Friday, September 18, 2020

10 Tips for Beginning Picture Book Writers

Writing picture books can be a tough gig, especially when you are just starting out. So here are ten tips to help you on this mostly fun, often frustrating journey to becoming a published picture book author. 

1. Know why you want to write picture books.

Writing picture books is a noble pursuit if you're doing it for the right reason. And that reason should be some variation of: "I enjoy writing and stories and I want to share those stories with the children of the world." 

2. Read ten picture books every week. At least half of those should be recently published.

If you enjoy stories enough to write them, then this shouldn't be a problem for you. And if it sounds like a lot, that's because it is. But reading a lot of stories is an important part of being an author. That is for many reasons, including the seemingly mundane reason of knowing the current picture book market. But also, picture books can inform and inspire your own writing, they can help you know what kinds of stories you want to write yourself, and they can can be useful mentor texts that will help you to learn and grow as a writer.

3. Don't write in rhyme, unless...'re competent with rhyme and meter. Even then, there's probably a lot you still have to learn. 

You've probably heard the "don't write in rhyme" rule. But it's not really a rule. It's a cautionary statement. The thing is...rhyme is really easy to do poorly, even for someone who may have a knack for it. So, if you want to write in rhyme, learn what makes well-written rhyme shine, and be willing to work at least three times as hard as you would if you were writing in prose. 

4. Find a critique group.

This is one of the first things I did when I set out to pursue writing and publishing children's books. Not only will your critique partners help you improve your writing with their feedback on your texts, but doing the same for them will help you improve as a writer as well. You will likely make connections with people that will last throughout your career and beyond, both in your professional and personal life. And writing can be lonely work, so having a trusted group of people who can be part of the journey with you is invaluable. 

5. Build a platform.

To me, this just means letting people get to know you online. Use social media and/or a blog to show people who you are and what you write. This doesn't mean you have to be an expert in anything specific, but if you are, and you plan to use your expertise in your writing (a biologist writing books about animals, for example), then use that! 

6. Spend time with kids, particularly those the same age as your target audience.

If you want to write for kids, it helps to know them. Watch how they interact with each other. Listen to the ways they talk to each other. Let them tell you stories. All of this will not only help you write stories that kids will relate to, but it will probably lead to plenty of inspiration.

7. Learn about the craft of writing children's books any way you can.

Read children's books. Read books on craft by your favorite children's book authors. Go to conferences and workshops. Follow authors' blogs and/or subscribe to their newsletters. Join the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators and take advantage of the resources they offer. And, of course, write and get feedback (see tip number 4).

8. College degrees don't matter.

Okay, well, they do for some things. But you don't have to have a college degree or even any college at all in order to write a book. You just have to be good at what you do. So do it, and get good at it! Take it from a stay-at-home-mom who got married right out of high school. College is good. But for this job, it's totally optional. 

9. Don't do this unless you enjoy the writing and rewriting process.

As the saying goes, "writing is rewriting." You've got to love it, even when it's hard. And it will be hard most of the time. 

10. Be prepared to wait. A lot. For your entire career.

I once read that it takes the average writer ten years to get published. That's ten years of writing and rewriting and submitting and waiting. Mostly waiting. If you're wise, you fill the waiting with more writing. So get used to it. It doesn't get easier just because you get a book deal. 

So, what are you waiting for? Take these tips to heart and start writing! 

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