6 Common Mistakes Children’s Authors Often Make!
Writers often want to begin their writing career by writing a children’s book, which they perceive will be easier to write and sell than adult fiction or non-fiction. (In later articles, we will discuss the elements of composition that go into creating a great children’s book.) In reality, the genre of children’s literature is among the most difficult in which to be successful, in spite of its continually robust growth.Here are 6 keys to assuring that your children’s book doesn’t commit any of the most common mistakes that are difficult to correct, even with the best marketing plan and approach.In choosing an illustrator, make sure that the illustrator also understands the characteristics and capabilities of your intended age bracket.
1. Not creating the book to be purpose-built for a specific age bracket; not understanding the age bracket you have chosen
This is the most classic mistake that a children’s author can make — writing a story that is not specifically intended for a particular age bracket, or failing to understand the reading level, attention span or appropriate vocabulary for the age bracket you have chosen. Think how differently a 3-year old child is from an 8-year old, or a 6-year old from a 9-year old. Because of these marked differences, children’s literature is a genre in which the age bracket must be clear. The reading ability, vocabulary, interests, attention span and social life of children of different ages is massively different. Know your audience, especially when it comes to children’s literature, including language/vocabulary, subject matter, illustration style, and length. Don’t guess — do your homework!
If you did not intend your children’s book to be consumed by a specific age bracket, there are likely already problems that might be difficult to overcome.
2. Not understanding the difference between a board book, a children’s story book and a children’s picture bookIf you don’t know if your children’s book is a board book, a story book or a picture book, then it was clearly not purpose-built. A board book is a book for very small children, with the pages pasted to heavy cardboard, as they are generally intended for children who are rough with their early books. It often has tactile qualities, such as things to touch or hear. The wildly and enduringly popular book, Pat the Bunny, is a classic example of this type of book. It has no real plot but is more meant to teach toddlers and those a bit older about something, such as the names of particular animals.
A picture book, on the other hand, tells your story in illustration to the same extent as the words also tell the story. The illustrations are equal in importance and weight to the words. These books are generally developed most often as bedtime stories for pre-readers. The illustration style of a picture book is generally created to appeal to that age bracket.
A story book is a more often a more well-developed story, can be a bit longer, and the illustrations, although important, can be more sophisticated in nature and need not equally tell the story. Story books often have a more well-developed plot line, characters, and although often used as bedtime stories, are for older children.
Following story books, most children at about age 8 or above move on to chapter books that are longer and more sparsely illustrated.
Be sure your children’s book is purpose-built specifically for one of these categories.
3. Having the book illustrated before it was fully and professionally edited
Book design and illustration for children’s books often includes the specific placement and design of the text to be a part of the overall illustration. Once the illustrations are complete, it is sometimes difficult to make any changes at all to the text. Some illustrators can unintentionally box you into a corner in making corrections, requiring expensive redesign to a spread. To avoid this, make absolutely sure that you have your book professionally edited — not by a friend, family member, local English teacher, or colleague — but by a ‘for real and true book editor’ with experience in editing children’s manuscripts. The editor should also help you to assure that the language and reading level is appropriate for a particular age bracket. Then, and only then, are you ready to hire an illustrator.
4. Choosing a title and/or a cover that doesn’t intrigue a prospective buyer
Keep in mind that parents are most often the purchase decision makers for children’s books, choosing them because they like the cover, the title, the subject matter and, depending on the age bracket, the length. When they purchase books in person, they are able to make an assessment of many other factors as well, including level of vocabulary, design, and illustration. But when they purchase a book online, they have little to go on other than the title and cover image, and sometimes the description and testimonials. So they most often make their initial decision based on the title and the cover alone. If these two things don’t favorably attract their attention, that book will not even make it into the final consideration set.
Is your title inviting? Does it sound fun, joyful, intriguing, comical, make you want to know ‘the rest of the story,’ or is it a title that sounds like more of the same? Does it make you want to know what will happen? Does it contain ideas or images that might be disturbing to some parents? In choosing your title, work with a book marketer who can assure that your title and cover image will provide your book maximum marketing traction. Once a book is printed, it is very expensive and difficult to change those things and the error has already put a dent in your brand as an author.
At Satiama, we attribute the success of our wildly popular children’s book, How the Trees Got Their Voices, 70% to the title and 30% to the cover image.
5. Offering illustrations that don’t match the language level and age bracket for which the book is intended.
The mistake of choosing an illustration style that is either too childish or too sophisticated for your intended age bracket can be a ‘make or break’ mistake. Consider the example of illustrations which seem to offer a fairy story or a tale for younger children for a book that in reality has a sixth grade or above vocabulary and is long enough to be a chapter book. No marketing in the world can really address and remedy that mismatch. Any illustration style that offers art and images that doesn’t match the story content or intended age bracket is a mistake of generally fatal proportion.
The key is to choose an illustrator who understands who the book is truly meant for, and plans his or her illustrations accordingly. In hiring an illustrator, make sure that the illustrator also understands the characteristics and capabilities of your intended age bracket. Ask for portfolio examples of illustrations they have created for different age brackets.
6. Relying on the advice of friends and family instead of publishing professionals.
Actually, this common mistake isn’t just for writers of children’s books, but for all authors. Members of your own circle — neighbors, friends, family, colleagues — are not predisposed to give you solid feedback about your book, your title or your choice of illustrator. Knowing and liking you, they will be biased to want to give you as much positive feedback as possible. They are a truly poor source of market research. But the main problem is that they have no professional experience or training to provide an opinion in the first place. This one error, in our experience, trips up more authors than any other, and the results are most often very costly, if not often fatal.