In the increasingly competitive world of the children’s book market, how do you get started? The most crucial step is to write the book, which will take some diligent brainstorming, and before you start writing, you need a story idea.
Fortunately for you, you are in the right place. We have outlined several ways below where you can find great children’s book ideas and get started on the writing and publishing process.
We have included theme ideas and other important factors to consider throughout the writing process.
Remember that you may not get your idea polished and ready to go overnight. Getting your angle right may take some trial and error if you are a first-time author. Remember, there are several different types of children’s books, and the one you choose to write will direct the rest of your creative process.
Types of children’s books (and ideas for each)
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”C.S. Lewis
Before you get started, it is important to know what type of children’s book you want to write. That requires a knowledge of your target audience, including the children who will read your book and the parents who will buy it. There are four main types of children’s books:
1. Picture books
The picture book is one of the first children’s book ideas that comes to mind when we think of children’s books. These are colorful, short, and fun books to capture a child’s attention and teach them simple life lessons.
Picture books are typically aimed at readers aged between 2 and 8. They often follow a character of the same age through a small adventure, such as doing chores around the house or searching for a lost pet. The main character in such a book is a pet itself or another animal.
Picture book ideas
ABC’s – As simple as ABC. Books based on learning the alphabet, colors, or other basic education are popular. All children will learn these basics no matter what, so there will always be a market.
Still, since they are so common, making your book stand out among the rest can be challenging. That is where exciting characters, the proper use of style, and engaging design and layout come into play.
Animal books – Animals are among children’s favorite topics to read. As a young child still learning fundamental things about the world, animals are fascinating. These living creatures with faces similar to ours, from giant elephants and prowling tigers to soft kitty cats and playful puppies, will surely engage any young child.
Again, this is a big market, so you need to consider more than just the theme regarding your appeal to the children and parents whom you want to buy your book. Consider zoo animals, wild animals, and common pets—bonus points for themes such as friendship and coming of age in your animal characters. Your book’s themes and life lessons may influence a parent to buy your book over another author’s.
Princes and princesses – Kids love to imagine themselves in the world of princes and princesses to whom they can relate. This also includes kings, queens, knights, horses, and castles.
The fun is that no child reader does not live in a castle and does not wear a luxurious dress every day, but these young characters share much the same problems as the reader—from doing chores to speaking to adults and getting an education.
This type of book is also called ‘imaginative.’ It does not just have to be about noble families. Space creatures, underwater animals, and robots can also feature successfully as characters in imaginative playbooks.
2. Early readers
Early readers are typically aimed at children between 5 and 9 years old. These are the first ‘chapter’ books that a child will read. The chapters are few and short but do not let that fool you. Short and few chapters mean that you need to keep the entire story concise.
Children who read an early reader’s book may do so with or without the help of a parent. If a parent is not there to read with them, then a trailing narrative or too much fluff will bore the child. The parent will see the child get bored with your book and is unlikely to recommend it to fellow parents.
Early reader book ideas and considerations
The main areas and themes to focus on when creating an early reader include:
Humor – As mentioned earlier, an early reader needs to be incredibly engaging. Children have short attention spans, especially for things they do not like. No matter what you choose to write about, keep it fun—maybe a main character that is accident-prone or a side character that always makes jokes.
Age and development – The characters and scenarios in your early reader should align with those in the child’s life. Since your target reader will be aged between 5 and 9, choose to focus on topics such life experiences at home and school. Set your characters in their home, garden, or school to relate to the reader.
Unlike picture books, which are typically low in conflict, you can introduce some moral lessons to the early reader, such as consequences for actions or the journey involved in making friends. These are helpful topics for parents, too.
Even though some readers will read alone, many will read with their parents. This offers an opportunity for parents to discuss topics and themes with their children and aid in their social development. The more you can focus on encouraging discussion around your book between parents and children, the better the parents will receive your book.
Illustration – Early readers feature themes and character arcs that teach the reader essential life lessons. As such, it is important to keep readers engaged in the story.
A great way to make sure you get the messages, themes, and lessons across to the reader is to support them with illustrations. If you are not a skilled illustrator or do not know where to begin with style, colors, and tone, reach out to a professional children’s book illustrator for help. It may cost a little more, but the return on a well-illustrated book makes it worth it.
3. Middle grade
Middle-grade novels present a much more significant challenge to authors than the previous two. Of course, there is no need to compare the creative process. Still, a good middle-grade novel is much longer in word count than a picture book or early reader, and there is a greater responsibility on the author to craft a compelling story that leaves an impact.
Considerations for writing a middle-grade novel
Conflict – Considering that your target reader is aged between 8 and 12, you as an artist must remember the trials and tribulations of that age. Children in this age bracket are slowly but surely developing their relative independence from their parents. They probably will not read this book with their parents anymore; instead, with their classmates at school or by themselves.
Independence – Your main character and his or her friends should be the ones engaging in the moral questions your story represents. This is a time for your reader to start making their own ethical decision, so avoid too strong an influence from parent characters or authority figures.
The best middle grade books show the reader, through the character, that mistakes may be made on the journey to independence but that those mistakes are also precious life lessons.
