Children’s books carry a sense of wonder that often adds a touch of whimsy and enchantment to the publishing journey. Such was the case for our client Maria Dektereva-Plant (Marsha) who was thrilled to become a first-time author when she self-published her children’s book, The Tale of the Rainbow Kite, with our assistance earlier this year.
Marsha has enjoyed of poetry since she was a child and delights in filling her own daughter’s world with the fairy tale magic of her own poems. After a lifetime of writing poetry, she has begun to transform her favourite poems into stories for young children.
Marsha sees children’s writing as an avenue for sharing important life lessons with the younger generation and The Tale of the Rainbow Kite is the perfect example. This charming story aims to help children understand the value of true friendship and the importance of working together and never giving up. Marsha is looking forward to turning more of her delightful poems into captivating stories for children in the near future.
Writing for Young Children
While it can be hugely rewarding, writing a children’s book is harder than it looks. So let’s delve into the world of children’s literature to find out some common pitfalls to avoid and a few key tips and tricks to follow.
Length of the Manuscript
One of the most common problems with an author’s first manuscript is its length. In children’s literature, each age group has a recommended length and all are shorter than most other types of writing genres. It can be challenging to write your story in so few words, but it’s a must for anyone dreaming of becoming a successful children’s book author. Here is a guide to appropriate word count length for each children’s book category:
- Board books: 100 words or less
- Picture books: 500 to 600 words over 32 pages
- First readers: up to 1,500 words
- Middle grade (8 to 12 years): 15,000 to 65,000 words, with less word for younger readers and more for older readers
- Young adult: 65,000 to 85,000 words
Editing Your Story
Given the fact that children’s books typically have a low word count, every word must be essential to taking the story forward. Here are some suggestions for how you can self-edit your children’s book manuscript and tighten up your story before it’s professionally edited:
- Read through your work with the aim of deleting anything that doesn’t add to the story. After reading each sentence, paragraph and page, consider whether it is necessary and ask what it contributes to the overall narrative. If it’s unnecessary, delete it.
- Try to replace sections with lots of words with fewer words wherever you can. Often, two words can be replaced with one. For example, ‘I would really like to help’ could be tightened up by replacing ‘really like’ with ‘love’.
- Be on the look-out for excessive punctuation, bold and italic font, capital letters and other signposts that aim to convey meaning to the reader. Meaning should come solely from the words themselves, rather than the way they appear on the page.
- Ensure dialogue is succinct and delete any unnecessary repetition and waffling.
- Read your writing out aloud. This can help you to identify parts of the story that could be tightened up or that are simply not working well and so should be deleted.
Each character in your story should be unique, fully formed and interesting. Read over your story with this in mind and consider whether each of your characters is necessary, whether an essential character seems to be missing, and whether any of your characters are boring. What does each character bring to the story? Often, multiple characters can be merged into one and some characters can be deleted altogether.
Below are some suggestions of ways to ensure your characters are essential to the story:
Voice: To help create individuality, each character should have a unique voice. When characters all sound the same, it’s not only confusing to the reader but boring as well. It’s a definite indication that the characters are not yet fully formed.
Dialogue: You may start to notice that one of your characters talks to themselves a lot. This can be a sign that it’s time to introduce a new ‘friend’ who is able to interact with this character. Likewise, if the dialogue seems confusing due to large cast of speakers, it might be a good idea to delete or merge some of your characters.
Character journey: Each character should develop and demonstrate signs of growth as the story progresses. One way to tell if your characters need more work to flesh them out is to note whether (or not) they have changed by the end of the story. If they are more or less the same from beginning to end, they require additional work to develop them into fully formed, essential and interesting characters.
Writing for Under 8s
Young children view the world a little differently to children over 8, so it’s important to follow some golden rules when writing for this age group. First, extremes are everything for your children; there’s no black and white (and definitely not grey) in their world. It’s either all black or all white, so keep in mind that what you write will be taken quite literally. Bad characters should never win and young children can triumph over older children and adults. Magic is completely logical and everything to do with bodily functions is hilarious. Above all, keeping a sense of wonder in your stories will help to ensure that you engage your youthful audience’s minds and add to your chance of succeeding in this rewarding writing genre.
