How Do I Turn My Story Into An Early Reader Book?

So, you’ve got a great story you’d like to share with early readers (also called Beginner Readers or Beginning Readers).

Your story may be a vignette from your past — a moment that still stands out, years later. It may be a story inspired by children you’ve been close to, a son or niece or neighbor. Or it may be a completely made up fantasy story you think will appeal to young children.

A Magic Forest scene from the early reader, The Lion and the Mouse, by Linda Aksomitis.

And while you don’t feel there’s enough substance for a 10,000 word chapter book, you know it would take more than a 100 to a 1000 words to tell your story well in a picture book.

If this is the case, exploring early reader books is a great choice.

You can turn a story into an early reader book by focusing on how easy the book is to read, the kind of language used, and the topics and themes that appeal to children aged 6 to 8.

Keep reading to learn more!

How to Write an Easy to Read Book

Early reader books, by definition, are easy to read. But what exactly does that mean?

How easy a book is to read is easily established by two standards: Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and Flesch Reading Ease. Both of these measures use the same elements (number of syllables in words along with sentence word count and complexity).

However, the most commonly used Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is a measure against the US educational system, and the Flesch Reading Ease looks only at how easy you’ll find a piece of text to read by analyzing the language.

Many educational markets focus on publishing easy readers and beginner books, creating numerous leveled reading series. Not familiar with leveled readers? They’re books written for 29 specific reading levels used in reading programs. Students progress through the reading levels quickly, as each level has only a very small incremental change over the previous one.

However, if you’re not planning to submit to an educational publisher (most leveled readers are written by in-house editors or work-for-hire writers anyway), the 29 levels (or alternative reading levels of competitive publishers) aren’t particularly important.

What I do is aim for a grade or its midpoint, such as Grade 2 or Grade 2.5 with a reading ease somewhere under 100. Books at that level give authors more freedom with writing style.

What Writing Style Makes a Book Easy to Read?

A writing style that’s easy to read is very specific.

Writing an easy reader is all about keeping things short: short words, short sentences, short paragraphs.

Linda Aksomitis, author of the Magic Forest Adventures for beginner readers.

The good thing is that it’s easy to figure out what level your story is written at right now. How? If you use Microsoft Word, you can run the readability statistics to easily figure it out.

Here are the general readability instructions from Microsoft for both Windows and Apple users. However, if you need help, just look up your operating system and version (e.g. Windows 10 and Word 365) and Word readability on YouTube, and you’ll find lots of different instructional videos to follow.

If you don’t have Word, then you can readily use an online tool. My favorite is WebFX’s free online tool at: Readability Test Tool. Just copy and paste in the text of your story.

If you find your story is written at too high of a reading level (grade 3 or lower is a good target to aim for if you’re not targeting an educational publisher), you can apply the following strategies:

  • Change three syllable words to one or two syllable words. For example: beautiful to nice or pretty.
  • Change complex sentences to simple sentences. For example: Even though it was dark, the lights weren’t on, to It was dark. The lights weren’t on.
  • Keep sentences under 10 words long, with more shorter than that.
  • Keep paragraphs to two or three sentences long.
  • Remove adverbs (run slowly) and adjectives (pretty flower).

Need help simplifying your language? Try these color coded free online tools:

How to Choose Words to Use in Early Readers

The good thing about writing easy readers is that there are educational tools writers can use. While they may have been developed to help language teachers, they’re very easy for writers to use as well.

The first set of tools are the lists of Dolch sight words. These are lists developed in the 1930s and 40s to incorporate the most common words used in written materials. So, the lists include really easy words like a, the, and be, right to harder words like apple, mother, and together.

Dolch words are ranked by grade, so if you’re hoping to hit a grade 2.5 reading level like my Magic Forest Adventures series, you’ll deliberately use words from the pre-primer to second grade lists. While there are many webpages dedicated to Dolch words, this is one I like as the Dolch words are all easy to see at a glance.

The words need to be simple, repetitive, and easy to decode, yet the story still has to grab the reader.

Scholastic.com

If you’re thinking back to how you learned to read, you may be wondering about language uses such as contractions. Should you change he is to he’s or they would to they’d?

If you’re writing to a reading level lower than Grade 2.5, don’t use contractions. Contractions increase the grade level by a number of points. So, in my first edit I didn’t use contractions and hit a Grade 2 reading level, but changing to contractions raised it to Grade 2.5.

So, why did I leave in the contractions? Because I felt the series had appeal to readers who had the ability to read at a higher level. And simply put, not using contractions, especially in dialog, can tend to make the language not as fun to read for capable readers.

Another important thing to do when writing for early readers is to repeat words. That’s right. Repeat words. For example, “Little pig, little pig, let me come in!” Or, “They looked and looked and looked. Everything looked heavy in Magic Forest.” (Notice how the first line of the second example also uses the literary rule of three.)

Why repeat words in early readers? Repetition helps young readers remember and feel successful.

How Will I know What Stories and Themes Appeal to Early Readers?

Red Riding Hood crossing the Magic Forest to get to Grandmother’s house.

One of the most common tips marketers give new writers is to create a reader profile. What’s a reader profile?

