Writing for Children

I was recently asked for writing advice (like I know anything!) by someone who wants to get into the children's books market.

Unfortunately I don't think I was very encouraging. What little I've gleaned over the years suggests that it is actually the most difficult market to write for. There are several reasons for this:
  • The children's market is pretty saturated already because new children are coming along all the time and they are happy to re-read the same thing their older siblings read three years ago. So books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which is 40 years old) or The Gruffalo have a constantly replenished market of excited new readers. A book for adults dates much more quickly, and adults are generally much more demanding of fresh, new books or the latest idea or twist. If you'll permit me the pun, children's books have a longer shelf life.
  • There is a perception that children's books are easy to write. Generally they are much shorter, so whereas it takes me about a year to write a 100,000 word novel, a children's book may take less than a week. Those for younger children, especially, tend to be very short and basic, and for that reason there are a lot of writers who choose this market and are competing for a slice of the pie. You have to have a totally original and gripping idea to get noticed among them all.
  • Books for children are expensive to produce. They generally have many colourful illustrations (which cost a great deal to print even after you've paid the artist) and have to be hard-wearing so printed onto good quality paper, and sometimes even board. They may have gimmicks like "lift-the-flap" which add considerably to the cost. Yet the cover price of the book has to be kept as low as possible, because parents don't generally have a large disposable income. This means that profit margins are lower, which makes publishers more nervous about taking chances on unknown writers.

I don't want all this to put anyone off, because children's books are so important. It's fostering a love of books at an early age which leads to adults hungry for good stories, and those of us who write for those adults are grateful to the wonderful writers whose inspiring books for young readers created our audience.


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