How to Write a Children's Book Manuscript
It's amazing to think that bedtime stories told to us by our parents, were told to them by their parents, which had been told to them by their parents, and so on. They can be passed down from generation to generation and continue on to become timeless (with a few alterations here and there depending on how sleepy Mom or Dad is).
Today, just about every person has heard a children's story. It doesn't matter if it was by word-of-mouth, if it was read to them, or if one reads it themselves. Children's books are a great—if not an essential way to invigorate a child's (or an adult's; no judgment) mind and let it flutter to a distant kingdom far far away.
Many have become tales with wonderful lessons of life; even becoming maxims forever more.
As a writer, you've probably dreamed of creating your own children's book and have kids all around the globe have their parents read it to them. But how do you create a book that will catch the attention of a child? How do you keep their developing minds interested long enough to tell a story or teach something important about life? Bottom line, how do you write a children's book manuscript?
How to Write a Children's Book Manuscript
Here are some essential tips for creating an engaging book for parents and children alike, in a way that will be exciting for you to create.
To start, we'll discuss the different types of children's books.
Children's books are frequently organized by age group:
- typically written for children from a few months old to the age of 4
- baby books have around 300 words or fewer
- preschool books normally have 1,000 words; toddlers may do some rudimentary reading on their own
- these are sometimes published as board books, in which the pages are made of thick cardboard for preserving the pages of curious toddlers
Early Reader Books
- targets children 5-7 years old (kindergarten to second grade)
- the focus is to teach independent reading
- a healthy amount of illustrations
- word count ranges from 1,000-5,000 words
- sometimes called young readers books
- subdivided into chapters
- aimed for children ages 6-9 years old (first to fourth grade)
- normally capped at 10,000 words
- introduces progressively challenging vocabulary words
- for late-elementary schoolers and early middle schoolers
- normally for ages 9-12 years old
- children this age can appreciate humor, mystery, and small thrills
- fewer illustrations and more challenging vocabulary words
- capped at around 60,000 words
Young Adult Novels
- targets older teens and even adults
- there are more genres (fantasy and science fiction)
- can push beyond 100,000 words
Now that we've listed the kinds of children's stories there are, let’s take a look at a few tips you might want to remember before creating your children's book.
- Entertain. Children want to be entertained. You will need to write something they would want to read or have their parents read to them. Technology is now becoming a primary source of entertainment for young children, and essentially, you're competing with technology, all the movies, Youtube, etc. Try and approach your novel with this in mind.
- Listen to your audience. To ensure an engaged and entertained audience, make sure to tune in and listen to your audience. See what's trending. What are the kids into these days? Create books that match the age of your audience. Today, Young Adult fiction is generally geared towards 11-15 year-olds, but interestingly, there has been a rise in the number of adults reading YA as well, so it'd be best to keep that in mind.
- Kids want to read what they can relate to. You may find this by creating characters who are slightly older than your audience.
- Keep your stories short and descriptive. Kids aren't the fastest readers, nor are they the most articulate. Keeping your stories short but descriptive is a sure way to get them turning page after page. Be aware of your reader's vocabulary level. You have to write in such a way that kids find your story both interesting and accessible.
Now that you have an idea about what you should do and look out for before writing your book, we can now discuss the tips for writing an excellent and engaging children's book.
- Think like a kid.
The topics that you want to write about may not necessarily be what your younger audiences want to read. Put yourself in their shoes.
There are two ways to put yourself in the mindset of a child:
- recall your own reading experiences as a child
- ask a child directly what they would like to read. If they don’t know, try suggesting 2 or 3 different possibilities and see which one peaks their attention.
2. Refine the idea.
If you're thinking about writing a children's book, then you probably have an idea of what you want to write about. But, of course, you're only going to publish your best idea—one that will resonate with your readership—so here are a few tips to refining the idea:
- Do a quick search about children's books (more specifically, the kind you'll be creating)
- See what other books have a similar feel/idea to yours
- Figure out what sets your book apart from the ones that are similar.
This is important to know what is already out there, which books are doing well and which are not. Create something better and you will have a greater chance of great success.
A tip we have for you is to create a twist for your story and make it different from others that are similar. For example, you might want to create a book about the friendship of a child and a dog through the eyes of the dog, or maybe you'd want to have a surprise at the end. Maybe you have a secondary message that girls can do anything they want and so your character could be a girl, even in an unusual scenario the world doesn’t expect.
It's really up to you. Your story is for you to create and others to enjoy. Just make sure it doesn't start ringing any unnecessary bells in the minds of your readers like, I’ve read this before.
