Publishing: Children’s books explained

Writing for children is a highly popular area, but also highly competitive. It also comes with some fairly rigid rules that the publishing houses like you to abide by. I am not saying that they won’t break the mould, but a lot of the time they will want you to know who your audience is, and this goes for any author writing for any genre or age group: know your market. Understand who you are competing against in the bookshops and try to understand why best sellers become best sellers. You want to be original, but you need to know the audience you are writing for and understand what they need/want out of a book.


Children’s book publishing covers a wide readership who all have different needs and are at different developmental phases. This means that children’s fiction will vary a lot depending on these elements and will also be influenced by the publishing house you are submitting to. Below I have outlined some important terms that are important to understand, especially for new and emerging authors. I have included a rough guide to the various categories and associated word lengths that you might stumble across in this area of publishing. Please remember though, this is simply a guide:


  • Novelty books: These books usually contain very few words and are illustrated in full colour, often with flaps, pull-tabs, pop-ups or other features. Board books fit into this genre too. These books are often counting books, or teaching colours, shapes etc. For babies to 4-year-olds. (Can be fiction or non-fiction.)
  • Children’s picture books: Usually a larger format, 32-page (planned in double paged spreads) book with an illustrations and text with a word count of about 600. Most suitable for 4-7 years, although some might cover 0-9 years.
  • Picture books for older readers: Usually 8+ years – this category is a little like YA for picture books: the themes are more complex and darker. They are often longer than children’s picture books, sometimes 48 pages or more.
  • Chapter books: Mostly for 8-10 year olds. Generally a B-format paperback with some line illustrations (B&W) and the word length can be from 1,000 to 10,000 words depending on the series it suits. Books for emerging readers.
  • Mid-level non-fiction: can be a conventional illustrated piece of non-fiction with graphs, diagrams, index, table of contents, illustrations etc. This level can also contain a more graphic comic approach. Occasionally there are picture books published which suit this age level, but they are frequently “faction”. Increasing a popular alternative is to write somewhere between 2 and 4 parallel texts, each with a different tone or focus, and each of which is accessible to a different level of readership.
  • Junior novels or junior fiction: Primarily for 8-12+ years. Generally a B-format paperback with very few line illustrations (B&W) and the word length can be from 10,000 to 20,000 words depending on the series it suits. Books for young readers who are confident.
  • Fiction for mid-upper primary: No real label for this approach but a novel of conventional length, say 25,000 words without illustration or perhaps just some chapter openers. Mostly B-format, but can be A-format.
  • Young Adult fiction (otherwise known as YA): A complex novel for older readers with a word length of about 40,000 words or more. This category usually focuses on celebrities, puberty and teenage issues. Mostly B-format, but can be A-format.


NOTE: A-format and B-format relate to the size 0r ‘footprint’ of the book.



There are many, many Australian and International publishers of children’s fiction. Again, it is really important for you to know the publisher that you are submitting to, what kind of books do they usually publish? Will your book fit their publishing list?

If you know who to target you will save yourself precious time in preparing submissions for publishing houses who do not publish books in your area. Here are a few publishers who accept kid’s books. Remember, a google search is a great place to start and will give you an idea of who and what else is out there in terms of kid’s publishing.

Keep an eye on their websites for more information. It is always good to know who are prepared to accept unsolicited. For those who only accept solicited content, it is wise to seek out a good agent who specialises in your area.

They are currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts from aspiring YA authors, but are not for children’s books at this time. Read more about The Wednesday Post here: 

The Monthly Catch has been established for authors just like you! They will consider children’s and YA books. The first week of every month they throw their doors open to unsolicited manuscripts. Check out the guidelines at:

Pan Macmillan
Pan Mac have a similar program called Manuscript Monday – which is exactly as it sounds, they accept unsolicited manuscripts every Monday between 10am and 4pm. And hooray, they are also looking for children’s and YA books! Find it all out here

