10 TIPS for picture book writers:
1. Know the standard. Picture book layouts usually include page counts divisible by 8, due to how books are printed. A 32-page layout is standard (but flexible). Not all of those pages will include text/pictures, due to blank end pages, title page, publication/dedication pages, etc. USUALLY, you have 29 actual pages, or 14 1\2 spreads, to tell your story.
2. It’s in the title. In person, the first thing a potential reader notices is the front cover art, but the title is just as important. Not every marketing effort for a published book will include a picture of the cover. Sometimes the words must be enough to catch a reader's attention. The title should say something about the story and, perhaps, leave just a hint of mystery or include humor to reflect the writer's voice. Don’t be boring.
3. Less is more. Most agents and editors are currently seeking manuscripts under 500 words. Remember, actions and descriptions don’t always have to make it into the text. They can be represented through the pictures the illustrator draws to accompany the text.
5. Variety is the spice of life. A manuscript should support different pictures for each spread. That can be achieved by a change in setting, a character’s physical actions, etc.
6. Rhythm trumps rhyme. Picture books are meant to be read aloud and should have a natural rhythm when spoken. Although rhyme used to be very common, many agents and editors now avoid it (Some DO still accept it, so don’t despair if you are the next Dr. Seuss). Practically speaking, rhyme is more limiting for a publisher. If a book rhymes beautifully in one language, it may lose much when translated to another language.
7. Repetition is good. Often the natural rhythm of a picture book text can be achieved by repeating a phrase or word throughout. Think of the repetition in a picture book as the "refrain" of your favorite song (we've all raised the roof singing "And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon" but mumbled through the parts we didn't know). Repetition appeals to children, who love to read along and like knowing what comes next.
8. Know your audience. Picture books may introduce new, interesting words, but try to keep text appropriate for the level of your reader. Keep in mind, though, that it is the parent who will likely be reading the book to the child, so pleasing them is also important. If you can accomplish both in one story, you may have a winner.
9. Storyboard even without illustrations. Where in the text will a page turn? Is there enough change in action/scenery to make each spread different? Will the text create opportunity for the illustrator? These are questions that may be answered by creating a dummy layout of what text will land on what page/spread. A dummy is intended for a writer's creating/editing purposes only. When formally submitting a text-only manuscript, follow the exact formatting submission guidelines posted on agent/editor websites.
The below storyboard templates were created in Excel (originals and PDFs). Use freely and edit to your liking, but please do maintain my credit info in the footer, if passing along to a friend or linking to your own website.
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Last but, most certainly, not least...
10. READ. To write a picture book, one must first read what is out there. Take time at the library and peruse the picture book shelves. Ask the librarian to point you toward the most popular titles. Analyze them. Learn from them. Then get started on your own!
Happy writing, picture book friends!
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