You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who might claim that writing children’s books is easy; in fact, most people in the know will tell you exactly the opposite. Publishing professionals, editors, and authors alike must face up to the peculiar challenges of the genre, which include writing a captivating story, generating eye-popping illustrations, and creating a marketing strategy which will appeal to both the children who make up your primary audience—and the adults who must pay for its purchase. And here’s a fun fact: sometimes children and adults like different things!
There is no other book genre out there which has such a division between its readers and its purchasers … but don’t let that get you down! There are ways to write and publish children’s books which will sell well to folks of all ages, and here we have put together a top six tips list to help you create your own.
- Mind your length. As any preschool teacher or children’s librarian can confirm, reading with children is most enjoyable for both parties when the book in question contains just enough text to carry the story along without exhausting their attention. The amount of text you can get away with per page will lengthen as your target audience grows older, but a general rule of thumb is to start with two lines of text per page for toddlers and to go from there.
- Pick a timely subject. Picture books are more likely to be picked up by parents, teachers, and librarians on the prowl if they tackle subjects which these adults want to prepare their children to face. In 2014, for instance, one of the most popular subjects was bullying. In 2015, diversity and Civil Rights spiked in popularity. In 2016, picture books featuring public service and leadership frequently hit the bestseller lists. One of the strengths of self-publishing is the fact that books can respond to current events, go to press, and hit bookshelves much more quickly than their traditional counterparts. Take advantage!
- Don’t dumb it down. You heard right—baby talk doesn’t carry as compelling of a story as a book which treats its younger audiences with a rich vocabulary and sophisticated sentence structure. Embed what some writers call “gift words” throughout your book, and elevate the beauty of your lines the same way you would for adults. After all, it’s very likely adults will be reading your book aloud to or alongside their kids, and this will transform your book from pure entertainment to a learning opportunity.
- Voice morals carefully, and cleverly. Young children will often miss the meat of your agenda, and adults may be turned off from purchasing your book for their kids because it strikes them as “too preachy” or because they disagree with your point. Many of the most successful picture books are indeed rich with moral material, and few will argue otherwise than that picture books are prime tools for teaching sound decision-making skills, but most of these success stories find clever, quiet ways to do so without alienating readers.
- Think about those end materials! Many of today’s best picture books include a few pages at the end which include notes for adults on how to make best use of the book in teaching a skill or an idea to young readers. These thoughtful additions often help parents and educators to recognize the care which went into writing and publishing the book, and to put it to work in a more intentional way.
- Humor me. Or rather, humor them! Children have a keen sense of humor, and are particularly sensitive to farce and comedy. Adults are more attuned to situational and other forms of irony. A good picture book will entertain everyone by tapping into intersectional forms of humor, just as a good children’s movie usually has some sort of mature subtext embedded within it to keep parents awake in the theater. You can also use humor as a teaching tool, so everyone wins!
In an ideal world, you would be able to focus on the act of writing your picture book, and not have to worry about the complicated minutiae of publishing and marketing your book which you may or may not feel prepared enough to tackle. Luckily, we already live in that world! At Outskirts Press, you can turn to us at any stage of the publishing process, whether you’re reading this newsletter and finding tips on how to move forward with your writing, or using our One-Click Publishing suite to publish your next children’s book, or exploring your options for illustrations and interior formatting. We offer a comprehensive list of services which we hope you’ll take advantage of as you work to translate your vision to the page!