How to Write Best Selling Children's Books

Writing children's books for a living is a dream job for many. Children's literature is more popular than ever, and if you develop solid characters and a strong fan base you can land on the bestseller list. Keep in mind children's literature is a tough field, so it will take a long time to establish yourself as an author. To start, establish your brand. You want to know your target audience and the types of work you write, as all this will make you more appealing to an agent down the road. From there, work on establishing a solid story that has all the elements of a bestseller. After you've finished your work, look for an agent to represent you and seek out publication from major publishing houses.

Pick an Age Range

You do not want to walk up to an agent or publisher with a vague idea of your target audience. Agents and editors don't take well to book's that are "for all ages." If you want to write a bestseller, it's important to have a niche age range in mind.

Things like picture books and stories with only a few words are usually for ages 2 to 6. Middle graders are generally ages 8 to 11. These would be stories targeted at mid-elementary school and early middle school.

If you want to write for very young children, you can consider doing a picture book or a baby book.

Select a Genre

You do not want to go into the market without a clear genre. Many popular children's books are fantasy-based in nature, or feature talking animals. If you want to write a bestseller, fantasy may be a good idea. However, some famous children's books, like Kevin Henkes's Lily's Purple Plastic Purse, feature an animal character that faces a realistic setting. It can be nice to write a children's book with a story children can relate to.

Pick a genre that interests you. You're unlikely to stick with a project if you do not enjoy the genre. You're vastly more likely to produce an interesting product people will want to buy if you're passionate about your work.

If you're a lifelong animal lover, for example, think about writing an animal book for children. Include animals as the main characters.

Childrens Book Genres

Science Fiction
Realistic Fiction
Historical Fiction

Figure Out What Makes Your Book Unique.

There is a lot of competition in the world of children's books. If you're going to survive and become a bestselling author, figure out what makes your story unique. What unique experience can you bring to the table? What's a story that only you can tell?

Look at what's already out there. Familiarize yourself with the more popular children's stories so you don't produce a replica of an already established work. Try to see where there's room for diversity. Look at what the market is lacking.

Think about your own life, experience, and passions. Maybe there's something unique about you that could help your work stand out. For example, there are lots of children's stories about animals, but how many stories feature a sugar glider? Maybe you own a sugar glider, and could tell a unique story from your pet's perspective.

Read as a Writer

Reading as much as you can is a vital part of the prewriting process. Surround yourself with the most popular and prominent works in children's literature. Look into your target age range. Stop by a local library and ask a librarian for recommendations in that range.

Pay attention to how the stories begin. Does the work begin with action, dialogue, a scene? How does the author get you interested in the story? What makes the characters compelling right away? Focus on characters. In a children's book, characters may be somewhat simple in nature.

Focus on language. Children's books are often written in very simple prose. They may also make use of things like rhyme, as they're often meant to be read out loud.

Watch how the story ends. What resolutions are made? How have the characters changed? Is there room left for a sequel, or are all ends tied up?

Provide a Likable Main Character

Children need to be able to become invested in the main character in your book. As you write your children's book, focus on creating a main character with a lot of attitude. A fun, charismatic main character will get children invested quickly.

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Look at Kevin Henkes's Lily in Lily's Purple Plastic Purse. Lily is cute, charismatic, and excitable. She is a character children can get behind.

Give your character flaws, however. Every story needs a conflict. Lily, for example, is overeager and somewhat temperamental. This is what causes her disagreement with her teacher. Figure out one or two flaws your character can have that will ultimately drive the story's conflict.

Choose a Setting That Makes the Ordinary Dangerous.

One of the things that makes bestsellers compelling is they present a relatable experience, but find a way to make it extraordinary. Oftentimes, otherwise ordinary settings, like a boarding school or a small town, turn out to be dangerous. Children feel they are being let into the adult world when innocence is removed from a typical setting.

Think about Roald Dahl. Much of his stories take place in an ordinary setting that suddenly becomes frightening. In Matilda, for example, a conventional boarding school turns out to be a terrible place for the students. If you're doing a longer children's book, one that's the length of a chapter book, you could think of a similarly unexpected setting.

Think about a setting children are familiar with. For example, you could write about a school. A young child could discover his school is haunted, for example. This takes a setting children are familiar with and adds something a bit scary to it.

Find a Conflict.

Children face challenges in their day-to-day lives. They must overcome fears, confront challenges, deal with conflicts with friends and parents, and so on. Children want to read a book that reflects the conflicts they face. Think about a conflict you could introduce that your character must overcome.[6]

Look at something like the Berenstain Bears series. Most of the books center around a conflict related to young children. In "The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Junk food," for example, the children learn about healthy eating after a stressful doctor's appointment. The conflict is usually fairly easy to overcome, and helps teach kids a lesson.

Think about a conflict that will get a child emotionally invested in a story. If you know any children, think about the kinds of conflicts they have. For example, maybe your niece Rosa struggled to fit in during Girl Scout meetings. Her friend Harper helped her overcome her shyness by sticking by her side during meetings. You could easily write a fun and relatable children's book based on this experience, focusing on themes like friendship and community.

Choose a Message

Most children's books teach something to children. Sometimes, that message is practical. Children's books sometimes teach things like proper manners, or vocabulary. However, the message can also be more abstract. Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, for example, teaches about appreciating people over products. An inspiring message like this can really help your story resonate with kids.

