So you want to write a kid’s book?

Want to know how to write a children’s book?

So your tucking in your little mushroom to bed and your beside the bookshelf choosing a book for them before they even get to ask (nothing like routine!). Your reading along practising your best array of animated voices and impressions and it strikes you… This stuff is rubbish… I could write better than this in my sleep!

Well dearest, if you’ve had the urge to write there’s nothing stopping you (except that little person your tucking in, their constant need for love and attention, food and nappy changes, playing and education, the list goes on!) But if we were to all think that way the human race would long be extinct!
Writing a children’s book is easy, it’s everything else about the process that’s hard!

Why am I telling you this now?

This week I sat down and took my fourth Johnny Magory book out of my head and put it down on paper. I say ‘put it down on paper’ because my squiggles on an Aer Lingus flight back from London are a far cry from ‘writing’!

I usually end up writing down the stories in settings that are far from perfect, not the idealistic writer’s heaven one might imagine. This is usually because I need to distract my mind from what I’m currently doing. It’s true what they say, writing is therapy. I love getting caught up in my thoughts and entering different worlds, especially when I’m flying (my word I HATE flying!)

Johnny Magory #4 is Born!

I have often said ‘oh I’ve load’s of Johnny Magory books ready to go’ which obviously doesn’t tie in with what I’ve just told you (only writing the fourth) but I do have lot’s ready. I’ve a list of short idea’s written in my trusty note book. I know what’s going to happen in each, it’s just finding that moment when I need to get it out of my head.

Recipe for a Children’s Book

Here’s a basic recipe for a children’s book (cue the Rachel Allen voice).
You will need:
• A beginning, a middle and an end – sounds simple but it’s true. Set the scene, tell the story, wrap it up.
• A main character – animal, human, plant, body part, house hold utensil, vehicle, planet, freshly invented monster … There’s no boundaries with a kid’s book, let your imagination run wild!

“You can make anything by writing”. C.S. Lewis

• A main message – a moral, a warning, an invitation to hug, share, love etc. Every juicy tale, regardless of audience, has a message in it.
• A defined target market – a ‘children’s’ book means 0 – 15 years old approximately. It’s very hard to produce a one size fits all so get your end user in your head and keep them there. General age groups are 0 – 2 years usually board books; 3-7 years; 8 -12 years; 13 +. Your target could also have special needs or be for a specific group or setting. It’s a bonus to have a real-life ‘target market’ in close proximity to use as a crash test dummy throughout the process; there’s nothing like instant (and brutally honest) feedback to steer you in the right direction (or crush your dreams)!

My “real-time” feedback! Great story vs not so great story! 

And viola, you have a story!

And then…

Next steps are as follows:

  • Copyright it – Put a printed copy of your masterpiece clearly stating you are the author and the date, into an envelope, pop down to your local post office and register post it to yourself (yes really) and NEVER open it once it’s delivered.
  • Decide your route to Market- Go the traditional route or self publish – the traditional route means getting an already established publisher to pay you and print your book. It’s a tough business to crack but if you’re good enough (and lucky!) you’ll succeed. A list of publishers are available here – . Self Publishing is becoming much more popular as you basically become your own boss and DIY in your spare time (laugh at term ‘spare time’!)

I made a conscious decision to self publish because, put simply, I’m a control freak and nobody can do a job as good as I can! Joke, obviously! It was a decision though as I was in no rush to get it out and was genuinely interested in the process of how to make a book!

Going to Self Publish?

Then you’ll need the following:

An editor

Oh I’ve no doubt you’ve spent hours reading and re-reading and making edits but trust me, an editor is the best money you’ll ever spend. Some Editors charge by the word, other by the page. Look for similar books to yours and find out who the editor is, it’s usually listed on the inside (boring!) page where the copyright jargon is. I use Aoife Barrett, Barrett Editing, Dublin. Its a to and fro-ing kind of process but it’s usually finished after three attempts.

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words”. Mark Twain

An Illustrator

Everybody can doodle and draw and I’m sure you’ve looked at illustrations inside some books and laughed at their simplicity. But unless you’re really good (really, really!) and have the right software, do not attempt to illustrate your own book! Researching the books in your little person’s library is a good way to find illustrators. Obviously don’t go asking the likes of Oliver Jeffers or PJ Lynch unless you’ve a healthy bank balance in tow! Another option involves going to local art colleges and schools. Of course mother Google is always an efficient alternative. Try find an illustrator who’ll do design and layout as well. has a fantastic showcase of Irish talent. I use Kim Shaw from Kilkenny. Kim has great patience! I loved her style from the moment I seen it. It’s that simple “Ann & Barry” style that I grew up with and is perfect for telling tales from my childhood. 

Original Johnny Magory
The original Johnny Magory attempt by my sister Sarah. A great artist but no clue how to get it into a book!

Then the legal bit comes with obtaining an ISBN number from the Neilson Agency in London . Don’t forget to purchase a bar-code also, there are lots of vendors online for this.

A Printer

You’ll need to consider the following: size of book, hardback or paperback, page quality and type, binding style and any other extra’s you may require for example if you want a ‘lift the flap’ or ‘pop-up’ book. With the advent of POD (print on demand) getting a book printed is easier than you think. Just ensure your using a reputable company and do your homework in terms of shopping around for quotes. General rule is the higher the quantity, the cheaper the individual product. Don’t let this over tempt you though, 10,000 books may seem like a great bargain but trust me, housing and selling these bad boys is a whole other ball game! Be realistic. I use KPS Colour Print in Mayo. They offer lots a various sizes, quality and styles and are super customer focused and professional. 



Do all this and easy peasy… You’re an author, well done!

Now all you need is a sales and marketing campaign; and balls of steel to elbow your way into the world of books. Oh and one more thing…

You’ll need some good luck!

Good luck,

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing”. Benjamin Franklin

This is an extended version of a contributory article I wrote for ‘The M Word’.


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