I’ve had numerous picture books published including novelty books, board books, library books, nonfiction books and my newest, D IS FOR DRINKING GOURD: AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ALPHABET. Often, I’ve been asked how to write a picture book, so I’ve decided to offer some pointers that have helped me achieve success.
First of all, it’s important to understand that picture books are the hardest market to break into from an author’s point of view. This is because not only does everyone want to write a picture book, but these books are the most expensive book for a publisher to produce. The full color illustrations which make these books everybody’s favorite, are also the very element that makes them so costly. They’re costly for a publisher to make, and they’re expensive for the consumer to purchase. So if you’re a writer who wants to write a picture book and get it published, don’t be discouraged if you get lots of rejection letters along the way.
The first thing I advise a writer to do is choose TWO picture books projects to work on simultaneously. I know it may sound hard for you if you like to focus on one manuscript at a time, but if you can plan your son’s birthday party the same week you’re helping your daughter with her science fair project, you can do it. You just have to learn to segment your time to create a separate environment for the second manuscript where your brain can switch gears and focus on the other project for awhile. Sometimes I work on one manuscript in the morning, take a break at lunch, mentally switch gears and then focus on the second manuscript in the afternoon. Other times I work Monday through Thursday on one manuscript and then spend the whole day Friday working on my second project. The important thing is to dedicate some time each week to both.
The FIRST picture book project should be a manuscript you just want to write for fun. Chances are, you already know what this is! The SECOND picture book project will be a manuscript that you will write specifically to get published.
I know, I know! You’re already asking, “Isn’t that what my first manuscript is for?” Yes, of course, but in today’s competitive market, I have NEVER sold a single picture book manuscript that I wrote just because I wanted to write it. Yet I have sold nearly two dozen picture book manuscripts that I wrote specifically to get published following a certain strategy.
Here’s your assignment:
Picture Book #1: Start working on that picture book manuscript you’ve always wanted to write and have fun with it!
Picture Book #2: Go to the bookstore and find a picture book that you say, “I could write a book like this!” Then either purchase that book or borrow it from the library. Study it from cover to cover and read it at least five times. Type it out word for word on your own computer.
Picture Book Pointers: Borrow at least ten picture books from your local library each week to read, examine, and evaluate during the entire time you’ll be working on these two manuscripts.
Picture Book How-to: Read “The Everything Guide to Writing Children’s Books” by Lesley Bolten. She has great information about writing picture books and which type is what.
Check back soon for more Picture Book Pointers as I explain the next step to take as you’re working on your two picture book manuscripts.