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If It Walks Like a Bunny and Talks Like a Bunny...
by Kathryn Lay
It Still Might Not
Be A Picture Book
You have a great idea for a kids story and, Wallah!
Its a picture book manuscript.
Or is it?
Picture books are short and for the very young and mostly pictures,
so they must be easy to write. Right?
Nope. They are really more difficult than most type of writing.
Kids love picture books. They are the first books a child holds,
a time to be read to by their parents, siblings, or caregivers.
Because of this and the apparent simplicity of them, many childrens
writers navigate toward picture books as their first foray into
writing for children. They are shorter in length. The concepts are
simpler than a long, plotted out novel. They are fun to do in schools
and bookstores and libraries.
But writing picture books is challenging, both in the actual writing
and the selling. It costs publishers tens of thousands to produce
a picture book. They are paying a writer and an illustrator, plus
the cost of putting together an illustrated book.
Is it really a short story instead?
There is a big difference between a childrens short story
and a picture book. Both are shorter than a novel and both are for
children, but sometimes the story isnt right for a picture
book and may truly be a magazine story. A picture book is about
story AND pictures. A short story may all be in one or very few
settings. It may be longer.
If you think you are writing a picture book, ask yourself this
question. Does it have enough different picture possibilities?
A picture book is done in 16 or 32 pages. Board books are 8-16.
Your story must have 16-32 different picture possibilities.
There may be some or most of the pictures in the same setting, but
the picture must change somehow.
Should I get my best friend to illustrate it?
Are you a professional illustrator? Then dont worry about
who will illustrate your book. Unless you plan on self-publishing,
you are a writer and that is how the publisher will judge the manuscript.
Once it is accepted by a publisher, they will search for and decide
on an illustrator. They might listen to your suggestions, but they
may have someone specific in mind once they read the manuscript.
Sending a picture book manuscript that is written well along with
a friend who can draw but isnt professional
in their illustrating will only hurt your chances to make a sale.
Does it really need a plot, cant it just be sweet?
Weve all read books that are cute and "sweet
but seem to go nowhere in plotting. Many of these books were done
in years past. But many writers nowadays have received rejections
stating that their book is too sweet or too
slight. Your story doesnt have to be multi-dimensional
or have many levels of plotting, but many publishers prefer a story
line, even in rhyming books. Go to the bookstore or library and
look at the books published in the past year or two, the ones out
now, and read them. Unless you are looking at baby board books or
novelty books, most have some sort of a plot going on.
Ive read lots of long picture books from many years
ago, so can mine be 2500 words long?
With the shorter attention spans and cost of printing, picture
books have gotten shorter in text. Generally, 1000 words or less
is a good guideline.
What does it mean to dummy a book. Im
not an illustrator?
To dummy a book is for your benefit as a writer. This is where
you find out if your story has enough picture possibilities and
more. Create a book dummy by folding 16 pages into 32. Begin your
book on page 3-4 (front matter counts for the beginning
the info about the books publishing, dedications, title page).
Type out your story and cut it up into where you think the new pictures/pages
would be and tape it onto your dummy. Do you have too much text
or not enough at some points? Are there sections that dont
show enough for the illustrator to work with? Do you
only see about 20 single pictures? You can have some double-page
spreads, but think about more picture possibilities. This dummy
will not be sent to the editor, it is merely a guideline for you
to use to see if you actually have a picture book.
Should I tell the publisher what kind of illustration I
want on each page?
Occasionally a specific book or part of a book may call for a writer
to give some type of direction on illustrations, but most often
the editor prefers that the illustrator does their own interpretation
of the text. While this can be frightening for the writer, the pictures
and cover are what will draw in young readers. An illustrator wants
the book to sell well as much as you do and generally will do their
best to create a book you both will be proud of.
Writing a picture book takes a lot of research and studying of
picture books that have worked, and coming up with new ideas that
will tantalize both parents and children. Dashing off a quick story
and sending it to the first publisher on a list without doing some
research and hard work is likely to make your dream of becoming
a picture book writer never rise to the top of the slush, but if
you truly believe in your story, give it the time and attention
it deserves and someday you may find yourself sitting in a school,
library, or bookstore surrounded by children as you read aloud.
© Copyright 2007, Kathryn Lay
Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through firstname.lastname@example.org
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