A reader profile is an in-depth “picture” of your reader that includes things like age, interests, and behaviors. Here’s an article and podcast from Book Marketing Tools to help you get started on yours.

A friend of mine even selected a photo from the Web to represent her ideal reader, keeping it beside her as she edited and prepared her marketing materials. You may find it useful, too!

However, if the story you’re working with is a memory of your own childhood, you may be wondering how to create a profile of a child the right age today for your early reader book for today’s child. There are a few ways.

  • Spend some time with friends or relatives who have children the age you’re writing for.
  • Volunteer for organizations offering programs for children the age you’re writing for.
  • Watch television shows staring children the age you’re writing for, as well as the shows this age of child is watching.
  • Call on your local librarian (every author needs a favorite librarian!) to help you find the most popular titles for the age of child you’re writing for and read as many as you can.
  • Research early readers or beginner (beginning) readers using Publisher Rocket (note that I’m an affiliate and will earn a small fee if you decide to purchase this service) to identify top selling titles and how much they’re earning on Amazon. Read as many as you can!

Does Your Story Have Good Topics and Themes for an Early Reader?

One of the most important things to do is to make sure beginner readers can identify with your main character or MC. You’ll likely note as you read popular easy readers that the main characters are distinctive in some way. Take notes as you read on what characteristics are linked to plots similar to your story.

As well as characters, look critically at the plots of the books you’re reading. Does yours follow a similar pattern? Remember, the readers of easy readers and beginner readers are often reluctant readers. They need to be hooked on the plot and the characters to keep reading.

There’s one other thing that’s important to examine in the best sellers you read — that’s the themes. Writers are often tempted to tell stories to guide children to do something specific, such as accept others’ differences or be honest.

Stories that focus on the theme, as opposed to the character and the plot, are often didactic or preachy. So, be sure that your theme evolves naturally through your storytelling rather than being the purpose of it.

This is a good place to apply that tried and true rule of writing in general — show don’t tell. Rather than telling beginning readers to accept others, show them how it feels to be the child left out of all of the fun things.

Stories can have strong themes and still be popular with young readers as well as the buyers of children’s books — parents, teachers, and librarians.

Should You Publish Your Early Reader in Ebook or Paper Format?

What format is best for an easy reader? Well, both ebook and print on demand (POD) are relatively easy to do with all the modern tools and services available. So, there’s no reason not to do both.

However, let’s take a minute to talk about markets — or finding buyers — first. Schools and libraries typically buy paperbacks from educational publishers. And those publishers have tons of money behind the marketing of well developed series with kid-friendly characters and/or licensed characters from cartoons and movies (such as Disney) that they watch as well.

Your chances of breaking into this market and making much money are…well, very slim.

Bookstores are also full of the popular series of early reader paperbacks for beginner readers, particularly the licensed characters. And parents are likely to buy what they know their children will read, so again, it’s a big gamble to hope you’ll hit it big with bookstore paperback sales.

Ebooks, however, can be a good alternative when it comes to easy readers. If you’re asking aren’t those same popular beginner reader books on Amazon and elsewhere, the answer is generally yes.

However, traditional publishers price their ebooks at pretty much the same price as their paperbacks. And most parents won’t pay as much for a digital book as a print book.

So, if you can price your early reader or beginner book anywhere from $0.99 to $4.99, you’ll have better potential ebook sales.

The other way to get your early reader books to young readers — and get them interested in your characters and stories — is through library sales. But again, since traditional libraries need to purchase the rights to the books in their digital collections, you’re at a disadvantage.

Parents and readers aren’t making the decisions. Librarians are selecting recommended titles as they have limited budgets.

Is there a workaround? Of course. And that’s to stick to Amazon’s KDP Select.

Why? Because your book is included in the Kindle Unlimited (KU) program, which is essentially a library that KU members can choose from to read as many ebooks as they like.

And you won’t usually find those educational or licensed character ebooks there, because the publishers prefer 1) to sell paperbacks, and 2) to sell the whole ebook at a high price rather than to accept the much smaller payments from KU.

If you’re thinking of going wide, or publishing with more online retailers than Amazon, you’ll also have access to traditional library services such as Overdrive through distributors like Smashwords and Draft2Digital.

However, in these situations, your ebooks still have to be selected and purchased by librarians, so your odds go down. Smashwords and Draft2Digital, however, also sell your ebooks to online subscriber readers services such as Scribd, so that’s an advantage.

How Do You Publish an Early Reader Ebook on KDP Select?

You can publish an early reader ebook by formatting it for reflowable layout, or by using Amazon’s free fixed layout tool, Kindle Kids Ebook Creator.

How does Kindle Kids Ebook Creator work? Just format your ebook in a word processor (even Google Docs) and save it as PDF. Then, import the PDF into the Kindle Kids Ebook Creator tool. Once it’s imported, you can even do things like add pop-ups to the text.

Of course, there’s a lot more to self publishing than just getting your ebook into a saleable format.

You can learn all the ins and outs of ebook publishing in my online course, Publish and Sell Your Ebooks. Just check your community college or library calendar and register today!

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