So far in this series on How to Write an Alphabet or ABC Book, I’ve covered the ins and outs of researching publishers and doing the necessary preliminary work so you know what kind of book will be most marketable, and I’ve talked about how to choose a specific niche or angle for the topic of your ABC book. Today I want to look at the particular words you choose that will comprise the alphabet in your book.
I always suggest, when starting from a clean slate in choosing your words, to make one long list of every possible word you can think of that deals with your topic. Let’s say you’ve decided to do an ABC book on sea creatures. Write down every creature, big and small, you can think of that lives in the seas and oceans. Don’t over think your words at this point. It’s important to have as many as possible to work from. I also recommend never leaving the house without some way of taking notes when you’re out. You never know when that perfect word is going to pop into your head!
After you have compiled a sizable list, organize it by letter. Then identify those letters that have few, if any, corresponding words. For those letters that are lacking ideas, search through both children’s books and adult books on your topic. Check out the glossaries and indices of those books to identify potential words. Even look at other alphabet books on your subject for ideas.
For difficult letters, like Q or X, try to find other ABC books by the publishers you want to submit to, to see how they treat such letters. Some publishers are lenient and will allow authors to use words that merely have that letter in it, as opposed to insisting that the word start with it. Other publishers are not so lenient. You’ll need to know ahead of time what your potential publisher prefers.
Next, assuming that you have at least a few words to choose from for each letter, you’ll want to first eliminate all words that are not age appropriate. Again, this will depend on the target market for your publisher. Alphabet books can range anywhere from 4-8 years old–and even older, if the book is a two-tiered style, which I discussed in Part 1 of this series. But the difference between a word that’s appropriate for a 4-year-old is much different than what’s appropriate for an 8-year-old. Find out what your target audience’s age will be, then grab a children’s word book that lists words by age or grade to determine which words will be best for your book. A very popular and excellent book for this is the Children’s Writers’ Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner.
Once you have narrowed your list to only age-appropriate words, you then want to choose those that aren’t as commonplace. For example, when picking words for our sea creatures book, instead of going with “shark” for S, what about “sand dollar” or “sea turtle”? For the youngest of readers, you don’t want to get too far away from what they already know, but it’s always good to introduce new words and to pick words that may not be expected. One easy way to do this is to think specific. Instead of “S for Shark,” how about “L for Lemon Shark”? Or “G for Gray Whale”? Going specific may also open up new possibilities for those tougher letters.
Now that you have a workable list of words (for some letters you may still have several words to choose from), you need to work those words into simple sentences, descriptions, or definitions, depending on the format of your book. That’s what I’ll be discussing next week. See you then!