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Writing for Children 2


Writing for Children by Linda Strachan

Writing for Children

by Linda Strachan

Since many writers who come to the site are interested in writing for the booming children's market, we are delighted to be featuring two extracts from Writing for Children, by Linda Strachan, by kind permission of the publisher, A & C BlackClick for A & C Black Publishers Publishers References listing (£9.99).


Writing for 5–7, 7–9, 8–12 Years

What kind of book do you want to write, and who are you writing it for? A five year old is not going to want the same kind of story as a child aged ten or eleven; their attention span is shorter and their interests quite different. You also need to consider the age of your main character in relation to the age of your intended reader. When writing for children, a general rule is that your characters should be a year or so older than – or at least the same age as – your target reader.

Children often aspire to be like the characters in the books they enjoy, and they almost invariably wish to be a year or two older than they are; your book will therefore have more child appeal if you follow this guideline. It is particularly important not to feature main characters who are much younger than your target readership, and only on rare occasions does an adult main character work in a children’s book. Some writers have been very successful with an adult main character in teenage or YA (Young Adult) books, such as Eleanor Updale’s Montmorency, but these are the exceptions.

Age levels when stated on the back of books, in bookshops or even in publishers’ briefs can be confusing. Just as children of a similar age have different tastes, abilities and experience, so this is reflected in their reading interests and abilities – which can be equally as varied. Age levels in books are just a general indication and should not be taken as hard and fast rules. Some publishers or bookshops will use the range of 6–9 years, while others specify 7–9 and/or 8–12.

Unlike adults, children require different kinds of writing depending on their age as well as their ability to read and understand. Their rate of emotional development can also vary widely, which is why there are no absolutes. Publishers, parents and book shops all require some way of categorising children’s books, so age ranges are generally used – but these are just guidelines.

One eight year old may have the ability to read anything that is put in front of them, from newspapers to thick tomes, while their best friend might struggle with anything more than a comic book.

Boys versus girls?

Whatever your personal views on what children should or should not read, for good marketing reasons publishers often pitch different kinds of books to boys and to girls – especially those aged between seven and ten years. This is why you see books with pink and fluffy covers containing stories about princesses and fairies published for girls, and action adventures published for boys. Of course, there are books with plenty of action in them where the cover is pink and the main character is a girl. And perhaps this is a shame, because there is some evidence that boys would like to read these kinds of stories but are put off by the thought of being seen with a book that has a pink cover.

Boys may also tend to be less interested in books where the main character is a girl – and many girls like action and adventure stories that are promoted as ‘boy’ books. In reality, as long as the story is gripping and exciting, it’s possible for it to appeal to both sexes.

In any case, the way in which your book is marketed will be decided by your publisher, who may or may not consult you and who will claim that market research and experience tells them they are right. Publishers don’t have a crystal ball, but it is in their interest to do all they can to make sure your book will sell. Your job is to pitch the story at the right level of interest for your reader, and to write something that the child in question will not want to put down, no matter what age or gender they are.

Look in bookshops and see which publishers publish the kind of books you think you would like to write, and contact them to ask if they have guidelines they can send you. These will usually tell you exactly what will fit in with what they are publishing for that age group, or that imprint. (The imprint is the publisher’s way of sectioning their publications into different ‘brands’ so that the type of book is clear and more recognizable for everyone, from the child to the bookseller. Each imprint has a different style and length, and may or may not include illustrations.) The guidelines may also include information about age and interest level – which will not necessarily be the same; the age level is a guide to the reading age of the child, while the interest level corresponds to the age of a child likely to be interested by the storyline. As no two children are exactly the same, these are always approximate.

Linda Strachan is the author of more than 50 books, including many children's books.

First extract: Different ages, different markets

To buy the book

© Linda Strachan 2008

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List price: £14.99
Publisher: A & C Black Publishers Ltd
Sales rank: 427,773