Writing a children's book
Writing a book can often be a lonely experience but there is plenty of support out there to spur you on. Joining a writer's group is often a good place to start.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is a great place to gain help and advice. There is an annual membership fee and if you join you'll be able to access a variety of writing courses and other resources to help you to hone your craft.
Crucially, being a member of SCBWI will give you the opportunity to join e-critique groups where you can connect with writers in your local area for valuable constructive criticism of your work.
Candy Gourlay talks about the benefits of joining the SCBWI.
Candy Gourlay grew up in the Philippines wondering why there were no Filipinos in the books she loved. Now an author in London, she writes books with Filipino characters. Her first novel Tall Story won the Crystal Kite Award for Europe and was shortlisted for the Waterstones, Branford Boase and Blue Peter children's book prizes. Her novel Bone Talk was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and the Costa Book Awards in 2019. It is set at the moment when headhunting tribes in the Philippines come face to face with American invaders. Her picture book Is It a Mermaid?, illustrated by Francesca Chessa, was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Her latest book, with illustrator Tom Knight, is a comics biography about Ferdinand Magellan, who is credited with “discovering” the Philippines. She lives in lockdown London and yearns to see her mother in Manila.
Black Writers' Guild
You can also read here about the Black Writers' Guild (BWG), set up in 2020 to represent the rights of Black writers in the UK. You might want to consider joining them too. Membership is currently free.
Still not sure how to start?
Writing is writing! Regardless of what type of book you intend to write, the videos below, from experienced children's authors and editors, will give you a general idea of what to consider at each stage of the writing process, from your initial idea (concept) to pitching your manuscript to agents and publishers.
You can download additional information on the writing process from our Resources section and check out this brilliant, informative blog by Natascha Biebow at Blue Elephant Storyshaping, about the craft of writing picture books. We'd also highly recommend you buy or borrow a copy of Writing Picture Books by Anne Whitford.
For specific guidance on how to write picture books for younger children, book a place on our upcoming workshops.
Step 1: Concept
'So you want to write a book for younger readers? But what do you actually write about? And how do you write about a subject that isn't already displayed across bookshop tables? Here are some tips about where to get your best inspiration.'
Patrice Lawrence is an award-winning writer for children, teenagers, and adults. Her books include Orangeboy (shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award and winner of the Bookseller YA Prize and Waterstones Prize for Older Children's Fiction), Indigo Donut (winner of Bristol's Crimefest YA Prize), Rose, Interrupted and Eight Pieces of Silva (Winner of Woman & Home Best Teen Drama). She is a 2021 Costa Book Awards judge.
Step 2: Research
'Read. Read the sorts of books you want to write. Don't just read good books, read bad children's books as well. Read for enjoyment and then read with your analytical head on.'
Catherine Johnson has written over 20 books for young readers including Race to the Frozen North, The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo and the award-winning titles Freedom and Sawbones. She has also written for film, TV and video games, and is currently working on an adaptation of Miranda Kaufman's book The Black Tudors for Silverprint Pictures. She is a fellow of The Royal Society of Literature.
Step 3: Planning
'This is something I like to do after I have discovered a lot about the story myself. It's for me more about shaping than it is about inspiring and creating, that to me...I think I like that to be kind of mysterious.'
SF Said is a British Muslim children's author. His family is originally from the Middle East, but he has lived in London since he was two. His first book, Varjak Paw, won the Nestlé Smarties Prize for Children's Literature. The sequel, The Outlaw Varjak Paw, won the BBC Blue Peter Book of the Year Award. His third book, Phoenix, was chosen to represent the UK on the IBBY International Honour List and was shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Award. SF Said has also written widely on children's literature for both the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph.
Step 4: Your first draft
'Sometimes for a first draft it really is just a case of get the words down, because once you've got them down — that whole "dirty draft" idea — once those words are down then you can go back and edit them and rewrite them and refine them.'
Em Norry's first book Son of the Circus, published in September 2019, was commissioned as part of the Voices series (Scholastic). Em wrote about the Victorian era and her book blended historical fact with fiction using Pablo Fanque, the Black circus owner, as inspiration. She has also written Amber Undercover, a fun contemporary spy adventure for 10+, stories in two anthologies: Happy Here (Knights Of) and The Place for Me: Stories from the Windrush (Scholastic), a biography of footballer, Lionel Messi (Scholastic) and an educational title for younger readers A Good Friend (Hodder Education).
Step 5: Editing
'The number of times you need to edit a manuscript will vary from author to author and book to book. Pay attention to your instincts. Generally, you know if you've slightly fudged this chapter or haven't quite nailed this particular character.'
Ben Horslen is Fiction Publisher at Puffin, Penguin Random House Children's.
Step 6: Your manuscript
'Reward yourself, whatever rewarding yourself means to you, make sure you do it and celebrate and never ever feel guilty about feeling proud of yourself. That is the biggest gift you can give yourself as a writer.'
Rashmi Sirdeshpande is a lawyer turned children’s author who writes a mix of fiction picture books and illustrated non-fiction. In 2017, she was selected as one of 11 writers on the Penguin Random House WriteNow mentoring programme for underrepresented voices. Her works include Never Teach a Stegosaurus To Do Sums, illustrated by Diane Ewen, and How To Change The World, illustrated by Annabel Tempest.
Step 7: Proofreading and formatting
'It’s important to make a good impression from the moment an agent or editor first looks at your manuscript and presenting it well shows that you’ve made an effort.'
Wendy Shakespeare is Senior Editorial Manager at Puffin, Penguin Random House Children's.
Step 8: Pitching your work
'Have a really good idea about what your log line is, and by log line I mean your pithy pitch in a sentence or two sentences. Some people call it your elevator pitch.'
Jasmine Richards has worked as a children’s publisher and storyliner for over 15 years with roles at Penguin, Working Partners and Oxford University Press. She has published over a dozen books for children and teenagers and has visited schools across the UK to run creative writing workshops. Her most recent novel Keeper of Myths was published by Harper Collins. Jasmine is the founder of Storymix, a children’s fiction production company that creates inclusive stories and offers writing opportunities to authors of colour.
Next steps: Breaking into the industry
'Be consistent…write every day if you can. It doesn't matter what you're writing, just write something, even if it's a diary.'
Kereen Getten grew up in Jamaica but now lives in Birmingham with her family. She has previously written short stories for multiple publications including The Nottingham Review and Adhoc Fiction. Her debut novel, When Life Gives You Mangoes, was voted Best of the Best 2020 by the Black Caucus American Library Association, won Best Middle-Grade Fiction by the Rebel Women Lit Caribean Readers' Awards, and was featured in The Guardian, The Sunday Times, Time Out, and O, The Oprah Magazine.