If you are an author or illustrator considering creating your first children’s book, here are some tips and guidelines to help you get the process started.
know your audience
When we talk about how to make children’s books, the first thing we should cover is that there are many different categories of children’s books based on the age of the reader.
- Board Books: These are typically designed for infants and toddlers. They often have very few pages, usually ranging from 12 to 24 pages. They are called “board books” because they are made from a heavy cardboard instead of regular paper. This is because babies this age tend to put everything in their mouth and their spit dissolves regular paper (likely making it a choking hazard.)
- Picture Books: Picture books, aimed at preschool and early elementary school children, vary in length. They are usually 32 pages (or 16 spreads) but can range from 24 to 48 pages or more (12 to 24 spreads respectively).
- Early (or Easy) Readers: These books are designed for children who are just beginning to read on their own (ages 4-6). They usually have around 32 to 64 pages.
- Chapter Books: These books are aimed at children (ages 7-10) who are transitioning to more complex stories. Chapter books can vary widely in length, typically ranging from 64 to 150 pages. They are mostly prose with a few illustrations.
- Middle Grade Novels: Middle grade novels are intended for readers aged 8 to 12. They usually have around 150 to 250 pages, though there can be exceptions on either end.
- Young Adult (YA) Novels: YA novels are aimed at teenagers (13 -18) and can have a wide range of page counts, often falling between 200 to 400 pages with some outliers (ie Twilight by Stephenie Meyer has 544 pages in the paperback version.)
Know your target word count
If you are a debut author who wants to be traditionally published, it’s best to stay within the standard guidelines so your manuscript isn’t auto-rejected by agents based on word count. Review the agent who you are querying’s guidelines to see if they have specific preferences and if your book meets those.
- Board Books:
- 50 to 100 words or fewer per book.
- Picture Books:
- 500 to 1,000 words, with a target of around 800 words or less.
- Early Readers:
- 1,000 to 5,000 words, typically broken into short chapters.
- Chapter Books:
- 10,000 to 20,000 words, often broken into multiple chapters.
- Middle Grade Novels:
- 20,000 to 50,000 words, with some flexibility based on the complexity of the story.
- Young Adult (YA) Novels:
- 50,000 to 80,000 words, although some YA novels can be much, much longer. (Hunger Games is nearly 100K, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is 198K)
choose a theme that will resonate
It’s important to note that not only language difficulty but also theme changes from reading level to reading level. The themes that most appeal to a child at age 3 are going to be different than at age 16.
Board books are going to be a lot of cute, educational content. Think caterpillars turning into butterflies, ABC’s, colors, shapes, numbers, and basic vocab.
Picture Books are often about developing friendships, imagination, and creativity. Sometimes they may include a moral lesson or be educational. What we think of as “bedtime stories” often fall in this category – but the subjects of picture books are extremely broad and can be fiction or non-fiction.
Middle Grade is an age where kids are gaining more independence but aren’t teenagers yet. Themes can often be gaining independence and finding one’s place in the world, navigating relationships and building friendships, and learning to relate to others. Think books like: The Percy Jackson series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Wonder.
Young Adult (YA): Teenage readers explore more complex themes like the challenges and transitions of adolescence, learning to express individuality and discover their own identity, as well as romantic relationships, first love, more complex emotional connections.