Many people make the mistake of assuming that writing for children is easier than writing for adults. In fact, it can actually be more difficult as a number of factors such as age range, language, and appropriate content all need to be considered in ways that they wouldn’t in adult books.
Although submissions criteria vary from publisher to publisher, there are a number of things you can do to make sure your manuscript stands out from the rest.
A strong plot
A solid story with a strong ending will always grab an editor’s attention. Often, plots in children’s book submissions trail off or deviate in the middle of a story, or the ending falls flat. Keep things relatively simple - trying to do too much will weaken your plot. Building to a solid, exciting climax will make your reader want to keep turning the pages.
Engaging central characters
Characters are at the heart of stories. Imagine The Hunger Games without Katniss, Twilight without Edward, Tracy Beaker without Tracy Beaker. If your character is weak or underdeveloped, the story won’t engage the reader and the plot will falter. Look for something different or unusual about your character that sets them apart from anything that’s gone before. Give them a backstory; the better you know them, the better you’ll write them.
Finally, never forget the golden rule: children should drive the action. A story with adults as the central characters and passive children is never going to grab a young reader’s attention.
Know your market and age appropriateness
Know the market for contemporary children’s books. Look at what is on the shelves, what sells, what kids are engaging with. This doesn’t just extend to plot and character: think also about language, illustration (if required), format and covers.
"Never forget the golden rule: children should drive the action"
This is where age appropriateness comes in: it’s a much bigger factor in children’s books than in adult books. Submitting a novel with content suitable for 12+ readers to an imprint that publishes illustrated books for 6-8 year-olds won’t get you anywhere. Check the imprint guidelines. If the publisher accepts books for ages 3-5 and 6-10, don’t give them a book aimed at 4-8-year-olds.
And now for something completely different
Spark and originality go a long way toward grabbing an editor’s attention. This doesn’t necessarily mean creating a whole new Harry Potter-style world, it could be something as simple as writing from a new point of view, using a different style of language or highlighting current issues. At the moment, there’s a lot of discussion around stories that deal with LBGT, racial, social, economic or ethnic diversity issues. What can you give them that nobody else can?
Follow submission guidelines
It may sound simple, but it’s surprising how many authors submit a manuscript without following the submissions guidelines. It’s a massive pain for editors when a good manuscript comes in that hasn’t been pitched at the right imprint or age group and has been emailed to multiple publishing houses. It’s time consuming, but if you want your work to be seriously considered, do your research and tailor your submission. It’ll pay off in the long run.