Our client Sarah Fisher decided to make the leap from reality into the realms of her vivid imagination as a way of escaping the stress and monotony of her job as an accountant. In 2005, Sarah completed the 50,000-word NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge and the following year she switched careers from accounting to primary school teaching.
Drawing on her long-held interest in fantasy fiction, her great love of music and also her experience working with children, Sarah created the remarkable Dragonscale series – an exciting world of adventure and escapism that follows the journey of Noah Chord, a hearing-impaired, fashion-enthusiast teenager who battles goblins and wizards to save the musical world of Talisker. Sarah has now completed and published three books in this YA series: The 13th Key, Firestone, and Redemption.
Publishing: Back to Reality
Being offered a publishing deal is a surreal and exciting moment for any author; however, Sarah’s experience turned out to present her with some unique challenges. A boutique publishing company in the UK offered Sarah a publishing contract for her first book, The 13th Key, promising to provide page layout/typesetting, cover design, marketing and promotion. Unfortunately, their promises turned out to be empty, and with an amateur cover design and no marketing or promotion, Sarah was left with a below-par published book. To make matters worse, she had also signed over her publication rights to her precious work.
Feeling disenchanted and apprehensive about the whole process, Sarah approached us for help with self-publishing the next two books in her YA series – Firestone and Redemption. Her journey with us has been a far more flexible and positive experience. Sarah has now re-established her rights to The 13th Key and has published all three books with our professional assistance. We revamped the cover design of her first book to ensure that it had a similar ‘look and feel’ to Books 2 and 3, so that all of the books in the Dragonscale series now match each other.
The Benefits of a Fiction Series for Both Author and Reader
Writing a fiction series can seem like an endless task; however, there are benefits for those authors who are willing to take on this challenge and to those dedicated readers who follow them. The fantasy genre lends itself particularly well to a series as these usually comprise a journey through elaborate settings with various characters who are best developed over a series of books.
Writing a series can benefit both reader and author by:
- allowing cross-marketing throughout the series
- tapping into an already-existing fan base
- taking advantage of the current ‘binge’ culture of today’s consumers
- allowing more time to develop complex characters and plot.
Writing a fiction series will generally offer greater scope for marketing than a stand-alone book. Nevertheless, as was the case with Sarah, it is still vital to carefully plan and design your series covers so they link together to identify the book as part of a greater series. This will strengthen your brand and will nurture the relationship you have built with existing fans.
After completing your first publication, cross-marketing any further books in the series will save you money, time and effort. The readership you acquired from marketing your first book will be an instant target audience for subsequent books in the series. Likewise, as you market the most recent book, you will be encouraging readers to buy your earlier books. Readers will be thrilled to know that other books in your series are easily accessible and will be even more pleased if you direct them to where they can purchase/download your books.
Existing Fan Bases
There is already a considerable demand for fiction series, particularly within the YA fantasy genre. With a strong fan base having already been established, this audience is hungry for more! These readers are usually on a bittersweet high after finishing a series they have enjoyed and are eagerly in search of other books to fill the void. As a new author, you can direct your marketing to fans of fiction series that are similar to yours to give your titles a boost in popularity and exposure.
The Trend Towards a ‘Binge’ Culture
Bingeing favourite TV shows feeds our fervent need to know ‘what happens next’. The same principle can be applied to a fiction novel series. People love losing themselves in a captivating plot with well-developed characters who take them on a journey from which they don’t want to leave. These die-hard series readers may also comprise part of the existing fan bases described above as they have completed reading one series and are currently on the look-out for another. Having several books available in a series pacifies your readers’ ‘binge’ desires and keeps them keen for more from you and their chosen genre.
Character and Plot Development
A fiction series allows you to explore all those avenues that you would usually struggle to fit into a standard 90,000 word novel. During a book series you can spend more time developing characters and creating elaborate plots, thus enchanting your audience even further. Take for example some well-known fiction series such as Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. These eight books cover several continents, have hundreds of characters and span two centuries. Of course we must also mention one of the most popular YA fiction series, Harry Potter, which demonstrates how characters develop as they learn, struggle and grow, allowing readers to form a relationship with them and become attached over the years, intertwining the stories into their own lives.
