Tag Archives: picture books

How to Write a Picture Book Query

1195237_old_lettersIn my role as co-admin for the query critique forum on 12 x 12, I recently wrote a post on writing a picture book query. 12 x 12 is closed to new memberships for 2016 (they will reopen again in January 2017), but I wanted share the post here, too, because while there is a lot of information out there on writing regular query letters, information on writing a picture book query is much harder to come by.

At the end of the post you’ll find some tips from professionals and some helpful resources.

Remember, agents/editors can differ in what they expect/want from a query letter (or cover letter), so please always check submission guidelines.

How to Write a Picture Book Query – The Basics

The Layout of a Picture Book Query

When writing a query letter for a picture book you will basically have three main paragraphs, plus your sign-off.

  1. Intro
  • Make sure you specifically address the agent you are querying (use Mr. or Ms. [last name]). DOUBLE CHECK you have spelled their name correctly.
  • Personalise to the agent. Why are you querying this agent with this story? Show you have done your research.
  • You can also include here the TITLE of your story (in all-caps), the word count and the age-range. Age-range is super important, as it shows you know your target audience. Some people include word count and age-range after the pitch and that’s okay, too.
  1. The pitch.
  • This is where you pitch your story. Think of it like a book jacket blurb—you want to entice the agent to read your story.
  • Keep it short (this is a point universally agreed upon by agents—picture book queries should be short and simple). Try to aim for three sentences for the pitch. Five sentences at the very maximum!
  • In a picture book query you should aim to tell your story in a nutshell, including the ending. You don’t have to give everything away—you can still keep a bit of mystery. There’s no need to tell how your characters get to that point—you still want to leave the agent/editor intrigued.
  • Here’s a helpful template to help boil down your plot: “When [catalyst of your story happens], [main character] [takes this action], however [these things happen to prevent character reaching their goal]. In the end [this happens/main character discovers this].”
  • It’s important to convey the tone and voice of your story in the query (this DOES NOT mean telling it in your character’s POV). Eg: Is your story funny? Make sure you convey that humour in the query.
  • After the pitch, you might include any comparative texts or mention any relevant information/market research (eg: if it has crossover appeal or there’s a gap in the market or it has content/back matter appropriate for classroom use).

3. Bio

  • Include any publishing credits or awards if you have any. (If you don’t, that’s okay!)
  • You can also include any relevant tertiary degrees or professions (eg: you’re writing a book on dinosaurs and you’re a palaeontologist).
  • Include if you are a member of SCBWI or 12 x 12 or any other significant/relevant associations.
  1. Sign off.
  • Let them know if you have other titles available to view upon their request. (No need to include specific titles, just a generic “I have several other completed titles available upon request” is all you need.)
  • Thank them for their time and consideration.
  • Don’t forget to include your contact details under your sign off. (In emails, contact details go after your signature, rather than at the top as is usual in snail mail.)

TIP: Be sure to read your query aloud! Not only will this help you catch any spelling/grammar mistakes, but it allows you to hear how it sounds.

Tips from Professionals

From agent Mary Kole of kidlit.com

  • Create an image in the agent’s mind.
  • “Even if you’re only writing the text, give me at least one concrete image to walk away from the query with… Describe a scene for me in a sentence that’ll give me a mental picture.”
  • Channel the voice of your book.
  • Keep it short and simple.
  • “Present the main characters, the main problem, and the resolution, then work in a hook.”

From picture book authors, and hosts of PB Lit Chat, Kathryn Apel and Karen Collum

  • Capture the heart and tone of your story.
  • Use a small section of text from your book. (eg: a line or phrase) This doesn’t mean quote a section of your story, but rather work the wording into your story description. Use the same fun words or slip in some of the imagery.
  • Keep it short.
  • Give the whole story in a nutshell, including the ending.

