5 Rules for a Break out Picture Book: A Quick And Dirty Guide

1. Character. Think of all the recent bestsellers that you know of:  Fancy Nancy, Elephant & Piggy, Shark Vs. Train, Ladybug Girl….What do all these books have in common? A  character with loads of personality. A character that has potential to continue through many books. This may seem obvious (um…of course stories have characters?), but there’s a tendency among some of us (you know who you are) to get all poetic and fancy and neglect the feisty protagonist. This doesn’t mean you should stop writing those lyrical musings on the seasons, it just means that if you want to break-out book these days, a  really charming, funny, cute main character is the best way to catch an editor or agent’s attention.

2. Language:  Tell Don’t Show. This is not a typo.  Just tell the story simply and engagingly. All those creative descriptions of the waves’ foamy fingers tickling the sand? Save ‘em for your journal. There’s an antsy kid in my lap and all he wants is to get to the next page–pronto!  So just say we’re on the beach and leave it at that.

3. Think about the pictures: This will give you a complete sense of the story and help you achieve the second rule. Remember that a picture book is a collaboration. There will be some artwork that will connect some of the dots. Leave some room for the illustrator’s work and don’t explicitly dictate everything that should be in the story.  That’s one of the best things about a picture book–that cool dynamic between words and pictures. Don’t wreck it by stepping on the illustrator’s toes.

4.  Paginate! Insert page numbers into your manuscript (leaving room for front matter).  You needn’t give each block of text its own separate, physical page, as it would be in the actual book. Just place numbers where the page turn would be. You can get a sense of how this might work by taking one of your favorite books and typing it out, noting where the page breaks occur.  It’s a fun exercise, and it will really give you a sense of one of the most important elements of picture books.

5.  Make it good.

One Comment

  1. Posted April 1, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Excellent advice from an editor who really knows her stuff. Cheers!

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *