Writing a picture book

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Arisa81

Bare with me, I'm going to try to figure out my questions as I write this.

I am writing a picture book. So that would mean it would be 28-32 pages, the normal for that type of book.

Word count: I know that this can vary. But is there a minimum I should aim for?

Detail: How much detail do I need about scenery etc? If my book goes along fine with simple details about what the main character is doing, is that okay? From what I have written so far, if an illustrator were to look at it I think they'd be able to create pictures. I would say that's a good thing. Okay, that's what I read somewhere hehe.

Any other advice would help. I am trying to be serious about this story. I've written many in the past, not done much with them and need to start getting things done. I know there are a lot of things I can read on the net, and I do, I just want your real experiences and tips, that you know work for you.

First draft of the story is completed, but not good enough. Keep me going guys ! I am pumped and ready. :jump
 

mammamaia

dear arisa,
i'm not gonna get nekkid* withya;) , but here's my advice, for what it's worth...

'type of book' will depend on the age range you intend to target... sounds to me like you need to study the art of writing for kids first... there are some good how-to books out there that will provide all the basics you need to learn... i'm sure some here will know which are good and which aren't...

so, if you really want to 'get serious,' get to work on learning the ins and outs of writing for children, study books that are similar to what you want to write, and THEN start writing your stories...

love and hugs, maia

[*just teasin' over the 'bare with me' bit... i'm sure you meant 'bear'... spellchecks often substitute homonyms that get us in trouble/make us laugh]
 

Arisa81

Thanks Maia,

First for the spelling correction. I always thought it was "bare" :smack No one else has ever corrected that...probably b/c they have no idea either haha.

And I have read tons of picture books, especially ones similar to the one that I just finished the second draft of. It's not too bad, getting better each time. But I'm sure it could use much improvement.

I need to learn how to format the manuscript as well as how to do paragraphs etc.

Thanks a lot.
 

Betty W01

Nope, it's "bear", not "bare", and I'm with Maia - no way!

As for picture books, the best book I've found on the subject is the WD book, Writing and Illustrating Children' Books for Publication: Two Perspectives, by Berthe Amos and Eric Suben. It is filled with all sorts of good information, checklists, writing exercises, case histories, reading lists, and advice. It was published in 1995, but it is still the best resource I've found. Also very good (and also from Writer's Digest Books, my favorite source for writing books) is the book/workbook set called You Can Write Children's Books, by Tracey E. Dils [commerical: watch for a review of this by that well-known and beloved book reviewer, Betty Winslow, coming soon to AW]

Both books tell you what you need to know, in different ways: how long to make it, how many pages (they are 32 pgs. long, true, but do you know how many you actually can count on using for text? 28...), how to set up the manuscript for submisison, what NOT to do (very important in this field, since what you think would be logical is not what they want).

For those of you who are asking yourself, "What does she know about this? She's never had a picture book published?", I reply, "True, but I know this field, inside and out."

As part of my job as mother of four, I've read many picture books out loud.
As part of my job as school librarian, I've read and considered hundreds, in the process of developing the school's collection, and I've taught classes on how to use them in school with kids of all ages.

As a friend of the head of the 2004 Caldecott committee, I've attended a mini-Caldecott workshop on what they want in a winner.

And as a writer, I've done many picture book reviews for various magazines. I've gone to many conferences, workshops, and lectures featuring picture book authors, and listened to them talk about the field. I've toured the Mazza Museum a half-dozen times. And I've discussed picture books and the publishing business a number of times with an internationally-known picture book author, over the course of about six years or so, in letters, e-mails, and phone calls, and face-to-face at conferences and in her living room, as well as with her editor.

I may only write magazine articles, book and restaurant reviews, poetry, and essays, but my heart belongs to picture books.
 

Arisa81

Bear Bear Bear Bear Bear :grin I think I've finally got it.

Now you can BEAR with me. :b

Thanks Betty, I will look into those books. Writing picture books is something I've always wanted to do.

The one I am doing now is slightly humourous. I like the stories with a lot of repetiation, and my story has that.

Robert Munsch has got to be my favourite children's author.
 

Yeshanu

April,

Here's a thought.

Robert Munsch started out as a worker in a daycare centre (Canadian spelling 'cause he's Canadian) and even now does the rounds of schools, where he tells his stories to children.

Find an audience of children of the same age group that you are writing for, and read them your stories. The kids will tell you if your stories are working or not.

Best of luck,

Ruth (who has read many Robert Munsch and Dr. Suess books out loud in her time...)
 

Arisa81

Ruth,

that is a very interesting idea you have. I used to work with children a lot and have a friend who still does and I often run my ideas past her, and she'll tell me if it is something she would read to kids or not.

My friend wants me to come work for her when she opens her own daycare, so that would be something to do with the kids.

Thanks
 

Yeshanu

April,

Another thought, though this one might apply more to writers of fiction for slightly older children:

I was reading a mag article today about seniors who are writers. One senior wrote a book for children, but had some trouble getting a publisher. Apparently the editorial staff had okay'd her ms, but the marketing dept. had rejected it.

