How to Make a Children’s Book Without an Illustrator or a Publisher

make a children's book

Have you always wanted to write a children’s picture book and wondered what it takes to make one? For many authors and illustrators working for children, the main reason is the smiles they put on kids’ faces. And what’s your reason? Do you have an incredible idea you want to share with the world? Have you come up with a quirky character that will win children’s love? Or perhaps you simply want to turn your kid’s favourite bed-time story into a picture book? Whatever your reason, now is a great time to make a children’s book.

Writing, illustrating and publishing a book used to be hard. Often, having a great story and being talented wasn’t enough – you needed an illustrator friend (or money to hire an illustrator), an agent and connections. Traditional publishing is a mean industry that doesn’t think twice when they discard someone’s new work. Luckily, you don’t have to go down the route of traditional publishing anymore unless you really want to. Making a children’s book has become easier than you think – just follow these simple steps.

Step 1: Define Your Audience

The first thing to do before you start writing is to be crystal clear about your audience. In children’s books, this means defining your readers’ age group. When you know the age group, you’ll automatically know which format will work best, how long or short the book should be, and the type of language you should use.

Recommended Children’s Book Length by Age Group:

Ages 0 – 3Board bookUp to 200 words
Ages 2 – 5Early picture book200 – 500 words
Ages 4 – 7Picture book500 – 800 words
Ages 5 – 8Older picture book500 – 1,000 words
Ages 6 – 10Chapter book3,000 – 10,000 words
Ages 8 – 12Middle gradeUp to 30,000 words

Choosing the target age group will determine not only your book’s length and format but also the difficulty of the vocabulary you use. That’s hugely important because children need to understand the book well – only then they’ll be able to enjoy it and engage with it. If you’re struggling with a term or a phrase, simplified synonyms are the way to go. For example, you’d want to use “Italian food” instead of “Italian cuisine” in a book for younger children.

Step 2: Nail Your Book’s Category and Structure

Now that you’ve identified your target age group, it’s time to do some basic book structure planning. I’m not talking about the layout of each page here – first, we need to determine how the book will work, where your illustrations will be, and how much text you want on each page. Again, the age group dictates the structure (more or less):

CategoryAgeNumber of PagesIllustrations
Picture book0-3up to 20Every page
Younger picture book2-5up to 32Every page
Older picture book4-7up to 40Every page
Picture storybook5-1032+Every page
Chapter book6-11up to 100Almost every page
Middle Grade book8-1282+At least 15 illustrations

A good way to work on the structure of your book is to use old-fashioned pen and paper, and outline your book’s pages. You don’t have to stick to this first draft but it will serve as guidelines for further development and it will help you decide what kind of illustrations you want on which page.

Step 3: Choose Your Writing Style

Just like your book structure, word length and type, the choice of your writing style will largely depend on the age group. Of course, the storyline and your personal preferences will also play a huge role but you’ll need to make sure they’re a good choice for your age group (or downgrade or upgrade the story).

Consider the following when settling on a writing style:

  • Write for children – this is obvious, isn’t it? We are talking about making a children’s book after all! But here’s a shocking bit of information: you’re an adult and you talk and write like an adult. Writing for children is a lot more difficult than writing for adults, believe it or not. In a way, it’s a bit like writing for aliens who think and see the world completely differently. That’s why a lot of famous authors never dared to tackle children’s books. Writing for children isn’t as easy as simplifying the language – you have to adopt a new mindset and remember what it’s like being a child.
  • Rhyme or not – children, as well as parents, love rhyming stories. But the problem for you as an author is that you have to make rhymes sound very, VERY good. If your rhymes are bad or forced, you’d be better off writing in prose but making the story alive and exciting.
  • Present or past – the majority of literature is written in the past tense. Think about great works like “Oliver Twist”, “Anna Karenina”, and “Harry Potter” (yes, “Harry Potter” is on my list of great works). All these are written in the past tense and that’s what most authors choose. However, children (especially small children) prefer the present tense because it’s easier for them to understand and it makes the story EXCITING. I mean, it’s happening now and that’s what keeps them reading or listening if their parent is reading to them. Of course, the choice is yours but do consider writing in the present tense.
  • Third person or first person – this is another big choice for you to make. Again, we’re used to third person narrative (although more and more authors are switching to first person to make their stories more engaging and personal). Children love stories written in first person, especially if all events are happening to the main character we see on every page and we want to know his/her opinions. But often third person will be more appropriate. Choose well!

Remember, there is no right or wrong here – it’s your story and it’s going to be your book. It’s just a question of style: choose one and stick to it.

Step 4: Include Important Elements to Make a Good Story

I’m sure you have a unique story idea that makes you eager to start writing. But before you do that, make sure that you have all the important elements that make a children’s book great in place:

  • Strong, unforgettable characters. What were your favourite books when you were a child? Mine were picture books about Doris the Cat, Moomin stories, Pippi Longstocking, and The Wind in the Willows to name a few. Do you know what all these books have in common? Characters! All these characters are quirky, fun, and unforgettable. Children love characters they can relate to or be like. So, what’s your character going to be like?
  • Good storyline. A good story is always a line of obstacles and challenges your characters have to deal with. Even if it’s something minor, like stopping worrying about everything or finding out where raindrops come from. Without a good storyline, a story is bland.
  • Realistic dialogue. This is a tricky one because even the best authors tend to either make dialogue sound too book-like, or slip into writing all the “eh” and “well… I mean” we use in everyday speech. Finding a good balance and making your characters sound just right is what you should aim for.

These are the main elements of a good children’s book. Of course, there’s no universal formula but you’ll know your book is a success if children ask parents to read it to them over and over again.

Step 5: Make Your Children’s Book Online

When you’re ready to start writing, head over to your favourite text editor and write your first draft. You can then send the first draft to your illustrator if you’re using one, or head over to BookBildr, create your free account, and choose your preferred book format. Square and landscape books are best for younger children because you can really showcase your illustrations, while portrait books are perfect for older kids and books with more text.

Once you’re inside the BookBildr editor, start working on your book. Make sure you read the “Using the Editor” section of the FAQs and read this post on the blog because you begin so that you won’t have any questions about how to format your book. Also, download and print out this children’s book writing checklist!

And now the fun part begins – type your text, select pictures from a wide range of vector illustrations we have to offer (or upload your own illustrations). When you’re ready, place your order. You can download your book in PDF or order it in softcover or hardcover to have it delivered to your doorstep. It’s as simple as that.

When you decide to make a children’s book, you don’t need to spend tons of money on an illustrator, designer or get a contract with a publishing house. Just make sure your story is fantastic and BookBildr will do all the printing and shipping.