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The Challenges of Writing a Children's Book

So, you want to write a children's book.

So, you want to write a children's book.

I regularly meet authors who hope to write a children's book. Usually, they're talented and creative moms whose own kids have been the lucky recipients of their writing gifts. Now, these moms want to share their work with other kids and parents.

The task seems easy enough, right? Simple words, maybe some pretty pictures. Wrong! Writing a children's book can be tough. Self-publishing and marketing a children's book could be a legal nightmare. Here are some of the challenges.

1. Age Appropriateness

I don't have to tell any parent that kids can grow fast, both physically and mentally. What was a favorite toy or pastime today may be viewed as babyish tomorrow. So knowing the age level of the target reading audience is critical. There is no homogenous "child" book market. It goes all the way from preschool up to young adult (YA). A book for a fourth-grader will be completely different than one written for a four-year-old. A professional children's book editor can be of great help in this determination.

2. Reading Grade Level

Children's ability to expand vocabulary and comprehend complex language structure matures over time. Do you know what's appropriate for your target reader age group? Tools such as the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Index may be utilized when a book is being evaluated for reading grade level. Again, a professional children's book editor can be of assistance with this issue.

3. Children's Book Content Issues

Though this should be obvious, certain types of content, language, and subject matter are inappropriate for children. Consulting attorneys, editors, and regulatory bodies familiar with children's content issues is recommended to help ensure compliance.

4. "Children's Book" Isn't Synonymous With "Picture Book"

I've observed that prospective children's book authors, especially those who are considering self-publishing, are often enamored with the illustration side of the children's book equation. Often they're considering the illustrations before they even finish the book's text!

I can understand why this happens. It's part of the visualization process. Having a mental picture of some future accomplishments can be very motivating. In some cases, these authors may be illustrators themselves. So they may be toying with the visuals while they are working on the text.

But I would encourage all children's book authors to stop and consider the following issues.

Often when authors think "children's book," they automatically think "picture book." Not always the case! Children's need for illustration to accompany book text wanes as they mature intellectually. Knowing the tipping point between what is an appropriate amount and type of illustration and what is overdoing it can be difficult. Again, the age and reading level needs to be determined before deciding on illustrations in terms of amount and type. Getting expert editorial advice on illustration appropriateness for various ages and reading levels is highly recommended.

A huge consideration for self-published authors when it comes to illustration is money. Depending on the quantity, complexity, and production demands of the designs, hiring this talent could run into hundreds or thousands of dollars. Plus, the time investment needed to review the work of potential illustrator talent could also be significant.

Want the pictures to print in beautiful color? Though prices have come down considerably over the years as technology improves, full-color printing can still be as high as triple (or more!) the cost of black-and-white.

Think getting a traditional book deal will solve the illustration cost and effort issue? It could, if the publishing house accepts responsibility for this aspect as part of their contract with the author. But realize that the publisher may also insist on who illustrates the book. This can cause disappointment if the author was hoping for more artistic control. They forget the principle of "they pay, they say."

5. Marketing for Children's Books

Important: Do not market directly to children without legal advice since it can be subject to prohibitions and regulations relating to children's advertising and privacy! Consult an attorney familiar with advertising regulations for children and children's products before doing ANY children's book marketing.

Because children, especially the very young, are probably not buying these books themselves, children's books must also appeal to parents. This can require careful targeting well beyond the marketing capabilities and finances of self-published authors.

Self-published authors who are not willing to do the research and investment that this marketing could take may want to pitch the book idea to a traditional publishing house instead. The publisher may have more experience and resources to address these issues. Do research to find publishers that are experts in the children's book arena.

Don't Go It Alone

Of all the genres of book writing, children's book writing and publishing are demanding and should not be attempted alone.

  • Strongly consider if pursuing the traditional publishing route, as opposed to self-publishing, would help deal with the higher liability and costs that children's books present.
  • Whether considering the traditional or self-publishing option, get an editor that is experienced and dedicated to the children's book market!
  • Consult attorneys and commercial insurance providers familiar with the marketing and distribution of children's books and products to help ensure compliance with applicable regulations, especially when self-publishing.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is it costly to publish children literature compared to other books?

Answer: In all honesty, I think it could be more expensive to self-publish children's literature, compared to adult works. This is simply due to the extra expense that might be incurred due to specialized editor services needed for children's books, and the possibility of adding illustrations. The illustrations can be very costly.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 24, 2018:

Peg, truly is sad to see kids growing up fast and outgrowing content these days! They are able to handle much more mature material than we ever did at their age. All the more reason to get a good editor when doing children's books.

Thanks for adding that great point to the conversation! Have a great weekend!

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on August 23, 2018:

Useful information here. What used to serve as educational and entertaining books for some of us (of a certain age) are now considered babyish and immature to the youth of today. Sad to see kids growing up so fast.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 16, 2017:

Happy Monday, MsDora! Glad you found this helpful. Thanks for stopping by and have a great week ahead! P.S. Nice new profile pic to start the New Year!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 16, 2017:

Great bits of information. I especially appreciate the explanation on children's books versus children's picture books. Thanks for being so helpful.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 13, 2017:

Hi Flourish! Probably more than any other genre, kid books are, in my opinion, one of the toughest. Like you, I don't illustrate either. Thank goodness, I write for adults who don't need pictures. ;) Thanks for your kind words and have a wonderful weekend!

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 13, 2017:

This is phenomenally helpful. You highlight so many issues that most would-be authors in this genre probably haven't considered. Your articles are getting better and better! Keep the great advice coming! I used to want to publish a children's story I have in my head but I sure don't illustrate. That was the end of that. So I just share it verbally with the kids I am close to.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 13, 2017:

Thanks for stopping by, Larry! Have a great weekend!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on January 13, 2017:

Interesting overview.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 13, 2017:

Happy Friday, Billybuc! I also have "don't touch this" policy when it comes to writing or editing children's books. Ugh! It's just one of those fields that looks so simple from the outside, but it extremely complex. Like you, I'll stick to my "knitting" of business nonfiction. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Weekend!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 13, 2017:

I could probably do it, but it would be a major challenge, one I'm not willing to take on. Great points made here, but this old man will stick with thrillers, thank you very much.

Happy Friday my friend! We made it through another week.