When I started out writing children’s books, I was full of ideas, but I had no idea what to actually DO.
Should I write the story? Find an artist? How was it all supposed to come together into an actual book? Like I said, I had no idea.
You might be right where I was a few years ago, wondering how to get started.
I’ve put this quick-start guide together to help YOU skip over the mistakes I made. I hope it’ll help give you a smoother launch into this incredible world of writing for children.
1. How can you write (or finish) your book?
You can’t do much until you have a finished book saved on your hard drive (or, if you’re the old-fashioned type, written down on paper). Here are the basics, the least you need to know to sit down and get writing.
- Ten kick-in the-pants tips to really get you writing
- Viral story starters, if you’re starved for inspiration (here are 55 more, if you’re still stuck)
- Five easy themes you can use to write children’s picture or board books (with examples)
- Stuck in the middle? Six cheats to get you out of despair
- Look into children’s-book writing courses – I know classes really help me a lot, with whatever I’m trying to learn.
- Have you picked the right names for your characters?
- Are you hoping to write books with a religious or spiritual message?
- Thinking of writing a rhyming book? Read this first so your rhymes won’t suck.
2. What should you know before submitting to an editor?
If you’re submitting to a traditional publishing company, you don’t need to have your book illustrated. In fact, unless you’re the artist, it’s best not to. Editors want to see a completed manuscript. That means just the words, nothing else.
- Eleven things editors don’t want to see in your story (what they’re sick of, in their own words!)
- 15 Formatting Do’s and Don’ts before submitting a manuscript to an editor
- Understand age categories so you know what type of book you’re submitting.
- Also, read over this chart of lengths and other age/category information.
- Check your book for true diversity – editors are on the lookout for books that close the diversity gap – but also for inadvertent racism before you hit Send.
3. Have you thought about self-publishing?
It’s not for everybody. Self-publishing is hard. And you won’t get rich. But it can also be rewarding (richly so), and let you get “niche” books into the hands of kids who really enjoy them. With a little hard work, your book can become somebody’s favourite – without going through the gatekeepers of traditional publishing.
- Before anything else, have your book professionally edited. Honest feedback makes all the difference in the world (hint: friends and family don’t count!).
- Are you really cut out for self-publishing?
- Make sure you have a GREAT, professional-looking kissable cover. Check out these 29 examples of what to do – and not to do.. (plus, here’s a free cover template)
- Protect yourself: Find out about copyright and how it affects YOU.
4. How do you get your book illustrated?
If you’re lucky enough to be able to draw your own pictures, pat yourself on the back. For the rest of us… things aren’t so simple. Here are a few ideas, and I will be posting more in the near future dealing with this important step in the self-publishing process.
- Think about fiverr: an affordable way to find decent art for your book
- Have you considered using free photos available online? (this is not for everybody, of course, and here are three pitfalls to avoid)
- What about stock photos? Here are creative ways to use these inexpensive images.
5. How can you publish your own book in print?
Many self-publishers these days don’t even think about pring books. It’s a lot of hassle, and you often make less money for each print copy of your book you sell. But having your books in print gives you a legitimacy you just can’t get with ebooks. There’s something about holding a book in your hand, right? Especially since we’re writing for kids. Print is still important, and you should consider doing it if you’re self-publishing. Plus, it gets easier with practice.
- Get serious – find out how to make your book look like a REAL book even if you’re not a pro.
- Learn from a few more mistakes that brand you as a publishing amateur
- Choose professional looking fonts that get your message across
- And here’s the one thing you MUST do before hitting the Publish button.
6. What’s the best way to start digital publishing (ebooks)?
This is the brave new world of publishing, but it’s also a great, swampy morass of mediocrity. Making your book stand out above the crowd starts with writing a terrific book and then understanding ebook formats, distribution and publishing.
- Should you write an ebook or an app? (I know which side I’m on…but you should definitely understand the difference before you do either one)
- Why I’m not using Kindle Kids’ Book Creator – and you might not want to, either.
- The easy way to go from a word document to an ebook (in minutes, not hours)
- Grab these three simple graphics tools you can find for free
- Test-drive Scrivener for free: a writer’s tool to help you go straight to ebook
- Creating nonfiction ebooks: three rules to help you stay ahead of the crowd
7. How can you, a mere mortal, start selling your book like a pro?
Even if you’re traditionally published, these days you cannot overlook the marketing side of things. Publishing companies expect their authors to go above and beyond to help promote their own books. If you sit back and do nothing, you risk going out of print. If you’re self-published, it’s all on your shoulders right from the get-go. But don’t panic: here are some tools to help you cope.
- Are you pricing your book all wrong (follow these 5 essential guidelines)?
- Should you give your book away for free? (here’s why you might not want to)
- How to get reviews (and why they’re sweeter than chocolate)
- Also, understand the wrong way to try to get reviews.
- Start putting together an author mailing list (even if you think you don’t need one).
- Do you need a book trailer?
- Submit your book to (reputable) contests (hey, here’s a great one for kids’ book covers!)
8. Why should you be career-focused? (Think about writing your NEXT book!)
This is important. Hopefully, by now you’re a writer with a BOOK. (If not, go on back up to #1 and get it written!) But I want you to be more than that. I want you to be a writer with dreams… a writer with a career. A single-book author has all her eggs in one basket. I don’t want that to be you. I’m not saying your book isn’t terrific. I bet it is. But I’m also betting you have MORE terrific books in you… somewhere.
- Decide if your book has series potential.
- Don’t baby your book – how to be bolder, more confident, and write your next book instead!
- Why you shouldn’t let yourself get stuck in a pigeonhole. Don’t let your past limit you… write whatever you want to write!
- Stuck figuring out what your next step might be? Try the Write Kids’ Books Seriously YOLO Guide for children’s book writers.
This probably still seems like a lot to do. Just take a deep breath. It’s challenging, but then, who doesn’t love a challenge? Taking on difficult tasks is how we know we’re alive, right?
Decide if writing kids’ books is really something you want to do. I think so, if you’ve made it this far. So hang in there.
If that’s truly what you dream of, you CAN make it happen. You’re not alone. Find a writing community, maybe by joining your local SCBWI group. You can also sign up for my free emails for weekly bite-sized doses of encouragement.
Again, take a deep breath. Close your eyes. And dream of holding that book in your hands… the moment that makes it all worthwhile.