Vastly experienced Children’s publisher, editor and writer Simona Sideri offers her advice on creating books for children:
- Know your market. Children’s reading abilities may vary greatly but publishers and other professionals in the industry need a consensus of categories to operate within so it’s very important to understand the constraints and formats for your age range.
- Write as a child. Think about the events and emotions that pre-occupied you as a child. What excited, amused, frightened or fascinated you?
- Create a strong empathetic main character. Your young reader wants a childlike hero that they can relate to, even if it’s a small cuddly animal. Remember how the Lego movie imbued a plastic building brick with sympathetic qualities?
- Don’t make your main protagonist perfect. No one likes a goody-two-shoes; think how many naughty or otherwise flawed characters are beloved by children.
- Choose your language and sentence structures carefully. Remember that lots of children of all ages struggle with reading so opt for simple words and short sentences; imagine a chid sounding out the words in order to follow the story. Don’t write: “It was imprudent to say the least …” when you could say “ It was quite dangerous …”
- Don’t provide your own illustrations unless you are a professional. You may suggest images but generally publishers want to use their own illustrators and give them a free hand in creating pictures that add something to the text and provide visuals for an adult to discuss with the child.
- Be aware of ‘imitative’ behaviour. Books for younger children should not contain dangerous behaviour that readers might imitate, such as playing with matches, and it’s a good idea for the pictures at least to show there is an adult in the background, providing a notion of safety and comfort.
- Get the adults out of the way. The under sixes might require a safe world with a guardian figure nearby, but for older readers we need to give characters a free rein for their adventures which often requires the absence of adults, especially parents. Think how many stories involve orphans as in The Secret Garden or situations in which parents are marginalised and banished to the peripheries of the story as in The Railway Children, Swallows and Amazons.
- Edit and spell check your finished manuscript carefully. Messy texts don’t help your cause. Find the right publisher for your type of book and age group then follow their submission guidelines exactly.
- Don’t send a lengthy covering letter. Previous publications or industry experience are relevant as is teaching but saying your grandchildren love the story doesn’t cut any ice; your grandchildren love you!
Simona Sideri heads the Chalk the Sun team for our intensive six session Writing Children’s Books course starting 7 pm Thursday 8th October until 26th November in south-west London.
Click to see Simona’s magazines Story Box, Adventure Box and Discovery Box and Simona’s website