Ten Tips for Beginning Picture Book Writers

In 2014, all I had was an idea for a picture book and a desire to create something I could use with my preschool class. Tired of reading Curious George Makes Pancakes, I set out to write a picture book that could capture children’s interest, a pancake book where they could actively engage in the story and ask to hear it again. Ten years later, (likely 2024) my first traditionally published picture book is set for release (after two self-published books) and only now do I feel I have tips I can share that might help someone starting out.

Picture book stack 2022
  1. Read a lot of picture books: That was easy for me, being a mom and a teacher BUT I had to ask myself, which picture books am I reading? WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE are surefire hits with the preschool set, but what about current picture books? It’s important to read the latest books being published to get a sense of what editors want, especially since this changes over generations. Today’s teachers and parents are looking for something fresh and different, usually with fewer words.
  2. Write regularly and give yourself permission to write things that will never see the light of day. Just write without your critical editor judging every word. You can revise it later. Get the words down.
  3. A picture book is like a poem. It is a moment in time, captured in words and images that complement each other without being redundant. The illustrations need to add something new or give the reader something to discover that isn’t mentioned in the text. That’s because young readers first learn to read by using pictures as cues. So you need to learn to write poetry! Poetry challenges helped move my writing forward. A poem-a-week challenge and a poem every day in April are both challenges I’ve undertaken that have helped me grow my writing. Jane Yolen, who has written over 300 picture books writes a poem a day. That information alone tells you how important it is to be able to write poetry if you are to write picture books.
  4. Find a critique group. These people can give you feedback and be your biggest supporters when you eventually do write something publishable. Most groups exchange work monthly. Don’t miss an opportunity to send something even if it is a poem or a query letter. Keep getting feedback on your writing.
  5. Learn more about poetry. Read the Ode Less Traveled, by Stephen Fry. Read poems for adults and children. Think about what makes them great.
  6. Learn all you can about the publishing world. How does the querying process work? Which editors or agents might be a good fit for your work? There’s a lot of research involved and you need to know who you’ll need a yes from.
  7. Take your time. Write something, get feedback, but don’t revise right away. Sit with the feedback, consider which feedback resonates, which doesn’t. Consider the direction you want your story to go. What is the central emotion behind it? How does the character change? Stay true to your story as you revise. Give yourself time to learn the craft. Publishing is slow. If you don’t have the patience, then writing and submitting your work is not for you.
  8. Learn how to add emotion to your writing. If your writing is flat and lacks emotion, it won’t resonate with the reader. Check out the Emotions Thesaurus for tips and consider how to incorporate emotion based on other picture books you’ve read. Ask yourself, what is the central emotion in this book and how did the author get it across?
  9. Make sure the plot progresses. Things have to get worse for your main character. Yes, they need an obstacle but if they overcome it too easily, it won’t satisfy the reader.
  10. Characters need flaws and agency. Make sure your main character is not perfect. The reader won’t identify with a perfect main character. Your main character also needs to take some action to solve the problem.
Typewriters at the Ruby

Thanks for stopping by the blog today! Come back any time! I wish you the best on your writing journey.

Cynthia Mackey

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Published by cynthiahm

I am a preschool teacher/music teacher who loves to take photos and write stories in her spare time. My dream is to become a published author. Follow my journey as I work towards turning my dream into a reality.

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