Writing and publishing a children’s book was never supposed to be on my agenda. But when I was a 21 year old student, my delightful 3 year old sister Bella sweetly asked if I could write a book about her.
“Of course not…… wait…… why not?” was my immediate thought. I had a light bulb moment! My brain swirled with possibilities and my grand adventure into the unknown world of publishing a children’s book had begun.
It wasn’t an easy ride but I made it. Let me share some key tips to make your journey from amateur writer to published author as smooth as possible.
1. Story, Story, Story
Well it may seem obvious but if your story’s on the weak side, it’s not going to be a hit with the kids. The most pertinent point is to consider the age range of children you want to read your book. And then your story:
- must match their level of comprehension (no fancy words that will confuse them)
- be relevant to their understanding of the world (no complex interactions between characters that will go straight over their heads)
- be the right length for their attention span (no War and Peace approach)
Ideally you need to chat to kids in the right age range and run your ideas past them – they are of course your future audience. I was lucky to have Bella and my little brother as captive audience to bounce around my original ideas. I decided to focus on a children’s book for the 4-8 year age range. My main character would be a little girl called Bella Boo: a natural born adventurer, confident, brave and kind. My book was destined to encourage confidence and self belief in children.
2. Characters To Evoke Emotions
Every successful book has characters that evoke emotions – be they laughter, inspiration, compassion, tears or fears. Your young readers need to believe in the characters you create; they must want the goodies to win and the baddies to lose – the universal formula of all good storylines.
Create believable characters – decide on their names, what they look like and their personalities. Take inspiration from your random thoughts and your surroundings – let your creative juices run free!
I found inspiration for my second character in my favourite place – the garden. A big spiky plant caught my eye, and immediately (due to some odd wiring in my brain), I pictured a walking tree man with spiky blue hair.
The naming of him was a challenge. But authors find answers in the most random places! I was known as a late bloomer at school (maths was a mystery until I was 12), and I always thought that Master Fen would be a good Jedi name. Mix it up – and Bloomer Fen, the blue haired walking tree man was born.
3. Location, Location, Location
Will your characters live in a city, in the countryside or in a land found only in your imagination? You must picture the location clearly in your mind’s eye and be prepared to weave descriptions of it into your story so your readers see it as clearly as you do.
If you’re creating a make-believe land / city / town the descriptions need bear little resemblance to reality; if you’re writing about a well known city, get your facts right or some of your smart readers will soon be contacting you to point out your errors.
For Bella Boo and Bloomer Fen, I opted for a garden setting, taking inspiration from my childhood in Ireland which I remember as having an enchanting and magical fairy tale feel to it.
4. Finalise The Writing
Only once you really understand your characters, their location and your storyline can you start to write the final copy. There will be many rough drafts along the way: I must have thrown hundreds of pieces of paper away with drafts and rewrites!
To keep yourself on track, set achievable milestones – aim to complete x pages by a certain date or try to write a certain number of words a day – whatever works for you.
Just don’t berate yourself if you miss them on occasion and make sure you keep going. I was writing at the same time as studying at university and it proved impossible to do both well. In fact I failed a semester as I was devoting too much time to the book. But I believed in my book and always looked for the light at the end of the tunnel.
5. Illustrations Or Not?
Many children’s books will be enhanced by illustrations – particularly for the younger age groups. If you want illustrations you’ll need good illustrator who can transform what you see in your mind’s eye to final pictures. You should:
- find a local illustrator so you can meet up face-to-face to discuss your ideas and review progress
- check the style of the illustrator to make sure it’s a good fit
- take rough sketches to show what you’re aiming for (if you’re no artist, ask an artistic friend to help)
- plan which pages of your book will have illustration
6. Publishing Houses
There’s no point approaching Publishing Houses directly with your draft book; most require the backing of a literary agent before they will consider your work.
The best course of action is to invest in a copy of “Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook 2018” (which is updated annually), then send your book overview, its first few pages and example illustrations to selected agents/agencies which specialise in children’s books.
And then you wait.
A word of warning: agents/agencies are inundated with manuscripts on a daily basis so don’t worry if you get “politely declined”. Numerous bestsellers were originally rejected by agents and publishing houses, but they carried on regardless – J. K. Rowling, Dr Seuss, C. S. Lewis, Beatrix Potter amongst them.
7. Coping With Rejection
Considering the big names above, it’s highly likely you will face rejection at some point during your publishing journey. If you truly believe in your book then you must dust yourself down and carry on.
If you really can’t capture the interest of an agent, then the sensible option is to consider self publishing options – which is what I did.
8. Self Publishing Online
There are a number of self publishing platforms, the biggest being Createspace on Amazon. This has several advantages:
- you can publish your book using their software and tools, and Amazon handles the sales and dispatch
- they offer a print on demand service ie. a book is only printed when someone orders it
However when I was investigating this option some 5 years ago, Createspace didn’t offer the printing quality I really wanted – a perfect binding finish where the book is bound with glue and stitching, creating a spine for easier opening (like the Dr Seuss books I read as a child).
9. Self Publishing Printers
The other option is to get your book printed using a printers. To choose the best option, you’ll need to understand a little about printing terminology. For example:
- picture book images must be in 300dpi (dots per inch) for a high quality finish
- page layouts need to have a 3mm bleed which is the area where the pages are trimmed after printing
- gloss or matt or silk printing
- different binding types: saddle stitching, perfect binding, sewn-bound
You’ll also need to work with a type setter who can to create the final file for printing – in the right dimensions and with images at the right print quality.
I found the perfect printer for my needs, worked with a typesetter to finalise the print set up, and just two weeks after approving the proof copy, the first 1000 copies arrived on the doorstep!
10. Launch, Marketing And Beyond
Once you have your hands on your book, you need to launch it. Consider the following:
- contact a local school or bookstore to see if they would be interested in hosting your book launch
- contact local newspapers to try to get a write up about the launch and book
You may be pleasantly surprised at how receptive they are to your suggestion. I launched my book at the local school where my brother and sister studied. It was nerve wracking but successful – the kids loved the book reading and I got to sign 100 books for enthusiastic readers who wanted their own autographed copy!
Then your work is still not over! You need to market your book and let people purchase it online. Easy ideas to implement:
- sell the book on Amazon.co.uk
- approach local bookstores to see if they would like to stock your book
- create a Facebook page and share images and information about the book, where people can buy it and any bookish events you might be attending
- ask book bloggers to review your book eg. Book Reviews For Mums
You may wish to bring your characters into life as toys for children to play with long after they’ve read the book 100 times. It might seem like a big step, but it is feasible (if I can do it, you can too!). Yes, in the short future you’ll find Bella Boo and Bloomer Fen toys in the toy shops!
Publishing a children’s book is definitely a challenge but I hope my experience and tips will help you along your journey and into print as soon as possible.
IIf you’ve any questions, or you’d like more details on any of the points above, please comment below and I’ll get back to you.
Thanks for reading 🙂