The Fantasy Realised
As Sarah discovered during her ‘rollercoaster ride’ with her Dragonscale books, publishing a fiction series can be quite challenging. However, engaging reputable and qualified professionals to help you through the self-publishing process, and to ensure you are marketing your series and your brand in the best possible way, can ensure a rewarding experience for you as the author and for your dedicated readership.
Seeing an author’s unique personality shine through in their book is one of the real pleasures I experience working with self-publishing authors … and Sandy McKean was no exception. Sandy’s travel memoir, Something Happened on the Way to … captures her light-hearted attitude and her infectious passion for life.
In her travel memoir, Sandy takes her readers on a trip down memory lane – sharing fond memories and hilarious anecdotes from her childhood and teenage years, as well as her more recent past. Combining humour with unflinching honesty, Sandy’s anecdotes of her many trips abroad allow her to connect with her audience on an emotional level, while at the same time creating a sense of drama and adventure.
Sandy’s unique approach to promotion has seen her memoir ‘travel the world’ in the most delightful way, with fans snapping shots of it in countries far and wide. It has been gratifying to see Sandy’s engaging writing style inspire others to reflect on their own journeys, with her humorous perspective to light the way.
What Is a Travel Memoir?
Travel writing can take many different forms, including:
- holiday diaries
- blog posts.
Each genre has its own unique style and associated reader expectations, and travel memoirs are no exception. Rather than focusing on a particular destination, successful travel memoirs balance the writer’s personal backstory and description of their travels in a way that takes readers on both an emotional and physical journey to unknown places.
The primary goal of a travel memoir is not necessarily to inspire readers to travel to the places depicted in the book. Instead, a true travel memoir reveals how the writer has grown or been changed by their experiences abroad and encourages readers to reflect on their own life journey.
How to Write a Travel Memoir
Writing a travel memoir is no easy feat, as Sandy McKean would no doubt attest to. However, incorporating the six key aspects outlined below should help you on your own writing journey:
- Decide on a central theme
- Write what comes naturally to you
- Define your author voice
- Wait until your journey is over before writing
- Weave your story like a true storyteller
- Be authentic.
Decide on a Central Theme
Deciding on a central theme will help to create cohesiveness and purpose to your travel memoir. It could be something as straightforward as coping with loss or self discovery, but your story should serve to highlight this throughout the book. Eat, Pray, Love is a well-known and highly successful travel memoir because it effectively highlights the restlessness of women who are questioning their current life choices.
Write What Comes Naturally to You
Unlike fiction, a travel memoir shouldn’t be carefully planned out, or the overall message or conclusion forced. The true essence of the story is sharing the raw and real emotion and the act of reflection and realisation of what the journey ultimately meant. This can’t be artificially manufactured if a travel memoir is to be truly engaging for readers.
Define Your Author Voice
The voice you choose determines how your reader will experience your journey, so it’s important to choose something that’s fitting. You might choose a friendly, conversational, formal or humorous voice or you might choose to be aloof to add to the effect of your story. Once you’ve chosen the right voice, be sure it remains consistent throughout the book.
Wait Until Your Journey Is Over Before Writing
Introspection is the key to a good travel memoir. Yet, you can only properly reflect on your journey after it’s over. Life-changing experiences are also usually spontaneous and unplanned, so planning to write a travel memoir about an upcoming trip could result in a memoir that appears to be forced. Reflecting on a recent trip and your experiences before you begin writing can help you find the deeper meaning that’s key to a well-written travel memoir.
Weave Your Story like a True Storyteller
A travel memoir needs to read like fiction to keep a reader engaged and let them access the deeper essence of your story. This means you need to incorporate the essential elements of storytelling, such as:
- a clearly defined setting
- well-developed characters, including a protagonist and antagonist
- a strong plot
- conflict that creates tension and builds suspense
- a well-considered theme
- a narrative arc.
These elements help you engage your audience and evoke an emotional response, which is the ultimate purpose of every good story.
When writing your travel memoir, it is important to be honest about your experiences. Readers don’t expect you to be perfect; they actually much prefer to read about someone human who makes mistakes. Rather than trying to make yourself look good, tell your audience about your regrets, embarrassing moments, the way you messed things up, the things you didn’t enjoy or the silly things you said. In the same way that Sandy has done in her travel memoir, make sure that you ‘keep things real’ and allow readers access to the depths of your soul so that they can experience your innermost thoughts for themselves.