So she gave the ms to her sister, who was a teacher of children in the target age range. The sister had her students read it and write book reviews. When all but one of the reviews came back positive, the writer sent the reviews to the publisher. Result: one published book.
 

Arisa81

Ruth,

Thanks again !

I have finished writing 2 picture books, still working on editing and cover letters and will be sending them out asap.

They are both humorous stories, I just hope they see it like that without the pictures. I know they will be much funnier with pictures. That is probably true in most cases. But the 2 people I have had read them so far have seen the humour. :)
 

Stephanie

April

Here's something interesting:
Unless a publisher specifically states in its writer's guidelines that author/illustrator teams are welcome (where the author does not also illustrate the book), or asks that the author suggest an illustrator, it's not a good idea to find an illustrator yourself. Publishers have very specific "looks" to their books, and prefer certain types of illustrations. Also, the quality of illustration in children's books is so high that unless you can find a truly accomplished illustrator, it will make your whole project look unprofessional.

The text itself should draw enough "word pictures," or imply enough illustrations (without overtly describing every scene) that an editor will be able to imagine the illustrations without your providing them. If your text has so few words that the illustrations are left completely up in the air, that's fine too. As long as you're telling a good story, then a talented illustrator should be able to interpret your words and come up with illustrations that complement and expand upon the text. However, if you're determined to find an illustrator to work with (or if you're submitting to a small press that asks for the author to find an illustrator) you can call the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (818/888-8760). They should be able to help you locate an illustrator in your area.
from www.write4kids.com/asklaura.html


To check your style, see A Crash Course in Submitting a Manuscript
 

Stephanie

More in from Children's Book Insider Editor Laura Backes:

Q: How do I let an editor know what the pictures should look like if I don't plan on illustrating the book?

This is probably the most frequently asked question about picture books. Basically, the answer is, you don't. Most publishers do not want the authors to have input into the illustrations; in fact, there's rarely any communication between author and illustrator until after the book is finished.

There are two reasons for this: First, the words themselves should imply strong visual images. However, the words should not describe every detail the illustrator will draw, such as what color shirt the character is wearing, unless it's vital to the story. Instead, an editor must be able to read just the text and get enough information to imagine the characters and events of the book.

Secondly, a picture book is really a story told on two levels: words and pictures. The artist must be free to elaborate upon the text and add another dimension to the story with the illustrations. If the author places constraints on this freedom by dictating the pictures (and possibly missing some elements of the visual story because the author has a very specific idea of how the art should look), the book might not be as good. Authors need to trust that editors will pick artists who can do justice to the story.

If it's absolutely necessary for the author to describe an illustration (for example, the punch line of the book is shown through a picture rather than words), then the author can briefly note the illustration in the appropriate place on the manuscript, set off by parentheses.
 

Timothy

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Besides the Toolkit, this is the best thread I have read so far that deals with children's books. Thank you for all of the good advice.
I am in the process of writing a PB. I have read several Caldecott award winning books and these are the things that I have noticed about them. They engage a child's senses, i.e. touch, sight, hearing, etc. They use words to create pictures in the child's imagination. They use similes to describe the setting and the actions of the characters. They keep a good sense of verisimilitude.
Anyway, that is what I have learned so far. I hope it helps. Good luck and have fun.
 

MsJudy

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OMG, the resurrected zombie thread!!!!

I'm going to add the two books mentioned here to the Toolkit thread.
 

Smish

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I don't agree with the idea that the writer has nothing to do with the illustrations or that the text alone carries the work.

Anyone who thinks the text alone should completely carry the work doesn't know much about picture books.

That said, the writer should WRITE, and let the illustrator do her job. Picture books are a partnership between the writer and the illustrator. The illustrator is not working for the writer; she's working with the writer.

It's fine for the writer to include minimal illustration notes if clarification is needed. The key words here are "minimal" and "needed".

Most editors are going to be very annoyed if the writer includes illustration notes for every page (I'm tempted to say "every editor", but there may be a rare few who don't care). Writers who are that controlling are difficult to work with, so even if your manuscript is great, an editor is likely to pass on your submission.

:)Smish
 

cwgranny

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Here is a format for a picture book. Page 1
Noises from Next Door
Art: Half title

Just a note to say MOST U.S. publishers do NOT want to see this kind of format from an unpublished picture book writer. Most want to see the manuscript formatted pretty much the same as you would use for a short story. The page breaks and art ideas come from the editor -- NOT THE AUTHOR. MOST U.S. editors would take one look at this from an unpublished writer and reject you. Really.
 

MsJudy

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And most of the "illustration notes" aren't necessary.

"What's with you and monkeys, anyway?" conveys the rolling of the eyes. I didn't need someone telling me about that; I already saw the image.

A good picture book text allows the reader to infer the illustrations...which the illustrator then brings to life more fully.
 

