Just because you’re writing for kids doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy ride. On the contrary, children are some of the harshest critics. It needs as much thought and consideration as a book for adults, if not more! I’ve put together a collection of tips and thoughts from my experience of self-publishing a children’s picture book.
Every story needs to have conflict, even if it’s something simple.
A basic story structure has four key parts:
- Character has a need.
- A problem gets in the way of that need.
- Problem gets worse.
You don’t have to have a dramatic battle to have conflict. Something getting in the way of your character’s need is a conflict, whether that need is something as simple as sleep, or food.
Have a likeable character. You’re not going to have a huge character arc in a 32 page picture book of less than 500 words. Give at least one endearing trait to your character to make kids like them.
Don’t be afraid to address issues, but you’re not trying to change the world. People like books with morals, but you don’t want to ram it down someone’s throat. A subtle message leaves a nice afterthought to the story. Themes work well also.
Be exciting. Just because you’re writing for children doesn’t mean the story has to be boring. If you can’t enjoy it as an adult, why would a child enjoy it?
Children are not stupid, so don’t talk down to them.
Have a purpose. If the story has no point then there’s no point in the story. It doesn’t have to be a world changing idea, but if the character doesn’t change somehow, then the events that took place were pointless. Make sure the ending is satisfying.
Don’t try to rhyme if you’re not good at it.
Every word matters. If you can say something using fewer words, chances are it will be better. You have to be absolutely brutal. Pretend that you’re on a sinking ship and every unnecessary word pulls you down so you have to throw them overboard.
Whether you’re the illustrator, or you’re hiring one, these points are vital to producing a good book.
Consider composition and colour. Variation is key. Have double page spreads but also don’t be afraid of the white space. Vary the size and layout of the images and text to create extra interest for your readers. Think of your story as a journey, not just for the imagination but for the eyes too. You can have some dark pages if you have some colourful pages. Too much colour can be overwhelming, but too much dullness can be boring. You need balance.
Don’t forget where the spine of the book is. Particularly with double spreads or full bleed images, you could lose key parts of your image in the gutter and spoil the look of your spread. When you’re laying out the illustrations remember where the middle is and compromise for this.
Images can go on every page. Take a look at traditionally published books and see how things are displayed and laid out. Even the inside of the cover has images on. The title page and copyright page can display an image, even if it’s just a small one to make the page more attractive.
Make sure your illustrator has the exact size (including bleed if it goes right to the edges.) There’s nothing worse than trying to upload your book and you realise you haven’t got the size right!
Your cover will sell your book. What picture in the interior of your book best sums up the book as a whole? Is it vibrant and eye catching? Does it intrigue the reader? Make sure the title is big enough and easy to read at a small size. The author name is not important; title and image come first.
Make the illustrations light and bright. Images on screen always look brighter than those in print. Your illustrator might have to lighten the images before sending them to print. It might be worth considering changing the image format to CYMK (which is appropriate for printing press,) whereas to view images digitally the format will be RGB.
Include details. Good images will improve your reader’s experience. Add details in the background that give extra depth to your story. If you want your books to be read multiple times, you want your readers to discover things in your book that they hadn’t noticed before. It adds value for money.
Style. What kind of look and feel do you want your book to have? How are the illustrations going to set it apart from other kid’s books? Most illustrators have their own style when drawing. Do some research to figure out what works for your story and what looks good.
Think about what style and size font would be appropriate. Look at what other books are doing. A standard font is easier to be read. If the lines are spaced further apart, it is even easier to follow. It’s fine to vary the size and colours of the words if it fits in with the story, for example, a word written in bold and in red to express a character’s anger, but don’t overuse this technique. Use it sparingly for better effect.
Spacing the text and arranging it around images can provide extra interest for your reader as they follow the words. The text and images should always complement each other.
Use an industry size book to be eligible for expanded distribution. It will also sit better with other books on your reader’s bookshelf. For picture books, bigger is better to show off your illustrations.
How many pages is your book? Most POD services require a minimum of 32. Remember, the more pages, the more costly! Can you reduce the number of pages without compromising the story or images?
Choose your POD service wisely. Consider cost, ease of use for customers, distribution and visibility. Don’t be afraid to try a few to see how the final product compares. You can always switch to another service, or use multiple services.
Look at other kid’s books.
Look at new kid’s books, look at old classics, look at bad kid’s books and figure out what makes them so bad so that you can avoid those mistakes. Look at the art style, the variation of images, the layout of text, page numbers, word count, characters, moral message and ideas expressed, story content, book size, just look at everything you can think of. When you read it ask yourself why you did or didn’t like it, what would you have preferred it to be like?
Look at what’s popular and try to figure out why it’s popular. Is it educational? Exciting? Adorable? Do adults like it? Don’t try to copy, but try to emulate elements that make something good.
I’d love to hear any opinions you might have on the subject so feel free to comment, especially if you have any advice of your own!