Write to Market: Books Kids, Parents, & Teachers Will Need and Love
The first step in selling children's books - write a great book they need.
For those who write for adults, one common tactic is to write to market. This means writers research what sorts of books are needed and wanted, and then write those books! Children’s book authors can follow a similar strategy.
So, what children’s books are needed and wanted?
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Targeted to the Audience
Let’s start with the basics. Children’s books need to be aligned with children’s physical, intellectual, and emotional needs. One problem is that “children’s books” covers birth to 14 (or 16, or 18 - depends on how you break it down). See? I can’t even tell you the right age range because it all depends.
But basically, there’s preschool, early elementary, middle grade, and young adult. Each group needs a different sort of book. I once saw an ABC middle grade novel of about 20,000 words. Do you see the problem? ABCs are taught to 4-6 year old kids, NOT 8-12 year olds. Nothing worked in the story because of the mismatch between preschool and middle grade age levels. Likewise, 80,000-word young adult novels with lots of action and romance will not work for preschoolers!
You must know your audience, the age range you are targeting, and write for that market. Here’s a bonus post on age-appropriate humor.
Well-Written, Well-Ilustrated Books
Next, the market requires high quality books. Picture books should be tightly written and edited, seldom over 500 words for fiction and 1000 words for nonfiction. The writing must be clean, understandable, and entertaining.
If you write in poetry, it should be pristine. (Don’t write poetry unless you can answer this question: What poetic meter did Dr. Seuss use for The Cat in the Hat?)
The art should likewise be amazing. There are many styles and mediums, and there’s variety based on different aesthetics. However, the overriding issue is professional illustrations. Poorly executed art will always kill book sales.
Bottom line: money spent on editing, copyediting, and great art will always have a return on investment.
Preschool - Child in the Lap
For preschoolers always remember that picture books are read TO a child. Yes, the parent/teacher wants the child to learn something like colors, shapes, counting to 10, identification of items, and so on. They want the child to laugh at Sandra Boynton’s simple humor.
But they also want to strengthen the relationship of the parent to child and child to parent. The amazing Australian author Mem Fox has called this the child-in-the-lap moment. In her famous book, KOALA LOU, she focuses on that relationship in her ending words: “Koala Lou, I do love you.”
The immediate response? The kid turns to hug the adult and the adult turns to the kid: We do love each other, they say in some fashion or other.
The book triggers that emotional response in the adult and in the child. They connect on a deeper level. Books that build in an awareness of the relationship and foster it will always do better.
Elementary - Curriculum Needs
One place to start is researching what books are NEEDED by the elementary education community is with curriculum standards. You might think this only applies to nonfiction, but it can also affect fiction.
For example, the NSTA’s 2023 Best STEM Book award includes BEAR BUILDS A HOUSE, obviously a fictional story. The 2024 list includes GIRAFFE MATH, a fun but fictional way of looking at math. Inclusion on such lists mean higher sales as science teachers and educators look to these lists for possible books for their curriculum.
Here are some U.S. curriculum standards to study:
Common Core Education Standards for English Language, Writing, Speaking, and Math
Other subject matters such as art, physical education, etc. may have standards that you can search for. Also, be aware that standards vary widely from state to state. Still, there are standards common across the U.S.
The key is not to write exactly to the standards but to be aware of what teachers need in today’s classroom. Yes, write exactly to the standards if your ideas and passions allow. But even a sideways nod to the standards will increase the chances of sales for your book.
If you write for certain standards, submit for appropriate awards, mention your curriculum intent in your marketing materials, get book reviews, and possibly provide lesson plans to help educators use the material as planned.
SEL - Social Emotional Learning
Diane Alber has created a series of SPOT book based on social emotional learning that regularly hit Jane Friedman’s Top 50 Bestsellers Print List. They hit the sweet spot for kids learning about social issues and behavior, and emotional issues and behavior. The SEL market is huge and can encompass titles about how to help your kid go to sleep, how to help your kid manage anger, and so on. They can target preschoolers up through young adult, but primarily focus on preschool and early elementary levels when kids are learning to self-regulate.
While there aren’t national standards for SEL, you can find many lists of SEL goals with a quick Google search. These books can be quite popular and sell well.
Fiction - Clean and Fun
Most parents and educators of preschool and elementary kids want fun, entertain, and clean fiction. Funny books are especially in demand.
If you want to write about edgy subjects, keep it for middle grade and young adult fiction. The older child is more equipped emotionally to deal with difficult social issues.
In the middle ground are books that encourage social interactions, diversity issues, and other topics related to society at large. Certainly, those can and should be addressed in preschool and elementary books, but they will need a lighter touch for the younger students.
Write in Series
When a child loves a character, they naturally want more books about those characters. If you self-publish, creating a series is a strong marketing choice that allows you to focus your marketing, create stronger marketing promos, and gather a following. Dav Pikley didn’t just write one Captain Underpants story! My own series do well; I try to hook the reader in Book 1 and give them the same-but-different for Book 2 and so on. See The Kittytubers series, for example. You should consider if your character/situation are strong enough to create a series!
In what other ways to do you “write to market”?