Right now, I am midway through the process of creating my next children’s picture book to be published by UQP, due for release next year. As with my first two picture books, I am writing, illustrating and designing the book.
Many people, after they find out what I do, tell me they have an idea for a picture book, or have written a story, or would like to write a book for children … one day. If the conversation continues, I often find many of those people are quite confused about the ins and outs of creating a book and being published. They simply don’t know the steps involved and their bewilderment has arrested their progress before they’ve even begun.
Also, from time to time, I receive emails from people, usually via my blog, who are chasing advice about ‘the whole book and publishing world’. I do my best to answer with helpful information and suggestions, and, while I don’t mind extending a helping hand to other writers, it takes considerable time and effort.
So, in response to the demand, I’ve decided to blog about it, to offer readers (who happen to be writers) advice about some of the actions they (you) may choose to take to get your wonderful idea for a picture book published and out there, in the world. Many of the steps are the same as for other genres, so some advice will be relevant to you if you write, for example, young adult fiction, cookbooks or some other fabulous thing. Just skim over the parts that don’t apply.
This topic is a lengthy one, and I have decided to chop it up and deliver it in bite-sized portions. I don’t know about you, but I rarely read long blog posts these days. Even if I am interested, I feel urgent about using my time wisely and I often find I need to be doing, rather than reading about doing. So, this is the introduction to part one of my 12-part series all about writing and publishing picture books for children, to be delivered over 12 weeks.
Before I begin the series, I want to address a couple of concerns. First, any advice I offer is born of my experience and my experience only. There is plenty of useful advice available on the net — some heartening, some not — and I will include links to some particularly wise counsel in the posts to follow. I certainly don’t profess to know everything, but I hope the free information I proffer my readers is valuable.
Second, a question you may ask: What in the world qualifies me to blog about this topic? Well, you can read my biography here to find out more about me, or, for those who’d rather stay on the page, so to speak, let me give you the brief rundown. I have written, illustrated and designed two picture books for children, with another on the way (you can read about Bea and Sylvia here). I have co-authored, edited, designed and photographed a wonderful cookbook with Brenda Fawdon for the Scenic Rim Regional Council (you can read about Eat Local here), and there are more cookbooks on the boil. I have edited, proofread and/or designed over one hundred books for other authors and publishers, and I regularly present workshops on writing picture books and creating cookbooks (more of these to come in 2017). I also hold a Master of Arts (Research) in Writing for Youth and Children (QUT, 2010) and a Graduate Diploma in Creative Industries, Creative Writing (QUT, 2007), as well as other relevant qualifications.
Righto. On with the show.
Part 1: Know and love your readers
First things first …
If you are hoping to have a happy career writing picture books for children, it helps if you actually like children. In fact, it helps if you enjoy spending time with them, usually on mass, because apart from the writing and illustrating of children’s picture books — the quiet and solitary part of the process most of us love — should your book be published, you will be called upon to interact with children. Your book launches will likely involve young children; you’ll be invited to speak or entertain at schools and libraries; and your agent or publisher will do their best to secure promotional opportunities for you, almost all of which will involve — you guessed it — children.
So, if you feel uncomfortable with the idea of chatting with children, or the thought of sitting in front of a sea of little people (who often ask the most awkward yet surprisingly refreshing questions) makes you squirm, you may want to reconsider your career path. Would you prefer to be writing for an older readership? Nothing wrong with that. There are, of course, many children’s authors and illustrators who are much happier creating books for children than engaging with children in person, and they can make this work, but it certainly makes for a more enjoyable and sustainable career if you can wholeheartedly embrace your readers, who are, in this case, children.
Now, you do not have to write exclusively for children. I don’t. While I have written and illustrated two picture books for children with a third coming out next year, I am also writing for adults. The cookbooks I am creating are, in a way, picture books for adults — they are full of photographs and some even contain illustration. I just love creating beautiful books. However, working across genres and attempting to attract different audiences does make positioning and promoting yourself somewhat more challenging, a topic about which I’ll write more in a later post.
This may seem like an unusual angle for the first blog post of the series, but the reality is this: I have spoken with more than one children’s author who wished they had known what they were in for. They wish someone had told them what being a children’s author involves before they set off merrily down that path. This post is simply a small insight into the side of being a children’s author that not all budding authors consider. They may relish in the thought of hours alone, crafting their tale; savour their imaginings about a book launch; feast on thoughts of fame and fortune (ho ho ho), but not realise, after being published, to give their beloved book the best chance of a life, they must actively champion it. And championing a children’s picture book usually means connecting with that book’s readership — children.
Writing for children is a wonderful thing. It is a worthwhile vocation to create stories, often imbued with invaluable messages, which may make a powerful difference to the lives of our very young. You may, as I do, delight in the absolute deliciousness of crafting words, of nutting out the puzzle of how best to express your thoughts, of playing with cadence — the rhythm, subtle or not-so-subtle rhyme, alliteration and so on. And, should you also happen to be an illustrator, you have the added joy of bringing your story to life through pictures.
Before you decide to embark on the task of writing your picture book for children, it is a sound idea to do some research. Visit bookshops and go online to look at what is already out there. Think about the styles of writing and illustration you like. Is there a publisher whose books stand out to you? What themes do authors explore? Whose work do you admire? Is there a recently released book with similar characters and themes to your idea already out there on bookshelves around the place? Do your research so you can see where your book could fit in the market, and so you can study the rather high standard of children’s literature.
Remember to read. Read published children’s picture books, read books about children’s picture books. Read so you can hone your craft: the craft of writing. And then, most importantly, write. If you really do have a marvellous idea for a children’s picture book, if you burn to write it, write the damned thing, and then do what you can to get it out there. Don’t be the person telling me you have an idea for a book or that you have always wanted to write for children. Write it. Yes, skill, talent, timing and some very good luck all play a part in getting your work published, but you will never have your book published unless it is written. Right? Write.
If you found this post helpful, you may like to read the upcoming posts in the series: My 12-part guide to writing and publishing picture books for children. I will publish the 12 posts over the coming weeks and announce them on Facebook and Instagram, but if you want to make sure you don’t miss a post, subscribe to my newsletter for free.
My 12-part guide to writing and publishing picture books for children:
Part 1: Know and love your readers
Part 2: Ideas and inspiration
Part 3: Character, theme, rhythm and rhyme, and all of that writing stuff
Part 4: Who’s who in the zoo (writer, illustrator, editor, designer, publisher)
Part 5: Storyboarding and editing
Part 6: Illustration
Part 7: Traditional publishing or self-publishing
Part 8: Submitting your manuscript — the slow business of traditional publishing
Part 9: Contracts, advances and royalties
Part 10: PR — book launch, web presence, book talks and more
Part 11: Who are you and who do you want to be?
Part 12: Resources