What Is A Picture Book And Could I Write One?

09/03/2017 @ 17:18:00

Let me present a very common scenario that occurs at the beginning of the creation of a children’s picture book and many a children’s writer’s career:

1. Parent, or grandparent, reads picture book to young child

2. Child enjoys the story and wants to hear it again another ten million times (or so it feels!) 

3. Parent or grandparent, who by now is utterly exhausted and bored silly, suddenly has a brainwave. Hey! This book is so simple anyone could write one. Why don’t I have a go?

And there you have it. Another would-be picture book writer is born.

It’s easy to see why picture books look so easy to write. The plots are simple, the language is basic, the word counts are low and most of the characters are teddy bears. How difficult can it be?

The honest answer is…very difficult indeed. You need to know all sorts of things, including what to write about, what to avoid writing about and how to fit your story into the picture book format, which is something of a skilled job in itself. Above all you need a reasonable understanding of how the international picture book market works before you have even a glimmer of a chance of getting your book accepted for publication and from there, into book shops around the world and translated into numerous unintelligible but highly impressive-looking foreign languages.

Can you succeed? Well I did. Hundreds, if not thousands of other children’s writers worldwide have succeeded too and so can you.

In the next weeks on this blog I will be covering topics from my book How to Write a Children’s Picture Book and Get It Published (Robinson, Little, Brown Book Group). What I won't be doing is discussing board books (baby books made of cardboard) or bath books (baby books made of plastic that go in the bath) or ABC and counting books because, with a few notable exceptions, they contain very little text and absolutely no story. For this reason they are nearly always produced in-house by the publisher itself.

By ‘in-house’ I mean that the entire concept, design and content of this type of product is created by people who are employed by the publisher. Professional authors don’t get a look in simply because there is no creative story-telling work to do.

What I will be covering is the creation of proper ‘picture books’ which require a fair level of skill and creativity. With this in mind I’ll be discussing things like format, layout, plot planning, character creation, titles and the elusive answer to everybody’s number one question – what do children’s publishers really, really want?

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