If you have chosen children’s writing because you think it’s the easiest then think again. It can be one of the most challenging, but well worth the effort when you see the smile on a child’s face and the hint of wonder in that child’s eyes. And when the youngster has heard the story a thousand times, but whose eyes still twinkle with enthusiasm to hear it yet again, then you have succeeded as a children’s writer.
Poetic license, a gift to any author, is one that children will freely give for those wishing to use it. Dr Seuss introduced us to sentences of nonsensical structure strung together while discarding convention and sometimes thought. Yet they delight both adults and children alike. Unlike most genres, writing for children is a vortex to the fantastic. However, today’s society differs greatly from past eras.
While Beatrix Potter once danced in the minds of exuberant expectation, the youth of today are far savvier to life’s mechanisations. Write with ardour, write with zest, but remember – without following some basic guidelines your wonderfully created work may well slip through the fingers of both parents and publishers alike.
As each age group has its own guidelines, the following points should be considered when deciding to delve deeper into the complex world of writing for children.
Keep It Simple
Your ideas can be big while striving to find a unique way in telling a story, but the language must be simple. Don’t use multiple words where one will do the job nicely. Pictures tell part of the story for early children’s stories, so the words shouldn’t duplicate what is already shown. For example, if you’re talking about a red ball, the colour of the ball can be shown in the picture.
Keep With The Times
Children of today are computer literate, they know how to use mobiles, and are far more technology savvy than their parents were when they were that age. Don’t underestimate the maturity of a child, but keep it age appropriate. If you are unsure of the correct terminology to use or doubt the content, then get advice first.
Keep Abreast Of Current Issues
Children suffer more health issues than ever before. They battle stress, anxiety, and depression to name a few. Some other important topics are bullying, struggling to fit in at school, and loneliness. Don’t be afraid to write about it. Children will relate and feel empathy and understanding. Parents may even thank you for the support it lends them in assuring their child.
The every-day topics could be about the first day at school, or wanting a pet, or longing for a new bike. Think back to when you were a child and what you can remember – there’s bound to be a story idea hidden in your memory.
The most important rule is that in most cases the story needs to pass parental approval first. This can be achieved if rules are followed, and as an author you shouldn’t cross the boundaries. Never forget who your audience is.
Obviously heavy romance is out. This is simply not appropriate in a children’s book.
Sex, religion, and politics are usually best left for a parent to wade through with their child when the time is right. While these are hot topics for an adult, they are inappropriate on most levels for a child.
Young children need only to be introduced to characters, while older children will enjoy a slightly more in-depth version.
Many children love rhyming words. A rhyming story has its own rhythm that children readily respond to. However, you have to be exceptionally skilled if your story is told in a poem-style, as publishers usually avoid this.
Write for Fun!
What better excuse to fling off the shackles of adulthood? Touch base with your inner youth and explore once again the sheer freedom of being a child? Let your imagination soar and, in doing so, a child’s imagination will soar also.
Obviously children are not going to grasp cumbersome, difficult words. Keep language simple and pronounceable. For very young children, one and two syllable words are far more appealing. If the child isn’t at reading level and the story is being read to the child, then an occasional bigger word can be used. The reader can explain the more difficult words to the child.
Under no circumstances should swearing be permitted in children’s literature. While parents may not always know what their child is reading, if parents discover swearing in their child’s book, they might re-act in a way where the author is undermining what they are trying to teach. Do you want a mob of angry parents trying to break down your door? Best to stay on the side of caution here.
While fiction is the creation of a writer, a story that is honest in its telling will go down far better than one filled with lies. A child will spot an untruth and will be quite unforgiving for it!
Publishers And Parameters
There are stringent guidelines when writing for children. The targeted age group needs to be stated clearly. Make sure you research the intended publisher before you submit your manuscript.
The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (US annual publication) and The Australian Writer’s Marketplace (available online only now) are good resources to find markets for your book. They offer detailed submission guidelines for hundreds of markets. The guidelines may include information, such as pay rates, where and how to submit your manuscript, as well as other relevant and important information. Alternatively, you can search the internet for online and print children’s publishers.
Choose a few markets that seem like a good fit for your work, follow the guidelines set out by those chosen publishers and submit a neat, professional manuscript. It’s recommended that you have your manuscript professionally edited before you submit anything. Publishers will toss a manuscript into the slush pile without a second consideration if it’s not presented correctly.
Children’s Writing Genres and Ages
Ages may differ between publishers, so check before submitting your story.
- Picture Books (up to 7) – Designed with the aim for an adult to read to a child.
- Baby Books (1 to 3) – Designed with the aim for an adult to read to a child, but may contain pop-ups or novelty books, such as lifting flaps or pressing a concealed pad to make a sound, etc.
- Beginner Readers (5 to 8) – Used to teach a child how to read.
- Middle Grade Books (8 to 12) – Teaching children to love reading through a large range of topics and interests.
- Young Adult Novels (12 and up) – Based around teenagers, these are a stepping stone to novels loved by adults.
The ability to capture and conquer the enthusiasm of a child is a gift not to be wasted. The experience is an enriching one from which both children and authors can benefit. Remember, some of our most renowned children’s authors, such as JK Rowlings (author of the Harry Potter books), began with humble yet tantalising beginnings by writing and reading to their own children. Nicky Johnston started to write as a means to help her own child with his anxiety disorder. Her book Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts! has reached huge audiences.
Children’s writing is a large field broken into age groups, which all have their own rules. This article is general, and writers are encouraged to focus on the rules of the age group for the intended story.