From agent Janet Reid of Query Shark

  • “You should not describe how you want the book laid out or offer illustrations (generally).” This means, don’t include page breaks in your manuscript or send a dummy or tell them you already have an illustrator lined up or include illustrations (unless, of course, YOU are an author/illustrator).
  • “Who is your audience? Who will buy this book?” ie: what age range is the book aimed at. Would this appeal to the parent of a child of this age range.
  • “Give me confidence that you’ve done research on how the industry works.”

From Emma Walton Hamilton (aka The Query Whisperer)

  • Make the agent feel as though you’ve done your homework.
  • Focus on the theme (this refers to the essence of your story).
  • Make it intriguing without giving away the whole
  • Be succinct. Two to three sentences for your pitch paragraph.
  • “Craft your sentences artfully—so that the query conveys both the strength of your writing skills and the spirit of your manuscript.”
  • Conclude with what your character learns in the end.

From agent Danielle Smith of Foreword Literary

  • Be concise—tell me what I need to know.

From agent Maria Vicente of P.S. Literary

  • Keep it short—you should be able to tell the plot in three to five sentences.
  • Know where your picture book belongs in the market.

As you can see there’s some recurring themes here:

**KEEP IT SHORT!**

**Know your audience/do your research.**

**Bring the tone/voice/theme/imagery/heart of your story into the query.**

 

Helpful Links/Sources:

Picture Book Queries on kidlit.com

Query Shark

How to Query a Picture Book on mariavicente.com

Picture Book Query Letters by Emma Walton Hamilton (from Write on Con 2011)

Writing a Picture Book Query on johartauthor.com

You might also like to check out Julie Hedlund (12 x 12 founder) and Emma Walton Hamilton’s course: The Complete Picture Book Submissions System (though it costs to do the course, even when it’s closed you can pick up a FREE 7-Step Submissions Checklist, which has some helpful hints on crafting your query).

If you become a member of 12 x 12 you not only get access to the query critique forum, but you also get access to webinars from agents, editors and other professionals that sometimes focus specifically on writing picture book queries (there’s one coming up this month for members ‘Cracking the Picture Book Query’). Registration opens to new members in January and February.

 

Please feel free to share below any useful resources/links you have come across in relation to PB query writing. Or perhaps you’ve received or heard advice from agents/editors at conferences, etc. you can share.

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Why Picture Book Writers Should Join 12 x 12

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In 2012 I joined the first ever 12 x 12 challenge. The premise was simple: write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. Since then 12 x 12 has grown and developed into more than just a challenge. It has become an important community and opportunity for picture book writers. I would HIGHLY recommend any aspiring picture book writer to join.

Why? These are my top reasons for recommending picture book writers join 12 x 12:

  1. You will learn so much about writing picture books and the kidlit industry. Seriously. As well as being involved in a community of other kidlit writers, some of whom are already published or who are extremely knowledgeable about picture books, you will also have the opportunity to learn from industry professionals.
  2. Community. If you ask any member of 12 x 12 what they love most about 12 x 12 they will most likely tell you ‘the community’. As I said above, there is a plethora of knowledge about picture book writing that fellow 12 x 12ers are willing to share. There is a genuine desire to help each other succeed. Between the Facebook group (where you can ask for advice, share resources and celebrate successes) and the forum (where you can get your picture book MS or query letter critiqued, learn more about the kidlit industry or connect with fellow writers) you will find a generous, kind-spirited community to share your writing journey and help you grow as a PB writer.
  3. It’s like a PB writing conference that lasts all year!  There are monthly webinars that are available exclusively to members. These webinars involve industry professionals, such as editors, agents, published authors and more. There are opportunities for professional critiques, as well as a plethora of other opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to you.
  4. Opportunity to submit to agents. For those who join at Gold level, you have the opportunity every month to submit to a literary agent who might otherwise be closed to unsolicited queries. Sometimes these agents even reply with feedback.

It is honestly the best writing community I have ever been involved in. You will learn so much, develop connections and be presented with opportunities unavailable elsewhere. I really can’t recommend it enough to fellow picture book writers.

You can find more information HERE.

