7 secrets to writing for children

Just about everyone has written a kids’ book.

With Madonna, Billy Crystal, Tim McGraw, and every other Jane, Dick, and Jerry producing children’s literature, it’s no surprise that the public thinks it’s an easy thing to do.

Let me share with you now a cold, hard truth:

Writing children’s picture books is infinitely harder than writing for adults.

The author must convey, in less than forty pages and with as few words possible, the meat of the story; and what’s more, be able to stand out against the hundreds of other attempts at manuscripts stacked upon any given editor’s desk.

There’s no slam dunk about it.

Granted, some of the celebrity authors actually do write well. Some are fantastic, even. But what holds those in common is an understanding of what’s necessary in “kidlit”, and what’s just fluff.

Here are a few of the basics to keep in mind:

1. Don’t talk down.

Kids can tell when you’re being facetious, not to mention when you’re trying to hard to sound falsely young yourself. They can see through you instantly. Save yourself the trouble, and write from the heart, not from the pocketbook.

2. At the same time, keep it simple.

Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat using just 236 different words in direct answer to a challenge issued by a magazine writer. Dick and Jane used repetition at a level all their own. Mother Goose is quick and light, and so is Goodnight Moon. Simple doesn’t have to mean artificially dumbed-down. Just keep to basic ideas, and use one thought flow paced at the age-appropriate attention span.

3. Don’t illustrate your own book, unless you’re incredibly, uncommonly good. And you’re probably not.

Editors at the big houses—and most of the little ones, for that matter—don’t want to see original drawings or artwork as part of your manuscript submission. They hire professional outside illustrators, and prefer to match the artist to the text themselves, based on the editor’s end vision of the book, not the author’s. Submitting your pictures and text as a package deal only makes you seem unknowledgeable, pretentious, and amateur. Unless—and only unless—you are 100% positive you’re God’s gift to both writing and illustrating, stick to just one of the two and give it your best college try. Period.

4. Even if you’re good, your book might not sell. Keep trying.

This is true of any genre, really, but it bears repeating. Your book is one among millions—millions!—being shopped around the nation, and even good manuscripts sometimes get overlooked. If you have any doubt, read the autobiography of any well-known writer, and count the number of times the words “rejection letters” come into play. It happens to the best of us. Be polite in the face of rejection, don’t take it personally, and send your baby right back out again.

5. Don’t be bland.

Life is not bland. Literature for any reader should be intriguing and exciting, regardless of age. Don’t be afraid to step outside the box, or to try something different. There are certainly plenty of clichés in the realm of kids’ books; use your brain and be original.

6. Don’t be asinine.

Yes, humor is good. Wit is better. It’s a great thing to let a few things trickle in to tickle the parent’s fancy as he’s reading to his child, night after night, day after day. That’s one of the key factors that makes a children’s picture book saleable—that the parents can stand it. (This is also the primary reason that my child has no idea that Barney even exists, but that’s another topic altogether.)

However, be very careful of crossing the fine line between cutesy and caustic. Outright smart-aleck comments and sarcasm will wear thin very quickly, and no one wants a cynical author (or his characters) as a role-model for her impressionable three-year-old.

7. Don’t expect to get rich.

Even some of the world’s most well-known authors still have trouble making ends meet. It takes several best-sellers to break the bank, and new authors very rarely get significant advances. One breakaway hit can do it, sure; but the odds are against you, even if your book is published by the big boys.

So, is it worth attempting?


Just be sure that you approach your writing as you would any other creative financial endeavor in your life; with caution, realism, and of course, the one thing that overrides all others—passion for your work.


One Response to “7 secrets to writing for children”

  1. Winonah says:

    I enjoy you because of each of your work on this website. Debby really loves going through internet research and it’s obvious why. A lot of people learn all concerning the powerful manner you render useful tips and hints through this blog and as well cause response from people on this area of interest and our princess has been learning a great deal. Have fun with the remaining portion of the year. Your conducting a brilliant job.

Leave a Reply to Winonah Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *