Dreaming of writing a children’s book?
Recently I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) Winter Conference in New York City. I went a slew of amazing sessions presented by renowned writers and illustrators. One session was facilitated by well-known children’s author Ann Whitford Paul and author of the book Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication. In this book, she offers more detailed and expanded information about picture book writing.
During her seminar, she and Holiday Books agent, Mary Cash, offered the following 10 suggestions. Take a look and enjoy the process!
10 Principles of Picture Book Writing
1). Find your unique story: Write what you know, write what you love, look for inspiration in the world. These are the main tips. We may think our life is boring, but it’s not. Use that which is close to your heart and create a story.
2). Appeal to both children and adults: The tricky double audience can be, well, tricky. When writing a picture book, you have to write for both children and adults. You want the child to enjoy your book but if the adult isn’t intrigued, it may never get purchased in the first place.
3). Keep it short: Most picture books are about 32 pages long. As the experts say, “Use the right words.” Don’t overdo it. Create a powerful, enticing opening sentence, then use these basic questions to help create your plot.
WOW! (the first one or two opening lines should pull the reader in)
4). Keep the plot simple but meaningful: Since you have fewer pages and words to work with, as opposed to a novel, the plot arc is relatively simple. A picture book essentially has three acts: a beginning, middle and end, with the middle being the longest act. Offer a powerful opening, a meaningful ending, and some conflict in the middle. Below are some tips when trying to decide on type of conflict.
Create some conflict:
5). Remember that page turns are important: Make the reader want to turn the page and find out what comes next. Use questioning, punctuation, suspense and other tactics to entice the reader to go on. Keep the book tightly focused. Tangents are unproductive to page turns.
6). Use lyrical language: Parents love reading lyrical language aloud and children love hearing it. Use literary elements like alliteration, rhyming, interjections, and onomatopoeia. Every single word in a picture book counts and it must match the mood of the story. If you choose to rhyme, make sure your rhyme has rhythm.
7). Leave room for art: Picture books will have illustrations and the visuals are often what pulls the reader to the book initially. Young children who cannot yet read will spend hours looking at the pictures. When writing, be thinking of the type of art you’d like alongside your text and make sure you save room for it.
8). Revise: Edit, edit, edit. You may think your first draft is a masterpiece, but it’s probably not. Ask friends to read it, join a critique group, and perhaps most importantly, try out the story with the children in your life. Kids are often the best critics. Further, don’t be afraid to step away from your book and clear your head. Taking a break allows your mind to process what you’ve written and consider changes that need to be made.
9). Submit your work: Once you feel your work is polished, it’s time to submit to editors and/or literary agents. These days there are a multitude of publishing options. Whether you go the traditional route or you decide to hybrid publish or self publish, carefully consider which choice works best for you, your budget, and your book.
10). Collaborate: Once the book enters the publishing phase, there will be a lot of collaboration. Try not to be sensitive during this stage. Editors, illustrators, designers, publishers, and others will have opinions about your book and they may be different than your own. Don’t let their suggestions hurt your feelings. The entire team has the same goal of publishing the very best final product.
One last tip is to HAVE FUN! For me, writing is a life line. It’s something I have to do every day to feel alive and productive. Like any type of work, writing a picture book takes time and energy, but the end result is well worth it.
So far I’ve written one picture book, The Jolt Felt Around the World. Like Ann Whitford Paul, I thought writing a picture book would be easy because they’re shorter than newspaper articles, magazine features, or novels. Boy, was I wrong. With a short book, you really must be careful with your words. I have many ideas for future picture books and am having a lot of fun learning about the craft. Whatever story you have in your heart or mind, maybe it’s time to get it into the universe. Good luck!