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Picture Books Aren't Just For Kids...

Children don’t buy children’s books. And children don’t read children’s books. Parents do both of those things. If you ignore the people with the money and who are spending their time reading the book aloud, you’re ignoring 50% of your target market. And that’s not smart. Guest column by Alex Latimer, writer & illustrator. After illustrating in his spare time as a freelancer, when he was finally ready, he spent a rainy winter creating his first children’s book: The Boy Who Cried Ninja (April 2011, Peachtree).

Before you start writing that picture book you’ve been meaning to write for years – think about this: Who is your target market?

Stupid question, right? They don’t call them kid’s books for nothing. They’re for kids. Well, that’s not entirely true. Children don’t buy children’s books. And children don’t read children’s books. Parents do both of those things. If you ignore the people with the money and who are spending their time reading the book aloud, you’re ignoring 50% of your target market. And that’s not smart.

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Guest column by Alex Latimer, writer & illustrator.
After illustrating in his spare time as a freelancer,
when he was finally ready, he spent a rainy winter
creating his first children’s book: The Boy Who Cried Ninja
(April 2011, Peachtree). He enjoys making new writer
friends and talking about his publishing process (as
well as more forthcoming books) on his blog.

Essentially picture books have a dual target market – and the best, most timeless ones cater to both sides in both their story telling and their illustration. The story must be simple enough for children to follow and charming or cunning enough to sustain an adult’s attention on the tenth, fiftieth and five-hundredth read. The illustrations need to be clear and simple, but they also need to have detail and depth. And most important of all, in my opinion, there need to be layers of humour for both parent and child. Add details that readers will pick up on the first read, as well as subtle elements that may only be uncovered long after the pages are bent and cover is lost.

If you write a book that you’re sure kids will love but ignore their parents, you’re halving the potential success of your book. And halving its appeal to publishers.

It pays to be mindful of how children’s books are bought and read before you start writing or drawing. Imagine you’re a parent reading the book for the hundredth time. And then imagine you’re a child hearing the story and soaking up the illustrations before bed time.

If you can bear the needs of both sides in mind as you write or draw – you’ll have an agent knocking at your door in no time, and you’ll have more than one publisher making you an offer. And more importantly, you’ll have a book that children will want to hang onto (or buy another copy of) so that their children will in turn have a chance to hear it read to them over and over.

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