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Writing Children’s Books - An Introduction to Children’s Book Publishing

Writing, Illustrating and/or Working with Kids Books


Ramona, children's book character

Many aspire to create children's classics, like the Ramona series by author Beverly Cleary

HarperCollins Children's Books
Children's book publishing generally operates very separately from adult publishing, even within the same publishing house. Books for kids are categorized by age range and are often illustrated. Due to these and other factors, there are unique considerations for those who want a career in the children's publishing industry--whether as an children's author or illustrator, or as a kid's editor, bookseller or librarian.

Children's Book Publishing Professionals
Children's book publishing industry professionals--not only editors, agents and publishers, but kid's booksellers and children's librarians--are gatekeepers for incredibly important customers: children and young adults. On the book publishing side, "kids" staffers tend to stick with the children's book specialty--there's generally not too much crossover to adult (or crossover from adult to kids).

Children's publishing pros take very seriously their roles of:
  • Helping to educate, stimulate and impassion young minds

  • Opening new and broader worlds of facts and ideas to kids. This is especially important when the kids are from under-served communities, where children without means often don't have access to a wider world than their neighborhood--except through their teachers and school libraries.

  • Fostering a love of reading and books that will enhance children's life-long literacy skills and serve them their entire lives. It's a proven fact that children who are exposed to books and reading early in their lives read and write better as adults--which makes them more equipped for success in school, on the job market, and in life in general.
All this from books? You bet.

Writing A Children's Book
Perhaps because so many of us learned our love of books as children, a lot of people aspire to write children's books. And it may seem to some wannabe kids book authors that writing books for children is easier than writing an adult book, or that it's easier to get a children's book published. Neither idea could be further from the truth.

Because engaging children to read is so important, children's books are important, and there is a high bar to entry--entry being getting a children's book published by an established publisher, that is.

If you are an aspiring children's book writer, you might think, "There are lots of crappy children's books out there. I could write and/or illustrate a kids book at least as good as [fill in the blank]." If this has occurred to you, consider the quote from the amazing Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, co-writers of (among many other things) the screenplays for Shrek, Antz, and Pirates of the Carribean. Their sage advice applies to children's books as well as films: "'Crap-plus-one' isn't really worth aspiring to. And it's not much of a career strategy." (Actually, Elliott and Rossio's advice applies to pretty much any artistic career...)

Therefore, if you're a writer or illustrator who aspires to crack the "children's literature" market--and maybe someday win a prestigious Newbery Medal or Caldecott Medal, then you'd do well to learn children's publishing conventions.

Notable Exceptions to Kids Book Rules: Book publishers will pretty much acquire anything that involves an already-established animated children's television character and/or is written by a celebrity, because publishers always look fondly on book projects that come with a built-in platform. (This is because built-in platforms give the project automatic consumer recognition, and increases the likelihood that the book will sell--publishing is a business, after all.) So if you own the rights to the former, or can legitimately call yourself the latter, you're probably already in contract for that book.

The Children's Book Market
If you aspire to work in some capacity with children's books, you'll need to learn as much as possible about what's already in the children's book market and where you might fit in.

For those aspiring to the editorial side of kids books, interview a knowledgeable, local children's bookseller--they'll be familiar with the marketplace and what house publishes each type of book.

Kids book writers and illustrators should consider joining The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, which provides a wealth of information, education and advocacy for its members. And/or approach the children's librarian at your local library, tell her or him what aspect of children's books you're looking into writing or illustrating and ask for suggestions of recommended books in the same format and age range.

Anyone who aspires to working with kids books should check out the consumer Children's Books Guide Site at About.com, where you'll find a great deal of information on kids books categorized by age range, subject, and much more.

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