If the membership fee is a bit off-putting, apparently you can do a 6-month payment plan through Paypal. Honestly, it is completely worth it. I promise.

12 x 12 is currently open to join for this year. You have until 29th February 2016 before registration closes for the year. Feel free to say I referred you 🙂

12 x 12 in ’12 Blog Party!

12x12 blog partyWhat better day to celebrate the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge coming to a close than a blog party on the 12/12/2012?

By mere coincidence I’ve been penning my December draft today without realising the date. It was only when I got the reminder on Julie’s blog that today was the blog party I realised. How fitting I should write my final draft for 12 x 12 in 2012 on today’s date.

12 x 12 has been a fantastic journey and I really urge any PB writers out there to have a go at 12 x 12 next year. It’s great motivation to build up a folder of PB drafts to work on and the community that comes along with the challenge is invaluable. Next year looks as though it promises to be even better with a new forum opening up and opportunities to pitch to agents (check out all the details here).

A huge thank you to Julie Hedlund for being the brains and driving force behind 12 x 12, she’s has done an amazing job and put so much into the challenge to make it a success. And thank you to my fellow 12 x 12ers for all the support, sharing and friendship throughout the year.

So how did I progress during 12 x 12 this year? Here’s a bit of a timeline…

JANUARY

I started the year full of motivation and was inspired early on in the month. Heavily pregnant and battling a sweltering Australian summer, I wondered how I would be able to pull an idea from my melting brain, but it was the heat that ended up being the inspiration behind my very first draft. It’s been revamped and overhauled several times already and still needs a bit of work. It’s a keeper, though.

FEBRUARY

After having a story published in Australian Women Online’s Bedtime Stories collection back in November 2011, I thought I might look to their upcoming themes to gain inspiration for my February draft. The upcoming theme for March was ‘Green’. I wrote the draft, revised it, put it through my critique group and revised it some more. (I also had a baby in there somewhere!) Despite it only being a month old (the story, not the baby), I thought it was a a strong story and I was really happy with it. I submitted it literally at the eleventh hour. The next day I got an email saying it had been accepted! I couldn’t believe it! You can read ‘Green Nadine’ here.

MARCH

St. Patrick’s Day was the inspiration behind my March draft. I’m really in love with this one. I entered it into CYA later in the year and although it didn’t place, I got some feedback on it, which will hopefully help me shape it up a bit more.

APRIL

I started a PB draft about a boy who thinks he lives next door to a wizard, but I quickly discovered it just wasn’t working for me. I got a rushed draft about a duck scrawled in my notebook at the very end of the month. Not sure if I’ll do anything with that one, though I adore the name of the duck.

MAY

NaPiBoWriWee!! The aim was to do 7 drafts in 7 days. With a new baby, who had been in and out of hospital the last couple of months, I think I was probably a bit crazy to think I could even attempt this. But I got a few drafts done 😀

– An Australian fairytale based on a play I wrote for kids while studying teaching at university.

– A story about a young chef, which I never finished.

– A house-hunting mouse (this is also based on a story idea I had years ago).

– A country child visiting the big city inspired by a trip to Melbourne with my kids (I believe this was on the first day of NaPiBoWriWee–I was writing the story in my head the whole trip there).

– A family of grumpy monsters, which started as a silly name I made up and just grew from there.

– A simple board book text about fruit.

– The last was more a poem than a story and was written for a magazine (and unfortunately didn’t get accepted–it probably could have done with more rest time and revision, but I was rushing for the deadline).

JUNE

I started a story about a principal with a silly premise, but it didn’t get far. Luckily I ended up with another two completed stories this month; it was a good month for inspiration. The first was based on a rollicking first line I kept singing in my head, with my three children inspiring the three characters in the story. It turned out as an interactive story and if I don’t end up submitting it to publishers, I think I will just make it into a book for my children. The other is really quite a sad story. I guess I had been feeling a bit down, thinking about the baby I lost (and would have been celebrating his/her first birthday this month), and that poured into a story about a boy whose brother dies.