Think about what children need to learn. What did you have to learn as a child? Think about a memorable moment that taught you a lesson. Maybe, after your grandmother entered hospice care, you realized you never valued her enough. Through this, you learned to gain wisdom from past generations.

You can work this lesson into a story. Talk about a young child who learns to value the stories his grandmother told him more, teaching him the importance of history and family.

Form a Writing Schedule.

If you want to write a children's book, work on getting organized. You should form a writing schedule for yourself. Work writing into your weekly routine, like exercising, doing your dishes, and brushing your teeth.

Clear out a space to write in your home. Clear off a corner of a desk, or pick a spot in your bedroom. You can also write at a local coffee shop. It's important you pick a space free of outside distractions so you can focus on your work.

Schedule time for writing. Think about when you feel most energetic. Some people feel invigorated in the mornings, while others feel enthusiastic later at night. Write during the time of day you feel most energetic.

Set goals each day. You can have a specific word count, such as 100 words per day, or you can write a set number of pages each day. If you do not have time to write each day, set weekly goals. For example, you can promise you'll have 5 pages by the end of any given week.

Use Appropriate Language

Children have a limited vocabulary, so you do not want to use too many big words. You should also minimize excessive language. Stick to simple sentences that convey the basics. Things like rhyming and rhythm can also help. Think of the works of Dr. Seuss. He makes excellent use of rhyme to make his stories compelling to a young audience.

You can use some big words in a story. In fact, children may benefit from learning new words in a book. If you choose to use large words, find a way to explain them. Weave high-brow vocabulary words into your story in a smooth fashion.

For example, maybe you can have a character who works very hard at school and is a bit of a show off. He or she could use big words on occasion, and make a point of explaining these words to others.

You can download a vocabulary list for preschool or school age children from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln at this link:
Childrens Reading Vocabulary

Team Up With an Illustrator

Almost all children's books are illustrated. If you're not artistically inclined yourself, team up with an illustrator. The two of you can create compelling images for your story that will make the book aesthetically pleasing.

Go to your friends who draw and ask them for advice here. Ask them if they would be willing to work with you. You can also post an ad online, on a site like CraigsList, seeking out illustrators for your book.

Due to modern technology, you are not limited by location. You can find illustrators across the country. You can browse websites where people share their art. If you find an artist you like, reach out to him or her.

Keep in mind a lot of artists will expect payment for their work. Budget for this. is the leading professional showcase for the world's most talented children's illustrators.

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Revise Your Story Extensively

Much of writing takes place during revision. After finishing a draft of your story, do many, many revisions. Most successful books were revised multiple times before publication.

It's a good idea to have a print copy of your manuscript to revise. That way, you can make notes as you go. Ask yourself if the story moves quickly enough, if the plot is relatable to children, and if the conflict is solved in a rational manner.

Evaluate your writing. Does the dialogue feel natural? Are the characters, settings, and scenes described in a compelling manner?

In addition to major overhauls, watch for easy fixes like grammar issues. When you start sending your manuscript to publishers, it should be free of obvious grammatical errors.

Avoid Preachiness or Simple Lessons

Children's stories should not be simplistic in nature. Many people think you have to teach a lesson in your story. However, children are complex. Avoid simple lessons. Instead, explore a variety of complex themes. Many children's books explore wide-reaching themes like bravery, war, conflict, and parent/child relationships without explicitly providing their readers with a lesson about such subjects. It's okay to leave ambiguity in your work.

Create a Website or Blog

You're more likely to land an agent if you build a relationship with fans ahead of time. You can start a website or a blog about your book, and offer promotional materials like sneak previews, character profiles, and more. A lot of modern authors get their start online.

You can use free sites like WordPress to create a blog. Work on updating your blog regularly and try to post content that people will share. Readers often respond to easy-to-read content, such as lists.

Create a social media presence as well. Link your blog to your Twitter, a Facebook fan page, and your Tumblr.

You can try starting a YouTube channel, making short videos where you discuss writing, your book, and children's literature in general.

Network to Meet the Right People.

Networking is one of the main ways people get into publishing. If you get a short piece published in a journal, stay in touch with the editor. If you have an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in fiction writing, talk to your professors and colleagues. Attend reasonably priced writing conferences and try to meet agents and publishers.

Work With an Agent.

It is very hard to get a children's book published without an agent. Many big publishing houses do not look at unsolicited submissions. You will need an agent if you want to write bestsellers. You can find agents online through sites like Writers Market, Agent Query, and Query Tracker.

Write a query letter to potential agents. This should briefly overview your publication history, online presence, and include a brief biography. You should also provide a synopsis of your book. Include a few sample chapters in the envelope you send to the agent.

Follow all submissions guidelines carefully. Make sure you send in your chapters in the manner the agent prefers, following all the guidelines for formatting your manuscript exactly as requested.

Be Prepared For Rejection Along the Way

The process to becoming an author, especially a bestselling author, is long and difficult. You will get a lot of rejections from agents and publishing houses along the way, so learn to cope with rejection.

Send out work frequently, and to a lot of different places. You're less likely to be stung by a rejection if you have a lot going on. A rejection from one agent will hurt less if you've already submitted to five.

Also, keep in mind rejection is rarely personal. Most authors get rejected a lot, especially early on. Your work may not have been the right fit, it may have been too similar to another title, or the agent simply may not have had time to read it closely. A rejection does not mean you are a bad writer.

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