There is always another way of saying something. Read it out loud over and over again. Read it to your family and friends and especially children, not so much for their feedback (they’ll probably love it because you wrote it!), but to see how it reads. It’s always different reading it to someone else. If there are areas that don’t flow well, fix them. Be honestly critical of your work. Eliminate words, phrases or entire paragraphs if they don’t need to be in the story- regardless of how attached you are to them, or how hard you worked on them. Make sure your story is as polished as you can make it before you send it off. Good luck!

I also highly recommend joining SCBWI (society of children’s book writers and illustrators) which holds regional and national conferences, puts out a terrific newsletter and connects authors and/or illustrators with colleagues, editors, agents, educators, librarians, publishers and booksellers.

Take workshops and classes, and join or start a critique group if possible.

Some suggested reading (in addition to lots of children’s books):

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold D. Underdown

The Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market Writer’s Digest Books(updated annually)

Writing Books for Children by  Jane Yolen

Take Joy: A Book for Writers  by Jane Yolen

You Can Write Children’s Books by Tracey E. Dills

Writers, is there anything you’d like to add?  Aspiring picture book writers, is there anything you’d like to ask me? I’d love to hear from you!


About the author

Iza Trapani I am a children's book author and illustrator, fan of Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss, lover of big dogs, aspiring yodeler. When not in my studio, I spend time outdoors and have climbed over many a mountain to see what I could see.

16 Responses to So You Want To Write A Children’s Book?

  1. Although I write for upper middle graders, the ‘what’s needed’ list isn’t so different, except in length of course and illustrations. This is a wonderful list! Even though middle grade writing doesn’t rely on illustrations, they add a depth of thought that sometimes words do not. Imagery in words – what I call quiet writing – is one of my favorite qualities in writing.

    And I marvel at writers/illustrators like you who make the story live through both words and pictures.

  2. Iza Trapani says:

    Thanks Barbara. I love your “quiet writing.” And I marvel at you for writing middle grade novels. That’s hard!

  3. Ann Turalski says:

    You’re very generous to share your insights Iza. I’ll use this list for my ESL high school students when they do their children’s book project. Thank you!

  4. Stasha says:

    Thank you for sharing this Iza, I send it to someone I believe will make good use of this post. I was just reading your about me page. What a lovely home and company you have!

  5. I recently had an illustrated YA Horror published and I’m trying my hand at an illustrated children’s book now. This post was incredibly helpful. Thank you so much!
    –Jessica McHugh

  6. Iza Trapani says:

    Karrie, I can understand your frustration, but that is the nature of the art world. Galleries usually charge a 50% commission. Original art is hard to sell- especially in today’s struggling economy. If you want to consider illustrating children’s books, you should read the books I recommended in this post. They will tell you about the industry and the specialized art of children’s books. Put together a great, professional portfolio and send samples to publishing houses. You should also research lots of children’s books. See how your stye would fit in and what publishers might consider it. Hope this helps. Good luck!

    • Hi Iza, I loved all the info you gave us. Thankyou so much. I,m a chalkboard artist and i really enjoy it alot. I was interested in becoming an illustrator. I just dont know where to get my ideas from. Do you have any suggestions about this?

      • Iza Trapani says:

        Hi Rhonda, I’m glad you found the information useful. I would say- pick something in the field you are interested in (fashion design, advertising…) and draw something relevant. If you are interested in children’s books, you might draw a scene from a fairy tale. Read lots of books and study the pictures. For general inspiration, observe all the wonder in nature. There are endless possibilities to draw from and to draw!

  7. Thank you Iza, for your generous advice and wealth of information. Your illustrations are beautiful and I look forward to finding and reading your books. I have always wanted to write and illustrate children’s books; I was a graphic artist, then watercolorist/teacher for many years. Now, late in life I feel I am ready. However, starting this late I feel I do not have time to go through the long many-year process of sending out manuscripts and then if quite lucky, rewriting and reworking before something gets published. I am thinking of going the print-on-demand route. This way I will have total control of my work, and get my books out there sooner rather than later. (My on-line readership eagerly awaits) I would appreciate and respect any thoughts you may have on this. Thank you!

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Marcia. Unfortunately, I know very little about self publishing, though I gather the distribution and marketing are the most challenging. But your argument for wanting complete control over the books is a good one. And it sounds like you already have a nice following.And self-publishing is a viable route for many. If you are willing to put out the money and effort for this, then go for it (just make sure your manuscript and art are the best they can be. I would even suggest hiring an editor to review the text. Or if you want to reach a wider readership, then finding a publisher would be the way to go. But then, yes, you would work with an editor and art director and face revisions in both the art and writing. And you would have to learn to be patient- as all published authors have had to learn. There is lots of waiting in this industry- waiting for an offer, waiting for the contract, waiting for the editors’ comments and line revision, waiting for the art directors’ sketch and final art approvals, waiting for the book to be printed… goes on and on. Good luck!

  8. Pingback: Iza Trapani Artist Interview by Cindy Wider: Part 2

  9. richard doetker says:

    I was born and raise on the farm and want to write children books for children ages 4 to 7 base on true stories involving farm animals. My stories are humorous and touching. My question how do I find someone to do my drawings and is it better to give my ideas to a professional or do them all myself. Richard Doetker

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Hi Richard, Your best bet if you want to find a publisher is to submit a well polished story – preferably under 800 words for that age group. Keep in mind that most picture books are 32 pages. This includes title and copyright pages. so you end up with 27 or 29 pages in which to write the story. And it’s important to pace the story well- to keep it moving from page to page. Do NOT attempt to illustrate it yourself if you don’t have previous illustration experience. Publishers like to choose their own illustrators, and if yur story is accepted they will find an appropriate one for you. Good luck!

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