1. Your Idea Needs a Home
Often people say they have a fabulous idea for a picture book. An idea is just an idea. Without a creator it has no potential and no purpose. So start. Sit down and write. Relax and see what happens. The story will probably reveal its own dimensions which weren’t even part of your original idea. Once you’ve begun drafting your brain will continue to work on your story even when you’re not consciously thinking about it. Release your idea and give it a chance to grow.
2. Your First Audience Is You
Read your work out loud. Every author gives this same advice because it’s crucial. You are more likely to detect clunky parts in your writing when you read it out loud. It is the most essential step in drafting a picture book. Picture books are intended to be heard. Your story should flow with a rhythm that feels natural to the reader and sounds natural to the listener. The best way to establish this flow is to say the words while you’re drafting and re-read sections out loud often. Don’t wait until the story is finished to hear how it sounds.
3. The Time to Rhyme
If your story wants to rhyme then let it but never force it. Obvious and clumsy rhyme is horrible, it distracts from the story and is painful to read. Eloquent, inspired and effortless rhyme is beautiful. Children love it and so can publishers. It’s commonly believed that publishers hate rhyme. They probably just hate bad rhyme and it’s difficult to translate for international publications. So rhyme with caution!
4. Feedback - Source and Seek
It’s definitely worth having someone read your manuscript before you share it with publishers. Your story must be as good as it can be before it’s sent off. However…
it is super important that you find the right people to critique your work. Don’t choose people who are just going to make you feel bad. Don’t choose people who are just going to make you feel good. Choose people who know something about the picture book genre in its contemporary form, people who understand that your story needs to be read out loud and will partly be told through the illustrations.
Family isn’t always best. Your own children are biased. You need intelligent, honest, articulate people with an ear for small details. Children’s Librarians and teachers who adore picture books are often helpful. Writing is a craft. Appreciate that your skills can be improved with advice, reflection and practice.
Rejection happens to everyone. It is crushing but should never be completely devastating. Try to think of rejection as an unavoidable part of the job. When one arrives allow yourself a small window of sad time (wallow, cry, eat chocolate, whatever) then brush yourself off and keep going. Send your work out again. Maybe your story was overlooked because the publisher had enough books with similar themes, perhaps it just didn’t fit their profile, possibly you caught a grumpy reader on a bad day. All art is subjective. A rejection letter may reflect the view of only one person. So send your story out again and let someone else read it. And if after you’ve sent it to a long list of publishers and have gained a long list of rejections then write a new story. Start fresh. Each time you start again you do so as a more practiced writer with the wisdom of a little bit more life experience behind you.
6. Spend Some Time with Like-minded Artists
Don’t get upset when friends and family don’t seem to take your writing seriously. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you. They just don’t understand your creative drive. However, support, encouragement and understanding are very nurturing. Extend your social circle to include people with similar passions. Arrange to meet writers in person or online. Tell people you’re a writer and others will open up about their own artistic interests. Be honest and you’ll find people to connect with.
7. If You Want To Write a Picture Book Then Write a Picture Book
If you write just for fun then write however you want but if you want to write something of substance that may be published, then these guidelines might be helpful.
A picture book should usually be …
- Under 600 words
- Light on lengthy descriptions (It will have illustrations.)
- Not preachy or ‘teachy’ (No one likes being told how to think.)
- Not nostalgic and sentimental (Fun to write, excruciatingly boring to read.)
- If you really, really want to be cute and sweet make sure your story is still interesting with depth in the characters and structure in the plot.
#1. How do you get ideas?
I think finding ideas is the easy part. Everything can be written about so most writers stumble across ideas all the time. The difficult part is using those ideas to write a story that’s interesting to others. It’s a challenge to select the right ideas and join them together to write something that readers feel a connection with.
#2. Do you ever get writer’s block?
Um. No. Not really. With three children I’m usually so grateful for quiet time alone that I pounce on opportunities to write. I don’t put any pressure on myself to write something magnificent. I just let myself write and worry about redrafting later. If I do get stuck I go outside and lie on the sun lounge. It works wonders.
#3. Why do you write for children?
Actually I don’t write for children. I write for myself because it makes me feel good and I don’t want to stop. Writing for children just seems to be the genre that unfolds most naturally for me. I love children’s books and I love reading to children. I was a lucky kid with parents who read me stories and poems and sang me songs. I was given opportunity to develop an appreciation of writing that employs rhythm and simplicity when I was small. I don’t write for children but I write with children in mind. I want to create something special for my readers.
Other Tips for Writing Picture Books
eKIDnas - SA Children’s Authors and Illustrators
The Style File – Australian Illustrators
Australian Children’s Literature Sites
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