Cyia

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Just a note to say MOST U.S. publishers do NOT want to see this kind of format from an unpublished picture book writer. Most want to see the manuscript formatted pretty much the same as you would use for a short story. The page breaks and art ideas come from the editor -- NOT THE AUTHOR. MOST U.S. editors would take one look at this from an unpublished writer and reject you. Really.

QFT.

You submit one page of text (for a very young child's picture book), and if you're a real artist, you can either include a dummy and samples (depending on the submission guidelines) or mention that you have the same available if the editor is interested in seeing them. From what I've seen, most will ask to see them, but you should never wager on YOU being the artist unless you have credits to your name.

Don't include the dummy if you aren't an artist. (And again I say- a real one).

In my case, there are images that have to be seen and not inferred (a "busy day" = almost getting eaten by under cooked calamari with an attitude), but I still didn't include the illustrations until asked for them.
 

Amarie

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Just a note to say MOST U.S. publishers do NOT want to see this kind of format from an unpublished picture book writer. Most want to see the manuscript formatted pretty much the same as you would use for a short story. The page breaks and art ideas come from the editor -- NOT THE AUTHOR. MOST U.S. editors would take one look at this from an unpublished writer and reject you. Really.

So true. I just heard an editor from Candlewick speak about this a few weeks ago at a conference.
 
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A question for all those who say you should not put any art notes with your picture book manuscript:

How do you show that the image on the page needs to be opposite of the text? How would you show visual irony?

What about a double page spread illustration with no text? Surely there must be an art note saying: No text. The jam explosion has occurred. Imagine a mushroom cloud of jam.

There might be visual element that are not mentioned in text and cannot be properly described in your cover letter. For example, imagine a kid who wears truly weird clothing. T-shirts with grass patterns. Pants made of cardboard, etc. No character ever mentions it, no one talks about it but it plays an important role in the story. He can spy on someone because his grass t-shirt camouflages him. It isn't enough to write "The main character wears clothes that play a role in the story".

The writer and artist work together quite closely in creating a picture book. It is a collaboration. The writer has some ideas, the artist expands on them, they talk, they work, they modify and it ends up greater than the sum of its parts. The writer doesn't hand it over and then the illustrator goes off on their own.
 

Smish

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A question for all those who say you should not put any art notes with your picture book manuscript:

No one said that the writer "should not put any art notes" in the manuscript. Minimal illustration notes are fine when they are absolutely necessary.

How do you show that the image on the page needs to be opposite of the text? How would you show visual irony?

Editors are generally intelligent people. They can probably figure it out. However, this may be an instance where minimal notes are appropriate.

What about a double page spread illustration with no text? Surely there must be an art note saying: No text. The jam explosion has occurred. Imagine a mushroom cloud of jam.

It is not the author's place to decide when and where there should be text. That is the editor's job.

There might be visual element that are not mentioned in text and cannot be properly described in your cover letter. For example, imagine a kid who wears truly weird clothing. T-shirts with grass patterns. Pants made of cardboard, etc. No character ever mentions it, no one talks about it but it plays an important role in the story. He can spy on someone because his grass t-shirt camouflages him. It isn't enough to write "The main character wears clothes that play a role in the story".

Unless the clothing description is required to clarify the text, the author shouldn't include it. That's the illustrator's job.


The writer and artist work together quite closely in creating a picture book. It is a collaboration. The writer has some ideas, the artist expands on them, they talk, they work, they modify and it ends up greater than the sum of its parts. The writer doesn't hand it over and then the illustrator goes off on their own.

The editor mediates and oversees. It is not the place of the author to take over the editor's job, or the illustrator's job. In the US, they each have very significant and independent roles.


It's possible that things are very different in Australia, but in the US, the writer should not include excessive and detailed illustration notes. Your advice directly contradicts that of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, and countless children's book editors.
 
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It's possible that things are very different in Australia, but in the US, the writer should not include excessive and detailed illustration notes. Your advice directly contradicts that of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, and countless children's book editors.

People should follow the submission guidelines set out by the publisher they are submitting to. Some advice online says to never submit illustrations or extra visual material. Then you read the submission guidelines and they say please only send us copies if you are submitting illustrations. Please send us copies if you are submitting extra visual material.

Even some of the advice above talks about adding art notes when necessary.

For Walker books, their specific submission guidelines for what they want to see beats the SCBWI's general advice.

When the guidelines are minimal or non-existent then follow SCBWI and make it none to limited art notes. The format I posted isn't forbidden across the board.
 

Smish

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People should follow the submission guidelines set out by the publisher they are submitting to. Some advice online says to never submit illustrations or extra visual material. Then you read the submission guidelines and they say please only send us copies if you are submitting illustrations. Please send us copies if you are submitting extra visual material.

Even some of the advice above talks about adding art notes when necessary.

For Walker books, their specific submission guidelines for what they want to see beats the SCBWI's general advice.

When the guidelines are minimal or non-existent then follow SCBWI and make it none to limited art notes. The format I posted isn't forbidden across the board.

Yes, I can agree with that. A writer should always follow the specific publisher's guidelines. In the absence of specific guidelines, they should follow the industry-standard advice.
 

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