Children’s literature is remarkable for numerous reasons. Many of our first experiences of loving a story came from an early childhood book. If you think you’re ready to take the leap and create your own children’s book, you may be wondering how long the process is from start to finish.
A children’s book can take a day or up to five years to write. This will depend on how familiar you already are with your concept, your writing ability, and how much time you dedicate to finish the writing. The publishing process after writing can take anywhere from one-and-a-half to two years.
Writing your children’s book is only one step in getting your book on shelves. The actual writing, illustrating, and editing can vary depending on your writing skills and your writing process. Below, we dive deeper into the book writing process and discuss the timeline you can expect from the publishing side of things.
If you have a story at the forefront of your mind, you may wonder how much commitment it’ll be to get the idea on paper. Though children’s books tend to be shorter, sillier, and have a smaller word count, it can still be a pretty prolonged process.
It can take a long time to publish a children’s book. This process can take anywhere from 1 ½ to 2 years. If you’re already familiar with agents and publishing houses in the industry, it may take less time.
If you’re new to the publishing world and still looking for your agent or are going to self-publish, it can take a little longer. Penguin Random House, a well-known publisher for nearly 100 years, says to expect this process to take 18 to 24 months.
Let’s look at the different reasons why writing a children’s book can take a short time or a long time, and how to speed up the process.
In her master class on writing children’s books, renowned children’s author Judy Blume described the five different categories of children’s books. The list isn’t all-inclusive, and some publishing houses might even further break down these categories.
These categories include:
- Picture Books (300-1,000 words)
- Early Reader Books (1,000-5,000 words)
- Chapter Books (10,000 words max)
- Middle-Grade Books (Up to 60,000 words)
- YA Novels, which are more similar to adult novels, can be anywhere from 50,000 words or more.
You’ll also often see board books for infants that only have 10 or 15 words, such as color names or basic objects. Deciding what kind of book you’ll write will significantly affect the writing and publishing time.
Children’s books are shorter than young-adult or adult novels, which can make writing more difficult than normal. You have less room for errors, and every single word needs to be intentional and meaningful for the story.
If you have some publishing requirements, this means you only have so many words or pages to get through the whole story.
As we mentioned above, the writing process can take one day or one whole year. This depends on the amount of work you’re willing to put into your concept right off the bat or whether you’ll be writing once a week for a year. Getting an idea, world-building, and developing your characters can take some time.
The writing process is going to look different for everyone.
Neil Gaiman has written many novels, but Coraline, his only children’s book, took him such an extended time to write because he’d stop writing if he didn’t know what happened next. Children’s author Marcy Campbell says she can finish the writing in a day, though she may sit on her concept for a few weeks.
Pre-publishing tasks such as finding an illustrator or an editor can also add time to your process. If you need an illustrator, the process of finding the right one can take a week or take a year, depending on how strict you are about your concept.
Additionally, editing is going to take some time. Having a book that’s already polished and perfected means that the editing and proofreading process shouldn’t take long, but a book with lots of errors or untied plotlines might need some more time in the editing room.
If you don’t already have an agent or work with a publishing house that has its in-house editors, the process of finding an editor can add time, too.
The publishing process can also look drastically different for each individual and each book. Neil Gaiman also said in his interview that it took 12 years after writing to get Coraline published.
Self-publishing a book can take a long time because you are essentially managing and searching for all of the needed roles.
You need copy-editors to proofread your book, developmental editors to make sure everything makes sense, and illustrators to make the pictures and your cover. If you want to go the eBook route, you’ll also need someone to format the writing for digital platforms.
Depending on how much of this you can learn on your own, you might not need someone else to help you. However, this will also take additional time.
Working with an agent or publishing house will mean you no longer have to manage exclusively. Publishing houses have connections to different editors, illustrators, and digital formats to help you book.
The disadvantage of going with a traditional publishing house is that the process of pitching your book to the publisher can end up in rejection. If you want to get your book published but keep getting rejections even after editing, self-publishing might be the best route.
The writing process can take a day or 10 years, depending on your dedication to your concept and writing style. You can expect the publishing process to take anywhere from one year to two years and add that to your typical writing time.
The publishing process usually requires proofreading, editing, and printing. If you choose to self-publish, you’ll also have to reach out to and manage the editors, illustrators, and other team players, adding time to your process.
- Penguin Random House: How to write a children’s picture book
- Self-Publishing School: How to Write A Children’s Book: Steps, Structure + Tips
- Masterclass: Writing a Children’s Book: 4 Tips for New Authors
- IndieBound: Neil Gaiman Interview
- Critter Lit: Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Marcy Campbell — Critter Lit