Secrets of Writing Picture Books

picbookfinalHow do you write a picture book? … Creating a picture book is easy, isn’t it? Only 500 words and the audience is under 8 years old. So they won’t care! … WRONG!

Picture books are the most competitive of all genres to write and get published! … Why?

Some publishers prefer prolific picture books authors like Mem Fox, Sally Odgers, Claire Sax and Robyn Opie. BUT you can break in as a newbie if you show a passion for picture books, do your homework meticulously and create a children’s story with wide appeal.

My LOVE of picture books began as an enthusiastic teacher reading picture books to my year one class, capturing their attention with my animated voice and actions. When the book was finished, the kids called out, ‘Read it again!’

For the last  four years, ideas for a child-centred picture book  based on my family’s personal experiences overflowed in my mind and wouldn’t let go. I must develop them to their full potential.
First I requested constructive feedback from children’s authors from my online critique group. A GIANT thanks to them for their generous suggestions and steering me in the right direction. Then I followed these steps, wanting to perfect my picture books …

#6 TOP Tips for Creating Picture Books

•    Immerse yourself in the genre of picture books … beg, borrow and delve into them. Read picture books out aloud to young children, either one-to-one or to a group. Gauge their reactions to the spoken word.

•    Explore a picture book idea that you feel passionately about. Preferably one based on a main character’s emotional quest which will profoundly move children.

•    Familiarize the unique components of the picture book genre … rhyme, rhythm, repetition,  and the series of three.  Make strange, original, or unexpected use of language.

•     Participate in children’s writing courses and conferences like CYA in Brisbane. Join picture book and children’s writing online groups like #pblitchat on twitter and face-to-face groups like SCBWI and your local children’s writing group.

•    Seek critique from other picture book writers. Rewrite. Perfect your story. Tweak. Rewrite and tweak again. Delete all unnecessary words.

•    Keep tweaking and perfecting until your story jumps off the page.

Finally I requested Sally Odgers, editor extraordinaire to provide BOOK 1 of my picture book series with critique, polish and review.

“The story works well, and would illustrate nicely.” I was stoked! … Thanks Sally for your positive assessment.

What’s my next step?

SQUEE!  Yesterday I pressed the SEND button to a VIP query email, transmitting to a picture book publisher … Please UNIVERSE, I  need that REPLY to be … YES.

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14 comments to Secrets of Writing Picture Books

  • Well done once again. So proactive. A very tough market to crack into. They commission a lot of books, but hey, you gotta try right? Write? lol…

    Keep us posted.


  • oh yes! hope you get that yes.

  • Thanks Anthony. You know me, I’ve gotta try. Someone will be the next to get their picture book published. Why not me?
    My writer friends have spurned me to on to submit, so I ‘ll try my damn hardest …Karen :))

  • Thanks Michelle, that’s what I want, YES YES YES!

  • Good luck with it Karen! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.

  • Thanks Jo for the good luck wishes. Hoping to match the picture book series with the perfect publisher :))

  • Joanna Gaudry

    Nice tips, Karen, and good luck with your venture into picture book territory. I’d also recommend doing workshops or courses with children’s book authors and others with insiders’ knowledge. I attended a great picture book workshop held by Hazel Edwards at QWC last year. I also did a university course years ago that was about writing and publishing for children and young adults. The Children’s Book Council of Australia is a good place to start finding out about the world of picture books. Lots of useful links on their website.

  • Hi Joanna, Thanks for all your tips on courses for Writing for Children. They all sound fabulous. In 2009 and 2010 I attended the CYA Conference in Brisbane. I participated in back-to-back writing courses from 9 to 6 including picture book sessions. I’m so lucky to belong to a critique group with top published kids authors offering me feedback. Joanna, I wish you all the best with your picture book too :))

  • Thanks for the Children’s Writing course reminder… I’ve added it to my #6 Top Tips :))

  • Great tips, feel reassured that I’m already doing all those. Best of luck with your submission!

  • Hi Catherine, Thanks for tweeting and following me over to this Blog. Glad you’re doing all the right things with your PB. Thanks for the good luck wishes too. Karen :))

  • Hi Karen,

    I just read this post. How did the submission go?

    Cheers, Megan

  • Hi Megan,
    Thanks for your interest and question.
    Last year, my submissions to CYA received high marks and extremely positive comments from publishers.
    This year I made the decision to publish my mental health Recovery book ME & HER:a Memoir of Madness and become an positive role model, advocate and activist for mental health.
    Next year I hope to publish my children’s books.
    Karen 🙂

  • […] collaborated with a super talented children’s illustrator to create a picture book empowering children, families and […]

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