On Ya Bus Books
They recently blogged that they were looking for picture books and ‘Novels suitable for the 9 to 11-year-old market around 25,000 to 35,000 words and with strong plot and characterisation. We don’t have a preference for boy-centered or girl centered works, just fabulous stories.’ This blog generally a good read, check it out:

Wombat Books
These guys have decided to increase their publication of Early Reader titles by developing a new list for 6-8 year olds. They have a few guidelines on what they are searching for, so pay them a visit:

Random House
The big foot in publishing are happy to receive your submission too! Check it all out here:

Hachette Australia
They are spending the month of October searching for the next big name in YA. For more details hurry on over to:

Dragon Tales Publishing
These guys aren’t sure what they are looking for, but they want to see what you have. It is worth a shot, take a look at their website for more information:

New Frontier
They are now accepting electronic submissions for unsolicited manuscripts. Their website will tell you more about what they are looking for:

And finally…

There are plenty of others out there too, but the above list will at least give you a great place to start. Another great resource to check out is Creative Kids Tales for industry events, competitions, and a network of other children’s authors. Find more about them:

About Kit Carstairs

Kit Carstairs has background in book and magazine publishing, academic research, marketing and broadcasting. She has almost a decade of experience working with a wide variety of content including: fiction (adult and children’s), general non-fiction (craft, gardening, home improvement, general DIY, food titles, natural history, general reference, photography) as well as working with corporate (marketing and sales material, business reviews and papers) and academic content (research publications and thesis). Having worked both as a freelance editor and as an in-house editor and project manager in publishing, Kit has a comprehensive understanding of the importance of content development and the need for authors to be proactive in developing manuscripts that represent their full potential. As well as providing manuscript assessments Kit is also able to offer her editing and proofing services (POA) as well as fast and accurate transcribing services (POA). Contact Kit to discuss these services in more detail. Kit lives and works in the inspirational surroundings of the Blue Mountains, in Australia's New South Wales.



Publishing: Children’s books explained — 12 Comments

  1. There is a typo on this web page.
    Look at the top of this web page under the title: Children’s Book Formats.
    Now under the subtitle: Picture books for older readers, the word category is
    spelled incorrectly.

    M. Crossfield

    • Hi Catherine! Thank you for your feedback, I am glad you enjoyed this article. Let me know if there is anything else you would like to know more about and I would be happy to write up an article for you. Cheers, Kit

  2. Thank you for this, very helpful. My only question is if there’s a better way to get alerts to when publishers are open to submissions besides routinely checking their websites (which is rather tedious, and allows for missing small windows of open submissions). Has anyone has a database going maybe? I’ve a children’s picture book in the make and looking for publishers, but almost no-one is open to submissions right now 🙁 Any help greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Lel, I was actually alerted to a website called Pass it On just the other day: I don’t know a great deal about it, but I have other children’s authors who swear by it, so perhaps it is worth a look? Otherwise, I wish I knew…I will put my feelers out and see if I can find anything out about other databases, I will let you know if I find anything else of use 🙂

  3. This is a very helpful article; thank you for that! I am in the midst of writing a YA novel in free verse, so the word count is quite a bit less. Do you have any suggestions on the word count for a novel written more like a collection of poems?

    • Hi Mady,
      I am afraid I don’t have a word count suggestion for writing in free verse, I think that would be a very case-by-case scenario. The main thing to consider is what you feel the attention level would be for free verse with a YA audience. Always keep your target reader in mind. But I think the main thing is to get the words on the page right first, and then consider the word count especially with something like free verse.
      Good luck!

  4. I’m writing a YA mystery series that is targeted for ‘tweens’ and teenagers. It deals with “adult” themes such as a murder, theft, etc. What would be a good word count for each book? I was thinking roughly 40,000 words.

    • Hi Arwen, I think I would focus on writing out the story first to establish its integrity and then worrying about word count. Having said that, you are right in assuming that a manuscript targeted at tweens and teenagers should be shorter than an adult book. Writing in a series is a wonderful idea – both for the purpose of acquisition and also because once teens like something they tend to want to continue reading about the same themes, characters, books by the same author etc. All the best with your future writings! Kit

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