JULY

I wrote my favourite, most favourite story this month. I had been bouncing my baby on my knee singing these silly nonsense words to her, when BAM! Lightbulb! The silly words became the opening line to a rhyming story about a baby echidna. I’ve been revising and rewriting this story like mad, because I really love it and want to submit it. It’s been through my critique group several times, had peer critique at Write on Con and got a great in depth critique from Rate Your Story. As it’s a rhyming PB it needs to be completely perfect in meter and rhyme before I’ll submit it. I hope I can get it there!

AUGUST

I couldn’t find any stories dated from August on my computer, but I do have some handwritten drafts scrawled in my notebook that I haven’t dated and I know I completed a draft in August. I also lost a couple of stories when my laptop crashed that couldn’t be recovered, so I don’t know if there was an August one there. I think the scrawled story about a pirate crew (inspired by my son’s birthday pirate theme party I had been planning) may be an August draft, though it is unfinished.

SEPTEMBER

My son is self-teaching himself the times tables at the moment and my inspiration for my draft this month was a story based on the 3 times tables. Not sure if it works well, however. :/

OCTOBER

Another scrawled, unfinished draft in my note book that I think may have been an October draft. My son got invited to a birthday party and I knew his friend loved cooking, so I set out to find a children’s cookbook for his gift. I found none (except for one on cakes, but their family isn’t really into sweets). So I decided to write a PB about kids cooking, with the intention of including some simple recipes for kids in the appendix. (Note: I’ve noticed in the lead up to Christmas there are actually quite a few kids’ cookbooks around now.) I didn’t actually finish this one as it is going to be a longer PB, but I have a skeleton plot written out.

NOVEMBER

Zip! Zilch! Zero! No drafts this month. Simply too busy, unfortunately. Though I did attempt PiBoIdMo for the first time, since I was forgoing NaNoWriMo this month. I came up with 24 ideas. So even though I don’t have a draft for November, I have a nice little idea bank to dig into.

DECEMBER

I’m halfway through a Christmas/fairytale crossover story that I started today. I believe I will have it done by the end of the month (I already have the whole story planned out).

FINAL STATS:

PBs Complete: 14!

PBs started, but not finished: 6

Lost stories (from the computer crash): ??

PiBoIdMo ideas to get me started next year: 24

What a year!

The Halfway Mark for 12 x 12!

As of the end of June the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge will have reached the halfway mark. To celebrate, 12 x 12 creator, Julie Hedlund, is hosting a blog party where participants can share their progress so far and either celebrate or commiserate.

Here’s my little update…

PB manuscripts finished so far: 11! (thanks to NaPiBoWriWee in May I have a few extra)

PB manuscripts started, but not finished: 4

Successes: My February PB was published in an online magazine. (You can read it here.)

Submissions: Apart from the one I submitted to the online magazine, I currently have a couple submitted to some PB competitions, but it’s too early to have heard anything from them yet. I’m yet to submit any of them to publishers (most of them still need a lot of work and revision and I  have more polished work that I’ll be submitting before my 12 x 12 MSs).

I’m really enjoying the challenge so far, not just because I’m building a great folder of PBs to work on, but because the support and friendship within the 12 x 12 group has been invaluable. I hope everyone else participating is getting something out of it, whether it’s new PBs or great friends. If you’re not participating, it’s not too late to join in; we still have six months left to go!

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts April/May 2012

I seem to have accululated quite a few links on promoting yourself as an author the past two months, from having a great author bio to having a professional headshot to hitting #1 on Amazon. Speaking of Amazon, don’t forget you can still get free copies of Eighty Nine for Kindle until 5.59pm AEST tomorrow (Friday). That’s 11.59pm Thursday US Pacific time and 8.59am Friday UK time. You can see my previous post for more information and links.

And now to the helpful posts for April and May…

Writing

Writing the Longer Picture Book

Mara Rockliff talks about writing longer picture books (over 600 words), including important tips for authors to keep in mind when writing a longer picture book.