3. Develop your character.
One thing you'll notice about any children's story is that the best books have unique and interesting characters. They have their own personalities and quirks, and they seem to take on a life of their own.
As we've mentioned, kids want to relate to characters, and if you could give your character something to make them feel real, your audience will love you for it.
To help you with your character building, here's a list of some basic questions for you to answer:
- Do they already have names?
- What do they look like? How do they dress?
- Who are their friends?
- What lesson will they learn in your story?
- What's their goal?
- What are their favorite things? Food? Activities? Color?
- What do they dislike?
- What matters most to them? What makes them happy?
- Do they have any quirks?
- Do they have secrets? A pet?
- How do they walk/talk/eat?
4. Write the right length.
"How long am I supposed to write my book?" This is a common question children's book writers ask. Probably, the best way to answer this is by knowing what age group you're writing for.
Here's a quick reference list with an estimated word count for specific age ranges:
- 300-1000 words — Picture books
- 1,000-5,000 words — Easy readers
- 10,000-12,000 words — Chapter books/short novels
- Capped at 60,000 words — Middle-grade novels
- Can push beyond 100,000 words — Young adult novels
For children's books, it's important to take note of these numbers. They aren't a standard, but they are typical of the expected range. Every word counts, especially for younger ages. When editing any length of a book, a good start is by going page by page and editing out all the unnecessary words, phrases, scenes, or characters that do not contribute to the plot.
Understand that this is just preliminary editing and your book always must end up in the hands of a professional editor when you are done tightening up as much as you can.
5. Start the story action quickly.
One of the most important tips we can give is Start your story quickly. Kids have a short attention span. When their attention is not peaked soon enough and they realize that the story is taking longer than usual to start, they will deem it boring no matter how great the illustrations are or how the story unfolds.
No more backstories, and no more establishing of the setting. Work these in gradually, if at all. You can blame it on technology but today's kids demand fast stimulation.
Get to it. You have a little less than four pages to grab the attention of your audience, so you can't waste any time in establishing the mood for the book.
The moment your story picks up, that's the moment your story launches.
6. Figure out your main problem.
Every story has a conflict, and every character will have a challenge or problem to overcome.
In children's books, it's easy to say that problems are superficial. They could be in the form of obstacles or hurdles that the character has to go through before reaching their goal/solving their problem.
There are a few things that beginning writers tend to make with their character's main problem. Try to avoid them:
- Don't solve the problem too quickly. Make the characters struggle. They should, in many cases, fail at least three times before succeeding.
- Don't create one single problem. Create multiple hurdles for your character to go through and solve. Don't have your character defeat a single obstacle, and then voila, the problem is solved.
- Don't make your character too carefree. Remember that you're creating a story for a child. Small problems may feel like big obstacles, maybe even life or death situations for them. If your character fails to feel the way they do, then chances are, your audience won't connect to your story the way you intend them to be.
7. Make use of repetition.
Repetition in children's books may just be your ticket to the engagement and familiarity you're looking for. It gives children a chance to join in during reading, sort of like a "hook," making them feel like they are part of the story.
These are the three types of repetition that you can use:
- A word or phrase on a page
- A word or phrase across the entire book
- The story structure
As children listen to the story, they will use the rhyme ana rhythm of the verses to help them remember words. It makes new books seem familiar and makes children feel like readers without having to actually read the words. You'll help them build confidence along the way.
8. Think of your illustrators.
I think everyone will agree that when they hear "children's books," they automatically think about pictures and illustrations.
Many writers don't consider or think much about the descriptions they give to their illustrator and end up giving them too little to work with.
Choose fun settings and interesting details. You can create funny-looking characters and create a whole new world for them.
Imagery is a wonderful aspect to book writing that is not always an option in adult books, but is most certainly an integral part of children's books. Don't waste the opportunity to have your creativity be utilized in the visual aspects of your children's book.
A good illustrator will improve the quality of your overall output, so don't skimp out on the details and give them more freedom to work their craft as well.
A publisher won't evaluate you solely on your writing. They'll also consider how well your story works with your illustrator's pictures.
Good visuals are much more interesting for the child!
9. Don't make your story too long.
Generally speaking, no story should be made longer than it needs to be. In a children's book, after the main problem has been solved, you can wrap it up in a page or two and finish the story.
Resolution to the conflict is important, especially to child readers. Once the story is done, and the conflict is resolved, there's no longer any tension, which means they have resolved their own anticipation to the presented problem in the story.
