how to write children’s books

This article is all about how to write children’s books, including advice on children’s book age group, children’s book word count, children’s book page count, how to write a children’s book query letter, and how to find children’s book literary agents and publishers.

How to Write a children’s book

Many writers turn to the Internet, wondering how to write children’s books, or searching for ideas for writing a children’s book. “Children’s book” is a popular term, but when it comes to true children’s book publishing, it’s problematic. Why? Because the children’s book publishing industry is actually segmented into many different categories. Savvy writers know this, and don’t throw around the more general “children’s book” term.

For babies to gum on, there are board books, then picture books, early readers for kids starting to read independently, then novel-like chapter books, middle grade novels, all the way up to young adult novels for teen readers (and beyond). 

So the simple question of how to write children’s books has more angles upon deeper examination. However, one thing ties most children’s book writers together: They are passionate about reaching young readers at a very dynamic time in their lives. Kids are voracious about their books, and they fall hard for stories and characters. People who want to write children’s books admire and respect their young readers, without ever wanting to preach to or talk down to them. They are able to access their own childhood memories when gathering ideas for writing a children’s book. They care deeply about their young audiences.

But to really succeed in the children’s book market, you need to be specific about what you’re writing, how long it is, and which category you’re targeting. Read on to learn more, so that you don’t use this generic term again.

children’s book Age Group

As discussed above, there isn’t just one children’s book age group, there are many. Here they are, broken down from youngest to oldest:

  • Board Book Age Group: 0 to 2

  • Young Picture Book Age Group: 2 to 4

  • Picture Book Age Group: 4 to 6

  • Nonfiction Picture Book Age Group: 5+

  • Early Reader Age Group: 5 to 7

  • Chapter Book Age Group: 6 to 8

  • Young Middle Grade Age Group: 8 to 10

  • Middle Grade Age Group: 9 to 12

  • Upper Middle Grade Age Group: 12+

  • Young Adult Age Group: 13+

  • Young Adult Fantasy Age Group: 13+

  • New Adult Age Group: 16+

You’ll notice some overlap here. It has a lot to do with different children reaching different levels of reading skill at different ages. Some of these numbers will be guidelines, as a result, rather than hard and fast rules.

children’s book Word Count

Children’s book word count varies by children’s book age group, as you may have guessed by now. So if you’re wondering how many words are in a children’s book, you have to go back and ask yourself, “What kind of children’s book?” Here is a list of word count for children’s books, going from youngest to oldest readers:

  • Board Book Word Count: Up to 100

  • Young Picture Book Word Count: 400

  • Picture Book Word Count: 600

  • Nonfiction Picture Book Word Count: 1,000 to 3,000

  • Early Reader Word Count: 300 to 1,200

  • Chapter Book Word Count: 1,500 to 10,000

  • Young Middle Grade Word Count: 15,000 to 25,000

  • Middle Grade Word Count: 25,000 to 45,000

  • Upper Middle Grade Word Count: 45,000 to 65,000

  • Middle Grade Fantasy Word Count: 65,000 to 85,000

  • Young Adult Word Count: 45,000 to 85,000

  • Young Adult Fantasy Word Count: 75,000 to 95,000

  • New Adult Word Count: 80,000+

children’s book Page Count

The publishing industry mostly discusses unpublished projects at the manuscript stage in terms of word count. If you’re wondering, how long is a children’s book?, you’ll find some children’s book page count guidelines here.

  • Board Book Page Count: 16 to 24

  • Young Picture Book Page Count: 24 to 32

  • Picture Book Page Count: 32 to 48

  • Nonfiction Picture Book Page Count: 32 to 64

  • Early Reader Page Count: 32 to 48

  • Chapter Book Page Count: 48 to 80

  • Young Middle Grade Page Count: 64+

  • Middle Grade Page Count: 100+

  • Upper Middle Grade Page Count: 160+

  • Middle Grade Fantasy Page Count: 180+

  • Young Adult Page Count: 240+

  • Young Adult Fantasy Page Count: 300+

  • New Adult Page Count: 300+

Keep in mind that page count is more relevant to published books. Books for younger readers tend to have fixed page counts, while page counts can vary widely with font size and book layout, especially when it comes to novels.

Special children’s book considerations

Once you start zeroing in on what kind of children’s book you’re writing, you may start thinking about a big component of how to get a children’s book published: the pictures! Children’s book illustrations are a large part of the conversation of writing children’s books, especially in books for the youngest readers. But before you start learning about illustrating children’s books or hire a children’s book illustrator, keep in mind that only board books, picture books, and early readers are typically illustrated. Chapter books do tend to have some art, though it may be spot illustration (the occasional pages of art, or art accompanying the chapter headings).

Keep in mind that children’s book illustrations have evolved tremendously into their own art form. Most hobby artists can no longer compete with what’s being published in today’s marketplace. So supplying your own illustrations is often a bad idea. And you may not need to hire a children’s book illustrator before submitting your project to a publisher, either. Most publishers will want to choose the illustrator, so many projects are sold as simple manuscript text. If you’re specially trained at illustrating children’s books, you can submit your text and art as an author-illustrator, otherwise it’d be prudent to take the text-only route.

how to publish children’s books

You probably came to this page wondering how to get a children’s book published. Now you know that there are many types of children’s books, for many ages and categories of child reader. So instead of asking how to publish a children’s book, start learning more about the type of children’s book you want to write. Here are some articles to get you started: How to Write a Children’s Picture Book, How to Write a Nonfiction Picture Book, How to Write a Children’s Early Reader, How to Write a Children’s Chapter Book, How to Write Middle Grade Fiction, and How to Write a Young Adult Novel.

Once you know what kind of project you’re working on, you can start researching children’s publishers or children’s book literary agents that represent your specific category. You can write them a children’s book query letter with your pitch. And when you do finally submit your project, you’ll know better than to call it a “children’s book,” because you will have done your research and given yourself a stronger shot at success!

You can learn more about the book submission process here.

hiring a children’s book EDITOR

Now you know more about how to write children’s books. It always helps to have an extra set of eyes on your manuscript, ideally with extensive experience in the children’s book market. Check out further resources on how to find an editor, and get insight into editorial service rates.

Please don’t hesitate to check out my writing craft book or reach out for editorial services via the contact form, below.

Click here to purchase Writing Irresistible Kidlit, my book on fiction craft for MG and YA novels, out from Writer's Digest Books. This will show you my writing craft philosophy and give you lots of valuable advice, including tips for the novel revision process and self-editing. There are over 35 example novels cited and discussed throughout. It’s a valuable resource for any writer’s toolkit.

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