02 Jun Decipher the Mysteries of the Children’s Book Market
If you want to write children’s books, you must do market research. This step is every bit as important as the actual weeks of writing and revision.
My writing partner, Shirley Raye, always scopes out the market before a new project. Years ago she got an idea for a nonfiction book by reading Richard Ellis’s THE SEARCH FOR THE GIANT SQUID: THE BIOLOGY AND MYTHOLOGY OF THE WORLD’S MOST ELUSIVE SEA CREATURE. Recalling her own childhood interests, she knew inquisitive youngsters would relish a book about this fascinating creature. She spent her planning week in bookstores and the children’s section of the local library. Her research revealed there was no nonfiction reader for grades 2-4 about the squid.
She read dozens of books aimed at kids in this age category. She studied the diction and sentence structure. She counted words, paragraphs, and pages. This intensive market analysis provided her with a suitable blueprint or pattern—a 48-page book of 950 words. She also compiled a list of publishers that had already released books similar in style to the one she intended to write. Then she wrote TENTACLES! TALES OF THE GIANT SQUID and sold it to Random House!
Like Shirley Raye, you need a plan. If you were going to take a trip across the country, you would plan your route, how long you’d be on the road, what sights to see, where you wanted to spend more time, when the trip would end, etc. Although you know trips often have unexpected stops and detours, you would still start with a plan. So don’t skip market research or the planning weeks, and don’t skimp on note taking. As you do research, remember that your goals are:
1. To create a guide or template for your book (as explained in the third paragraph).
2. To learn about the market and publishers.
3. To decide what book category you should aim for.
First, do an online search of children’s books for your subject— for instance: “bigfoot legends myths children’s picture book.” If you are writing fiction, you can’t do a precise search, but any info will be helpful—“mystery, buried treasure, first pet, tooth fairy, fun on the farm,” etc. Also search booksellers’ websites. If your idea is a “first trip on an airplane” picture book, are there four out there already? If so, you should come up with a new angle, unless you have expertise that gives your manuscript extra clout.
Don’t worry if there’s some competition. You will find similar books. If you’re lucky, when you find them in the online databases, you will see “Out of Print” by the titles. If they had good sales, editors might buy another book on the topic. If similar books are still in print, it’s up to you to point out to the editors how your manuscript differs and why your publisher should buy another novel about a boy wizard. Or maybe the books you find don’t cover all the age ranges. That gives you the opportunity to target your manuscript for that neglected age group. Maybe the books you find are readers, but there are no chapter books on your subject. When you submit or pitch your manuscript, explain to the editor how your book fills a market need.
If you are writing a fictional reader, take note of the publishers who do readers. Then you’ll have a list of publishers to check out and consider submitting to when you’re finished. If you’re not sure if your book is a picture book, a reader or a chapter book, etc., tune in next week–same time, same blog. We’ll cover the standard categories of children’s books, something you must know when you submit a manuscript. And, of course all these topics and more are covered in our workbook, WRITE A MARKETABLE CHILDREN’S BOOK IN 7 WEEKS.
Got a question about writing for children or about your project? Please drop us a note with your questions or comments.