Provide satisfying conclusions to wrap up your storyline. You can use references from the first few pages of your story to conclude it as well.
For example, if your character had been dreading a beach trip so much that they stayed in the car and then, afterwards, saw the dolphins, the little crabs, the small shells, the sandcastles, etc., you could probably end your story with something like "She didn't know how wonderful it could be in a day at the beach".
10. Choose your title.
This might come off as a surprise since we're telling you that the 10th tip is choosing your title instead of putting it as the very beginning. There's an answer for that.
Truthfully, many writers don't know exactly what their story will end up being about until after they write it. You may have a title in mind, but they don't always stick around. You might find yourself revising it more than ten times just to get the perfect title that feels right.
Your title is your number one marketing tool, so it's important to create one that speaks and captures the hearts of your audience even at first glance.
A great way to name your book is by using intrigue. This is the ultimate bait to catch those readers. An intriguing title can play on one's imagination and curiosity.
Example: Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham (Why are they green?)
Next, you might also want to do a quick search of the titles you have in mind just to make sure that none are taken. If your chosen title does end up being taken, you can still use it. People can't copyright titles but, you might have a hard time distinguishing your book from others.
One way around this is to include a subtitle. This differentiates your book from others and it also helps describe your book even more. Remember this is for children and the subtitle must be brief and succinct. If it doesn't build intrigue or curiosity or interest, then don't use one.
Lastly, test your title with children and adults. See how both react to your title. You might wonder why adults are in the loop. Remember, children aren't the ones buying books — parents are. Get their approval!
11. Revise, revise, revise.
Since we are talking about children's books, you can probably guess that it won't involve a lot of words. One of the main things that make publishers and agents reject a book is if it's too long.
A tip for you is to constantly ask yourself, "If I cut this, will the story no longer make sense?"
If a story still makes sense, even after a sentence is cut, then you can make do without it. In general, the shorter the book, the better the chances of it being published and distributed.
12. Choose your editor wisely.
After writing your book, it's not a done deal and off straight to the illustrator. If you think your book is perfect, that's great, but you really need to get an expert's opinion to help you improve it.
Your best bet for an amazing book is choosing the right editor. Editors know the tips and tricks to improve the experience of your reader. There are two types of editors:
- Developmental editors
- Copy editors
Developmental editors help you improve your story's concept, plot, characters, pacing, dialogue, and whatever else that needs improvement. They usually look at the big picture and will help you with revising your book.
Copy editors help you fix all the formatting, grammar, syntax, spelling, verb tenses, style, and any other nitty-gritty details. They make your book look professional.
We have a list for you when it comes to finding the perfect editor:
- Look for someone who has been working in the industry for a while
- He/she should have examples of published books that they've already edited
- Look for testimonials from satisfied writers
13. Find an illustrator.
Honestly, this is the most important step in your post-writing process.
This step may be the most expensive, but it's very well worth it. It is an essential step to creating a successful book. Trust us when we say that the bigger your spend, the better the outcome. Publisher's editors, and parents and children alike, demand amazing illustrations.
With average or lacking illustrations, your book will not make it. So it is 50% of what is necessary for your children's book to succeed. The other half, of course, is you're writing. This is a unique aspect of children's books that most aspiring authors overlook, and it sabotages their dreams.
Similarly to choosing an editor, here are some things to consider when choosing an illustrator:
- What do their previous works look like?
- Does their style fit your vision?
- Discuss contracts. Who keeps the rights?
- How fast can they deliver?
- Do they also do layout, type, and book design?
It's important to remember that an illustrator will bring your story to life with their pictures. Make sure that you are absolutely certain of their style and that you can really see how they will bring your vision to life.
Remember that it's essential to make sure your text and image should harmonize. Don't forget to think about these things:
- Font - Choose something that your audience can read. You're going to need an illustrator to help you choose the right font to match the illustrations.
- Font size - Choose consistency in the size of your text. When placed beside illustrations, it shouldn't look too small or too big.
- Word placement - Don't place too many words. It needs to be carefully balanced, and it must follow rules of composition like "the rule of thirds". The words should enhance the illustration, not overpower it.
- Page breaks - Discuss with your illustrator what words should go on which pages. What words should go with which pictures? Does every page have text? Your illustrator will have a say on this, and it's best to communicate with them clearly.
Creating children’s books can be fun since most genres would include some kind of fictional world that you have to create but there’s more to it than just writing about princesses, fallen angels, or vampires.
I hope this Quick-Start Guide on How to Write a Children's Book Manuscript has given you knowledge you can use for your next writing project!
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