As an editor and book designer who works mainly with self-publishing authors, I am privileged to regularly receive a wide variety of manuscripts, all of which are representative of the writer’s passion and belief that their knowledge and expertise should be shared with others. This is especially true of PhD graduate Paul McNamara, who dreamed of igniting a passion for mathematics in secondary school students by communicating his unique slant on this often-dreaded subject. Paul is on a mission to ensure that young people don’t end up like me – someone who has always been ‘maths phobic’ and has shied away from this important subject field! Hence, it was such a pleasure to help him achieve his vision when he self-published his mathematics textbook, The Derivation of Mathematics: Mastering Secondary School Mathematics, earlier this year.
As a school student, Paul had a keen interest in mathematics but felt that it would have been much easier for him to learn the subject if it had been approached in the right way. He was fortunate to have a father who was a mathematics teacher and had a deep passion for his chosen profession. With his father’s help, Paul conquered the basics of Newtonian physics and special relativity by Year 10. His love of mathematics was established at this point and has been an ongoing theme throughout his life.
After completing his PhD in physics and working in the computing industry for many years, Paul was ready for a complete change of direction – embarking on his journey to help school students learn mathematics with ease. In tandem with writing the textbook, Paul has developed the Mastering Secondary School Mathematics program which is designed to complement existing mathematics courses by creating clarity and interest in this subject in students.
Breaking into the Field of Educational Publishing
As with any book, newly published textbooks have to compete with existing books that may have been used in universities and schools for many years. Before embarking on the potentially long and arduous journey of writing a textbook, it is important to consider how your publication will fare in such a competitive industry.
The motivation for writing a textbook may be financially-based, to gain industry recognition or the desire to share a lifetime of accumulated knowledge with the younger generation. However, motivation and knowledge alone are not enough to ensure your book is well-received within your industry. First and foremost, it is crucial to evaluate the competition and ensure that your new textbook will have a point of difference that is sufficient enough to persuade university professors and schoolteachers to switch to a new resource. If the current textbook is long and tedious, it might be time for a shortened, more to-the-point textbook on the same topic, or for a series of textbooks where the information is delivered in more manageable chunks. If the current version is outdated, then an updated version can be very timely. The most effective option is to write a textbook on a topic that has not been previously well covered.
Points to Consider When Writing a Textbook
The four important things you need to consider when writing a textbook are outlined below.
First, you need to decide on the topic you are going to cover. As mentioned earlier, the best topics are those that fill a gap in the market. If this isn’t possible, it is important to ensure that your book has a real point of difference.
Second, you need to decide on the age or reading level of students who you are targeting your book towards. It is much easier to write for a target audience that you have experience dealing with; however, if you do decide to branch out to a new age group or study level, you could consider running some classes or connecting with your chosen group to increase your knowledge and experience.
Third, make sure you keep your audience firmly in mind and focus your writing accordingly. Teachers with specialised knowledge are perfect candidates for textbook writing because they already know how to talk to students. Academics without teaching experience can often forget that the audience for their textbook is a group of students. Instead, they write in the same way they would for journal articles, which are directed to peers with assumed knowledge on the topic. To help avoid this pitfall, a friend or family member with the right level of knowledge on the topic can be a valuable resource for double-checking the appropriateness of the language used in the textbook.
Fourth, testing the textbook before publication is a vital step. It is essential to ensure that your textbook is readable, understandable and useful before committing to the publication process. The most valuable test is using the textbook in a real-life scenario, such as in a tutoring group, or school or university classroom.
The Rewards of Publication
A textbook can take many years of hard work from conception to publication, but it can be an extremely rewarding process. As well as offering the potential for significant financial rewards, educational publishing can help to propel an academic’s career and bring personal satisfaction by serving as a summary of a lifetime of hard work. For Paul McNamara, the reward of self-publishing his textbook will be to enjoy witnessing his book and tutoring program opening up the undeniably beautiful and important world of mathematics to secondary school students. In this way, Paul is able to help young people discover a passion for an interesting field which has so many applications in the modern world.