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So You Want to Write a Picture Book

Copyright © 2015 Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright © 2015 Joan Y. Edwards

“So You Want to Write a Picture Book” by Joan Y. Edwards

Before beginning say the following affirmations: three times: I can write a great picture book. My picture book gets published. The illustrations in my book are outstanding. My publisher and I sell more than a hundred thousand copies of my picture book.

Picture books are stories usually have illustrations on every page of the book.  If there are 32 pages in the whole book, the story usually begins after the title page, copyright page, and dedication page. The illustrations help to tell the story. Without some of the pictures, the reader might not understand the story. In other words, the text depends on the illustrations to explain part of the story. An author can both write the story and draw the illustrations, or one person can write the story while a different person illustrates it.

Karen Cioffi shared that Claire Saxby quoted a publisher’s definition of a picture book as “40% words, 40% illustration, and 20% X-factor.”

How to Write a Picture Book

Step 1 Read 100 picture books.

Step 2 Study the Types of Picture Books

Joan Y. Edwards. “What Are Picture Books?” https://joanyedwards.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/what-are-picture-books/

Patrice Sherman. “A Few Picture Book Basics,” http://www.writingpicturebooksforchildren.com/a-few-picture-book-basics.html

Patrice Sherman. “Kinds of Picture Books,” http://www.writingpicturebooksforchildren.com/types-of-picture-books.html

Step 3 Read Guidelines for a picture book.

Guidelines for a Picture Book

  • Write a complete story in  (Pages with no story (Title page, back of title page (Copyright page), dedication, back of dedication page (picture) 1 single page, 24 double-spread pages, and 1 single last page)8 of the pages out of 24 pages with a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Use between 500 and 800 words. Some publishers allow more words; others want less.
  • Write a character-based story with a character faced with a problem, trying the solve the problem and failing, and then solving the problem by changing something inside them.
  • Write another type of picture book: Concept or Slice of Life or Non-Fiction.
  • Use colorful illustrations to help tell the story and add to its enjoyment.
  • Some editors like good rhyming. Others don’t
  • Some editors like slice of life stories. Others don’t.
  • Join other writers in writing a picture book:

Step 3. Don’t have your picture book critiqued until it is finished and you, yourself, have edited and revised it three times.

Step 4. Have your story critiqued by your writing group. Revise and change only ideas you agree with 100 per cent. When you have a quality manuscript, go to Step 5.

Submit Your Quality Picture Book Manuscript to a Publisher, Editor, Agent, or Contest

Step 5.  Follow the Pub Sub directions:

Week 1 Choose an editor, agent, or contest. Here are two posts on my blog to help you find a publisher or an agent.

Week 2 Follow their guidelines.

Week 3 Time to Submit to agent, editor, contest, critique group, or professional editor

Week 4  Celebrate, Live, Educate, Motivate, Write, Revise, Get Critiqued. Go to Week 1 with another story.

More Pub Subber posts on my blog

Resources about Picture Books:

  1. Charlotte Hucks. “Evaluation Guide for Picture Books,” http://highered.mheducation.com/sites/0073378569/student_view0/chapter5/evaluation_guides.html.
  2. Enoch Pratt Free Library. “What Are Picture Books?” http://www.prattlibrary.org/locations/children/index.aspx?id=4116
  3. Erika Griffin. “Inferring How and Why Characters Change,” http://www.readwritethink.org/resources/resource-print.html?id=858.
  4. Goodreads. “Slice of Life Books,” http://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/slice-of-life.
  5. Jil Casey. “The Art of Children’s Picture Books,” http://theartofchildrenspicturebooks.blogspot.com/ 
  6. Joan Green. “Unit of Study: Slice of Life Writing,” http://swpunitsofstudy.pbworks.com/w/page/10059712/Unit%20of%20Study%3A%20%20Slice%20of%20Life%20Writing.
  7. Julie Ballew. “A Closer Look at Characters,” http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top-teaching/2012/10/closer-look-characters.
  8. Laura Backes. “The Three Commandments of Writing a Picture Book,” http://writeforkids.org/2014/08/the-three-commandments-of-writing-a-picture-book/.
  9. Marisa Montes. “Notes on Writing Picture Books,” http://www.marisamontes.com/writing_picture_books.htm.
  10. Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles. Children’s Picture Books: The Art of Visual Storytelling, Laurence King Publishers, 2012
  11. Olympia.org. Chapter 2, “The Art of Picture Books,” http://www.staff.olympia.org/external/OHSLibrary/art.pdf
  12. Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz. “Eight Things Picture Book Editors Don’t Want,” http://www.writing-world.com/children/picture.shtml
  13. Robert Vaux. “How to Evaluate Children’s Literature,”
  14. Ruth Ayres. “What is Slice of Life?” https://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/what-is-a-slice-of-life/.
  15. Tara Lazar. “How To Write Children’s Picture Books,” http://writetodone.com/six-best-tips-writing-childrens-picture-books.
  16. Uri Shulevitz. Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books.

Thanks for reading my blog. Good luck with getting all of your picture books written, revised, critiqued, and revised again to the point of a quality manuscript ready for submission.

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2015


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8 Responses

  1. Joan,

    It’s great to start a new project with positive affirmations! I think that step is often overlooked.

    I love that you list so many internet resources here. There are also many great resource books about writing picture books and workshops too.

    Good luck with your picture book writing! Happy submitting!


    • Dear Linda,
      Thanks for writing. I’m glad that you liked the affirmations. It is indeed a necessary part – to believe you can do it. You are right. Many times this part is overlooked. Celebrate you and your writing.

      Never Give Up


  2. I have always thought that Ozette, the white squirrel in my Tales from Farlandia books, would make a great character in a picture book. Not sure I will ever attempt this but you have wonderful resources listed here if I do decide to give it a try.
    . Thanks for such a thorough job!


    • Dear Judy,
      Thank you for writing. Ozette, the white squirrel, sounds like a cute animal for a picture book story. We could learn a lot from a white squirrel. I’m glad you believe my resources will help you if you decide to take the leap to a picture book tree. Celebrate you and all of your writing.

      Never Give Up


  3. Hey Joan, thanks for the great article. I didn’t notice Uri Shulevitz’ book, “Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books.” Should be in every picture book writers collection and would probably be helpful for other writers as well. Best of luck to all of us in getting our work published. Sarah


    • Dear Sarah,
      Thank you for writing. I appreciate the good wishes for all of us to get published. I’m glad you liked my blog post. Thank you for sharing Uri Shulevitz’s book. I’ll add it to the list of resources. Good luck with your writing! Celebrate you and your helpful ways.

      Never Give Up


  4. Joan, thank you for these fantastic resources. And beginning with positive affirmations definitely helps the creative process!


    • Dear Kathleen,
      Thank you for writing. I’m glad that beginning with positive affirmations seems to help your creative process. It definitely puts a belief system in effect in your subconscious mind to help steer you to your goals.

      Love you,
      Never Give Up


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