Everyone has their favourite childhood book, one that holds endless warm memories and continues to bring joy, magic, and the power of imagination way past its recommended reading age. 

You might be holding onto it still, ready to pass it on to young people in your life. As a writer, you might be tempted to attempt the wonderful challenge that is writing one of those evergreen children’s books. But how do you go about becoming a children’s author?

We have collected some handy tips and advice from those who have paved the way – successful children’s authors in Australia. Read on to find out how they recommend approaching the task of writing a children’s book. 

How to start 

As every writer will know, writing is the easiest thing – it’s starting that’s the challenge. Especially when it comes to writing for children, you will find that inspiration comes from different sources than when you’re writing for an adult readership. After all, who is best suited to read your story, and how do you begin writing that story? These are important questions to consider as you set out to write a children’s book. 

Nat Amoore is an award-winning children’s author who is passionate about encouraging kids to read and write and explore their imagination without boundaries. Her middle grade books have been shortlisted for and won awards, topping bestselling charts and delighting and inspiring thousands of young readers. As an expert on the matter, Nat believes that a children’s book begins just there: in childhood. 

“For me, the key is the ability to truly tap into how you felt as a kid,” she says. 

“The age you connect with the most from your own childhood can also inform the age group you should perhaps write for. I have visceral memories from when I was around ten. The confusion, the frustration, the joy, not understanding why adults kept treating me like a kid even though I was clearly capable of taking care of myself and probably making better decisions than most of them.

“It takes zero effort for me to put myself back in my ten year-old shoes. So when I write, I don't think of it as adult Nat writing something for kids, I think of it as ten year-old Nat writing something for her peers.”

So think back to a time that was influential in your own childhood, and start there. What are the stories that are waiting to be told? 

Jacqueline Harvey, award-winning children’s author of multiple book series such as Kensy & Max and Willa & Woof, has the perfect advice for the stories that need to be told. As an ambassador for Dymocks Children’s Charities and Room to Read and a passionate advocate for improving literacy outcomes for all children, Jacqueline knows a thing or two about finding the perfect story. 

“Write stories that you would have wanted to read when you were a child.”

Know your audience

Especially with children’s books, there is a huge difference between writing board books, picture books, middle grade, or young adult novels. It’s important to know your audience going into the task of writing, and to nail down the voice and subject matter that appeals to your chosen age bracket. 

Will Kostakis is an award-winning author for young adults, who has not only published multiple successful novels for teenagers, but was one himself when his very first book, Loathing Lola, came out. Since then, he has gone on to write for many literary publications, published more books, and has become an ambassador for such important organisations as Australia Reads and the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge.

According to Will, knowing your audience comes down to respecting the boundaries between what young adults and adults enjoy reading. 

“When writing for teenagers, it's important not to lose sight of your audience. There's this idea that writing a "crossover" title (one that appeals to teens and adults alike) is a ticket to success, but many see this as a reason to "write up", to give their teens very adult concerns, when naturally occuring crossover titles are just great teen titles that older readers enjoy and recommend because of their teen-ness, not in spite of it.”

However, it’s also just as important to respect children on any level, no matter your audience’s age. Jacqueline puts this perfectly: 

“Don’t talk down to the audience. Children are smart and deserve to be respected.”

Nat also believes that treating her readers as fully-fledged humans helps in her writing process too. 

“I'm not trying to teach kids or pretend I know better or have the answers for them. I'm joining them in an exploration of all those feelings and questions I had and writing the kind of stuff ten year-old Nat (and to be fair, 40-something year-old Nat too) would want to read.”

What to write

Once you have a story and know who is going to be reading it, the act of writing can still be elusive. It’s easy to forget that books are made up of ingredients, and so you can simplify their writing by taking it one ingredient at a time. One of which, and perhaps the most important one, is characters. 

As a writer of many nuanced characters – from secret spy twins Kensy and Max, to seven-and-a-quarter-year-old boarding school heroine Alice-Miranda – Jacqueline knows exactly what gives any story a beating heart. 

“Fall in love with the characters you create. You can always tell if a writer is committed to their characters. Make sure that your characters have quirks – that they’re not two dimensional.”

And while writing about characters is one thing, writing dialogue between these characters is another. Luckily, Jacqueline has the perfect tip for this ingredient too!

“Read your work out loud – listen to how it sounds. Are the character voices ringing true?”

What makes a book great

It takes a lot to write and publish any book – but how can you make sure that the end result is not only good, but great? In other words, what sort of things pave the path to becoming a successful children’s author?

Writing can often feel like a very solitary endeavour, but we believe in the power of community, both when it comes to the production of your book, but also post-publication. 

Heather Rose is one half of Angelika Banks, a children’s author pseudonym that she shares with writer Danielle Wood. Over years of working with Danielle, she has found the antidote to the loneliness of writing a book and the ticket to writing great books.

“When you write on your own, you might start getting really possessive of your ideas. But I have discovered that if you’re in a willing and trusted group, it fertilises your ideas.

“Every Wednesday Danielle and I would get together, have cups of tea, and read what the other person had written. We had this very genuine, instant audience response, and it was such a great opportunity to really build on our writing together and to practise writing for entertainment.”

If you can, we urge you to find a writing community – whether that’s just a like-minded friend or an organised group, you are guaranteed to write better when others are encouraging you along the way. And once your book is published, other writers are the best cheerleaders and promoters you could ever ask for. They will definitely elevate your book!

At the end of the day, the most important advice comes from Jacqueline Harvey: “Enjoy it!”

Would you like to meet Jacqueline and learn more from her in person? Then get your tickets now to our high tea event with Jacqueline Harvey here!