The Ns and Outs of Writing for Kids

children's author Ramona Woodby Ramona Wood

Children’s book author Ramona Wood’s maxim is “Never stop learning.” Wood is a member of the SCBWI and has written and illustrated five children’s books that can be seen at Amazon.com and RamonaWoodBooks.com. Her latest, Manners & Tips for Caring Kids, has just gone live as her first print-on-demand publication.

The Ns and Outs of Writing for Kids

Give your kids’ book a fighting chance from the start! Consider these four Ns before you get too far along:

NEED—Learn what the market needs and what is selling. How? By spending time at the store—including the online bookstores.

While you’re at the search bar, type in the topic of your proposed book to see if the idea is either overdone or untouched. The best case scenario is when there are some books on the subject (showing interest) but not a huge number that may show it’s getting overdone. Bonus: This search can also reveal if your title is already taken.

Before writing my new grade school book on manners, I saw books on the subject, but they were at least ten years old! And they were either for toddlers or for adults. In contrast, I wrote for upper elementary and middle school kids who still like colorful books. My approach was also unique in focusing on the WHYs or “meaning behind the manners,” including principles like the Golden Rule. The challenge, though, was ridding my first draft’s preachy tones in favor of “You got this!”

NOW—Stay up to speed on what kids like today. Do memoirs or true-life pet stories top the charts? If not, don’t worry. There may be room for your wild childhood tales in a fiction piece…Then you are free to embellish to your heart’s content!

Although there’s always a Dr. Seuss book and a Goodnight Moon on shelves, customers may not rush out to buy a wannabe along those lines.

While you’re shopping, head to the toy department and learn what your book is likely to compete with for your audience’s time. Then use this in your favor: A plethora of pirate toys or ponies can spark your own ideas for stories that kids are craving.

NUMBERS—Did you know that having the correct number of pages in your proposed picture book is critical? And the number of words can be equally important.

Why does page count matter? It all has to do with the printing press and how many sides a sheet of folded paper, or signature, has. In short, a picture book usually has 32 pages. (A few are 16 pages, and some are 24, regardless a traditional book’s page count is a multiple of eight.) Even if you’re doing an ebook that doesn’t have the same rules, you may want to abide by this “rule of 8” anyway. Then if you or your publisher wants to later have it printed traditionally, it’s an easier transition.

Preferred word counts depend on the particular publisher. To learn what each publisher likes, have a look at the current Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, at bookstores and libraries. The publisher listings tell their contact information, what kinds of books they produce, and their approximate word counts.

When starting your book, remember that in general, the younger your target audience, the fewer the words. Board books can have only a couple dozen words. Picture books should have maybe 800-1500 words.

Less is more!—especially with illustrated books. Remember to leave out words that the pictures will convey, like the character’s appearance. (You can leave a note to the illustrator if it’s critical to the story.)

NIX the illustrations unless you are a professional illustrator (and even then, think long and hard about it.) If you are submitting for a large publishing house, editors prefer to choose the illustrator themselves for various reasons. Sending in artwork with your manuscript will almost certainly work against you, giving a potential reason for rejection—if they’re not crazy about the art.

If you are self-publishing, it’s worth spending some time and money to hire an illustrator trained in book publishing. Your book’s success depends on many factors, including a professional appearance. Amateur art can discourage sales from the get-go, so hire a high caliber illustrator—even if it means holding off publication until you’ve saved up the funds.

These four Ns have hardly scratched the surface, so check out a few books on the subject. A recommendation of mine in paperback is You Can Write Children’s Books by Tracy E. Dils. You can also visit the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators’ FAQs at SCBWI.org

Good luck!

Manners & Tips for Caring Kids book cover

Ramona Wood’s newest book.

 

 

 

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