Friendship – Your themes must relate to the reader. Again, parents are unlikely to read these books with their children, so you need to engage the reader directly. Your reader’s age bracket (8–12) is a time when kids do a lot of growing up. Friendship is a prevailing theme in their lives, so it is wise to focus on the relationships between your characters and how they develop.
Self-awareness – In this age bracket, kids are slowly becoming aware of their bodies and how they are beginning to change. Ideally, parents and teachers will talk to their children about such topics and offer all the support they need. Still, not everyone feels comfortable talking about such things, adults included, so books are a famous mediator.
So, write about the physical and psychological changes children of this age may be going through. Do so with care and sensitivity, remembering that children develop at different paces, but make sure to normalize change.
4. Young adult
Young adult fiction is aimed at readers whose age range are between 12 and 18. As such, fun and colorful illustrations and short, easy-to-read chapters just will not cut it. Writing for young adults is a whole niche and deserves its own article. Still, there are some basic things to consider regarding the approach, themes, and structure that you can learn here.
Age – Write about characters that fit your target readers’ age bracket. You want to write for young adults, so make your main characters and or their friends or sidekicks around that age. In general, it is wiser to choose an older age, such as 16–18, or even a character in their early twenties. Teenagers are keen to grow up and gain the freedom of adulthood, so they like to read about characters that are slightly older than them.
Sensitive topics – If you are a first-time author, you may feel like staying away from sensitive topics such as sexuality, underage drinking, or violence. However, if you want to engage a young adult, dive into the topics you think may be too controversial.
Sure, the sensitive parents who want more control than necessary over what their children read may not buy your book, but if you can make an impact on your target reader, then their friends will want to read it too, and word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools out there.
Emotions, authenticity, relationships – Do not make the all-too-common mistake of thinking that young adult fiction is regular fiction dumbed down.
Your readers are keen to explore characters, lifestyles, and topics that some of the adults in their lives may not be able to discuss with them. Remember being a teenager and the trials and tribulations that came with it. When crafting your story, whether it is sci-fi, fantasy, or romance, remember to keep your characters as authentic as possible. Do not be afraid to tackle big emotions and explore relationships. These are the themes and topics that your readers want to learn about and discuss with each other.
Is it a good time to publish a children’s book?
There is never a better time to publish a children’s book. More and more readers are choosing to buy e-books from retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, which can be read on tablets, phones, laptops, and specific devices such as the Kindle reader.
What does that mean for kids book writers? It means that your customers, often the parents of the children for whom the book has been created, have to spend less time in brick-and-mortar stores looking for entertainment or education for their children. Instead, they can browse online stores with their children and find the perfect book together.
Another reason publishing is easier and even more profitable now than ever before is that online stores and publishers offer various options for writers. You can print hard copies of your book and distribute them to brick-and-mortar stores or save money on printing costs by only creating an e-book.
Many publishing services also offer a print-on-demand (POD) service, where you will pay for printing costs, but that will be deducted from your income, and only when a book is requested for print.
Need more inspiration?
All authors are far too familiar with the dreaded writer’s block. It happens to all creatives at one point, but it does not have to last. There is a wealth of inspiration to be found in the world around you.
Simply look around the house for writing prompts if you want to try your hand at a children’s picture book or an early reader. What features of your homes, such as pet, color, and room, stand out?
For example, you could see your bathroom and develop an idea about toys in the bath. Maybe walking past your garden, you get inspired to write about the insects that live out there.
Middle-grade novels and young adult fiction may not be so easy to get inspired for, but the inspiration is there.
If you know children between 8 and 12 or 12 to 18, talk to them and see what they are interested in. You can even ask them about book ideas, and they will be happy to help you create a book about a character just like them.
The same principle applies to young readers. You can learn a lot about what they like by simply talking to them.
Finally, read, read, read! You simply cannot be a good writer if you do not read as much as possible. Most great authors would even admit that much of the inspiration for their work comes from standing on the shoulders of giants.
Get your hands on plenty of books created for your target audience and see what makes them stand out.
Should I self-publish my children’s book?
Once you have got your mind focused on a children’s book idea, it is hard not to get excited about what comes next. Writing, designing, formatting, and publishing are your next steps, and what an adventure.
If you just want to write a children’s book and find it there, then you will likely approach a traditional publishing house to help you take care of the rest. However, that can be expensive and limiting, so many children’s book writers today get their story ideas out there through self-publishing.
There is a wealth of self-publishing platforms available online for free or at a low cost, so it is worth researching. The better you become at self-publishing your work, the more money you can make from it.
Writing children’s books can be a lucrative career if you have the skill. If you’ve chosen a self-publishing platform over a traditional publisher, be aware that marketing your book can be challenging but the most significant challenge comes at the start—finalizing your idea.
You need to have a direction, theme, and message ready to go before you start writing a complete story, or else you risk falling off track and spending far more time than necessary re-organizing your thoughts in front of a blank page.
So, consider the ideas outlined above and the different types of children’s books you could write. Get your creative juices flowing from the considerations and ideas we have shared, but do not stop looking for inspiration elsewhere.