Don’t kid yourself thinking that writing a picture book is easy. In my opinion, writing a picture book takes more skill and craft than writing a novel. Well, perhaps that’s not true, but it takes a very specific kind of skill and craft, that not everyone has. Here are some of the things you need to think about if you’re going to write picture books.
- The current market for picture books supports very low word counts. When I started in the business 6 years ago, we were looking for word counts of <1000. Now, it’s not unusual for word counts to be <500. Keep this in mind when you’re writing.
- Some of the things that make a picture book manuscript work are interesting word choices, repetition, assonance, internal rhyme, meter. Pay attention to this. It’s not only about the content of your story, it’s about how you tell your story even on the sentence level.
- If you’re going to write a rhyming picture book text, have the rhyme serve the story, don’t jam a story into a rhyme.
- Picture books can’t be too teachy-preachy or didactic, or kids aren’t going to want to read them. If you have a “message,” don’t slam your reader over the head with it.
- Don’t talk down to the miniature humans you’re writing for. Kids are astute and will pick up on a condescending tone.
- The world that you build in your story usually has rules to it, even though it may only be 467 words long. Don’t break those rules, or the story won’t work.
- If you’re not an illustrator, you just send your manuscript text when you’re submitting to agents or editors. You don’t need to find an illustrator. The publisher will want to do that if/when they buy your manuscript.
- Only include illustration notes if you need something in particular in the illustration to tell your story. Otherwise, it just feels like you’re micro managing the illustrator’s job. (Plus it’s unprofessional and will peg you as a novice.)
- Picture books are usually 32 pages long. If this is new information for you, read this blog post to familiarize yourself with just how picture books are laid out.
- There are all types of story structures: cumulative, circular, increasing/decreasing, parallel, linear, etc… As with rhyme, have your story structure serve your story, don’t jam a story into a particular structure.
- Remember that the game is to write a book that kids are going to want to read again and again and again and again.
This is not a comprehensive list. What other things do you think picture book writers need to keep in mind?