Writing a Children’s Book

Several times a week (or so it seems), we receive an email from someone, usually accompanied by an attachment or two, who has written a children's book, and wants either for us to publish it or to offer advice on how to get it published. Apart from a few notable exceptions, Lantern doesn't publish children's books. The children's book market is a vast and complicated market, which runs parallel to the adult publishing world.

This page serves as a response to all those who ask Lantern about publishing a children's book. It's certainly not meant to be the last word, and there are many sites that are more definitive. But, for what it's worth, here's our advice.

First of all, you need to figure out the age group for which you're writing your book. Is it for toddlers (i.e. under four years old), or four- to seven-year-olds, or for older children? Do you actually have what is called a YA (or Young Adult) book, the market for which begins at about ten and can stretch into the mid-teens? Beware the cliché that you're writing for "children of all ages." Publishers need to know that you understand your market; the more targeted and savvy you are, the better.

The age-group question will also help you determine how many illustrations (and what kind) you will need in your book. Will it be a full-color picture book, or will there only be line-drawings? How much text will there be? If you're not sure of the answer, then you need to go to the children's section of a bookstore and look at your competition. Find books that you think either look or read like the one you've written, and see how the author/illustrator/publisher have answered those questions.

Once you have settled on one or two books that you think match your own, then you should note the name of the title, author, and publisher. If the book has an "acknowledgments" page, then you should also note the name of the author's agent or editor—both of whom the author is likely to have thanked. Then you should go home and look at the publisher's website to see if the children's book you liked is the kind of book of which the publisher publishes a lot, or if it's just an outlier. (If it's an outlier, then you can be fairly sure that, like Lantern, it's not going to be a serious children's book publisher.) You can also look up the agent's website to see if they're still in business, and also see if the editor is still at the publishing house that published the book you like.

Your next task is to contact the publisher, or better yet the agent for the author, and to send them your proposal. Explain how your book is similar to the book they published or sold, and, just as importantly, how it is different. Tell the publisher and agent how much you liked the book they published or sold, and be specific. People like to be flattered and they like to know that you're paying attention. Be nice, precise, and concise.

Two other things: First, children's book publishers like to use their own illustrators. So, unless you've got an extraordinary illustrator, or you are one yourself, you needn't concern yourself with getting an illustrator—although the publisher will want to know you have a vision for your book. Second, children's book publishing, like all book publishing, depends heavily on the wherewithal and energy of the author to promote themselves and their book. Start reading to kids in libraries or in bookstores, work with schools to promote reading – in short, show the publisher/agent that you know how to reach your target audience. You may even find that you don't need to go to a publisher, but can self-publish and sell directly to the audience you read to.

The Takeaway

    • Know your market.
    • Do your research.
    • Be persistent, but patient.
    • Investigate self-publishing.
  • Have fun and be creative.