Once Upon a Time

When choosing a subject for a novel, a number of authors choose to write for a younger market. Children’s books, even those for young adults, are shorter, which means less of a writing mountain looming ahead. You may feel that you have always been a teacher of sorts, so the impulse toward instruction is natural. Once the book is started, however, a difficulty of a most basic variety crops up. What sorts of vocabulary words should be used? How complex should the sentences be?

Authors frequently think in terms of their own desire, neglecting basic principles they would follow in ordinary life. Would you buy the first nail gun you see? Do you even need to buy one at all? You would research the question to find out. The same holds true for this market you have chosen. Don’t shoot in the dark—look up online what books schools recommend for each grade level. Then read a few of them, hopefully your direct competition. If you want to write a historical novel, read the ones they recommend and see what level that writing hits.

One reason I point this out is that children are more sophisticated than you think. Depending on the grade, they may be used to reading complex sentences, for one example. You shouldn’t assume that children don’t know words that are longer than eight letters. When you consider that New York Times articles are written at a ninth-grade reading level, you don’t have to dumb it down so much. Not only that, but teachers at each grade level want books that challenge their students to find new words. If you’re writing at a fourth-grade reading level for the sixth-grade audience you want to reach, remember who are the guardians at the gate. 

How do you know what level you should be writing at? That is an easy question to answer. Education is one of the largest sectors in the country. Entire websites are devoted to all sorts of topics for students. Your readers are the ones that can run circles around you tech-wise, remember? You can check your reading level by consulting online sources such as Readable and Lexile and Quantile Hub, for two good examples. 

The willingness to do your homework as an author will prepare you for the most important task at all. You need to communicate, as an adult, to children. You have to be a little kid inside. All of the hundreds of other children’s authors are doing it. See how you can help out with your great ideas.

Exercise: When studying your competition, you need to divorce yourself from the material you are reading. If you get caught up in the story—or, if you pooh-pooh how simple it is—what good does that do for your analysis? The best tactic is to stop frequently. Read only a few pages of a chapter. Don’t finish it. Then go back to the start of the chapter and read it again. That way you’ll be able to say: that’s what they are doing so well.

“Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.”            ― George Bernard Shaw

Copyright @ 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.