How to write your own picturebook

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Advice for anyone


  • How to write your own picturebook
    Advice for writers of all ages from a
    Childrens Librarian
  • Identify the age level of your reader
    Picturebooks are read mostly to preschoolers and early primary school children
    Some are more serious themes for
    all ages - like war or immigration,
    eg. Sadako by Eleanor Coerr
    or Shaun Tans The arrival
    Remember back to your childhood, and imagine telling your story to a child.
    Look at picturebooks and see what age they suit
  • Ideas
    Keep in mind your idea has to be original to get published ask yourself, have you heard another story like yours ?
    If so, how can you make it more interesting? Otherwise your book may go straight into the publishers reject pile.
    Pick some strong memory, such as a childhood outing, a strong emotion, a problem or a funny thing that makes an entertaining tale
    What about hobbies like camping, fishing, dirt bike riding, football or dancing?
    Imagine the sounds, tastes, smells, sights and emotions and make them real with your words
    Write it down as if speaking to a child -You have to enjoy the tale to tell it well
    A problem, trick or adventure excites the childs imagination -Make sure your idea includes a buildup and a satisfying ending maybe with a twist or joke to it.
  • Characters
    Can be people or animals, even
    animals, trucks or trains etc. acting like people
    Think what was good about memorable characters such as Three little pigs, Thomas the Tank engine, Peter Rabbit, Blinky Bill, Harry the dirty dog, or Hairy McClary
    The character has a personality, emotions and reactions to the adventure they are in
    See the characters from a childs perspective what makes them interesting?
  • Words
    How many words? 0 300 max
    Do not use baby language unless you are writing for babies
    Interesting words build a childs vocabulary and are explained by image and context
    Sound words eg. Boom bang bong, rhymes and repetition help the child to remember the story, join in, and learn to read
    Check your spelling and grammar
  • Pages
    Most picturebooks are 16 or 32 pages long
    This includes the front and back inside cover and title pages
    Some pages may have only a few or even no words on them
    The pictures may be on one side of the page or interspersed with the words
    The middle page is the only page on one continuous sheet of paper
    Fold an A4 sheet in half and an A3 sheet
    in half to get an idea of page shape to see
    what shape suits your pictures best
  • Text Layout
    Because of the layout of the book, the story progresses from left to right
    This makes a lot of sense with journeys and plots where action follows action
    Each page presents an idea
    Space your words so the reader will feel curious to turn the page and find out more
    Pace the words some pages will have more text than others
    Text can weave in and around the pictures, which can be more exciting than having pictures separated from the text
  • Polish your idea
    Once you have a text, read it aloud, see how it sounds does it flow off your tongue?
    Test it on a small child see which bits interest or bore them and work on these
    Is it entertaining? How could you add more drama, humour or excitement?
    Are there worries or conflicts to add interest?
    Are the characters interesting enough?
    Can you add local flavoureg. Australian
    or is it meant to be set anywhere at all?
  • Most publishers are only interested in the text, and pick someone else to do the pictures.
    If you want to illustrate your own book, especially to self-publish, these tips are useful:
    Imagine the story is a film of slides, some closeups, some far distant views, and some from different angles
    Do the illustrations need to be gentle, cute, edgy or cartoony to aid the story? Simple or detailed?
    Do they add extra detail to the characters and setting?
    Do the illustrations tell you something the words omit to mention? Eg. Humour or insights about a character? eg. Freddy was a fireman (image shows that Freddy is a frog)
    Can you leave out some words because the pictures tell that part of the story?
  • Design and layout
    Get some ideas from looking at picturebooks
    Make a mini book from loose paper, pin it together and number the pages
    Use it to plan how to space the text and scribble in pencil the layout of your text and pictures
    Remember the middle spread allows for a pause, climax, or a large full width illustration
    Take the book apart to see how the double sided page actually prints sheet by sheet
  • Printing options
    Pictures can be scanned to a computer file and tidied up or even drawn in Photoshop using a drawing tablet
    Text and images can be put together in Word, Publisher, In Design and other programs
    These days there are online photo book printing business options and local printing businesses that may be able to help you eg. Lulu.
    Ask the printer what format they need the file presented to them in eg, pdf and what order they want the pages., what size and image quality they need eg. dpi
  • Publishers
    If sending your text to a publisher, find publisher lists at your local library and find out how they want the manuscript presented.
    Dont bother sending to non-picturebook publishers.
    Publishers reject most manuscripts they read make sure yours is the most polished effort you can produce before mailing it
    Be prepared to wait 8 weeks for a response
  • Perserverance
    Above all, do not lose your sense of fun enjoy the writing process so that your tale will be entertaining and readable
    Try, try, and try again
    Practice makes a better writer
    If you do not sell all your self-published books, at least they make good presents with a personal touch