8 Apps Every Writer Should Have

A list of 8 helpful writing apps for your phone, including a story tracking app for those who are in the process of submitting queries and a rhyming app for poets/picture book writers.

Ideas for Story Structure

I’ve seen a lot of different ways to plan out story structure, but I just love the simplicity of this idea. It’s not only a simple way of plotting out your novel/short story/picture book (yes, it can equally be applied to all three), it manages to incorporate the main points of the story arc. I’ll definitely be using this system in future.

Promoting Yourself as an Author

Five Ways to Fix a Boring Bio

Whether you’re published, unpublished, querying, have a Twitter or Facebook account or a blog, at some point in your writing career you will need to write an author bio (multiple times!). Think you’re boring? Or haven’t done enough yet? This post offers 5 simple and logical ways to spice up your author bio.

The Seven Worst Mistakes of Indie Authors and How to Fix Them

If you are taking the self-publishing route, this post by Joanna Penn is a must-read. She has some great advice, with solutions to oft-made mistakes by self-publishers. She speaks from the experience of someone who has been down the self-publishing path and had to learn from her own mistakes.

Amazon Bestseller: Top Ten Tips for Hitting #1 on the Amazon Store 

A post from author Rachel Abbot, whose book has topped the Amazon charts. She shares her experience of starting out thinking all she had to do was upload her book and the profits would roll in, to discovering the key factors to marketing her book successfully.

Author Business Cards

A literary agent, who is not generally a fan of business cards, talks about how to make a stellar business card that won’t get thrown in the trash. Some really great tips!

Mastering Your Author Headshot

Author August McLaughlin offers some helpful tips on making sure your author headshot gives the right impression and how you can get the most out of a headshot photo session. She includes an interview with headshot photographer Ken Dapper.

NaPiBoWriWee is Just Around the Corner

The first week of May is National Picture Book Writing Week. The aim: to write a picture book a day for seven days. The picture book manuscripts do not have to be perfect; they’re just drafts. The point of NaPiBoWriWee (as it is affectionately known) is to get motivated to write. As always, it is hosted by Paula Yoo, who has some great things planned for the week, including Q & As with published authors/illustrators and giveaways!

Fingers crossed I will be attempting it again this year (it will be my third NaPiBoWriWee).  Whereas the 12 x 12 challenge is pushing me to write a picture book a month, NaPiBoWriWee will be an even bigger challenge, since I will only have one day to write each draft instead of a whole month. This year will be even more challenging since I have one more child than I did last year and since she’s just 2 months old, and still feeding through the night, my writing time is rather sparse at the moment!

While some of my PB drafts from previous NaPiBoWriWees are sitting in folders and will probably never see the light of day again, I really love some of the other PBs that have come out of this challenge. In fact, I already saw some success with one of my NaPiBoWriWee PBs when it won second place at CYA last year. Who knows what this year will bring!

Worried you’ll be stuck for ideas? Alison Hertz (who participated in NaPiBoWriWee last year) has a great exercise on her blog to help prepare for NaPiBoWriWee.

Will you be attempting NaPiBoWriWee this year? Have you attempted it in the past? Any tips for new NaPiBoWriWee-ers?

How Writing Poetry Can Help You Be a Better Writer (Guest Post)

As well as being Aussie Author Month this month, it is also National Poetry Month. Today I have a guest post from poet and children’s writer Rena Traxel on how writing poetry can help you be a better writer. She has some great tips, particularly for picture book writers.

Writing Poetry Can Help You Be a Better Writer

When you were in school you most likely studied poetry.  When you grew up some of you left poetry writing behind.  In celebration of National Poetry Month, I created a poetry challenge, in which I’ve pushed the participants to try a new poetic form each day, except for Sundays, in the month of April.  I’ve had them write both silly and serious poems.  What is the purpose of the challenge? To help the participants grow as writers. I’m here today to discuss how poetry writing can help you.

  • To grow as a writer you must challenge yourself.  Writing poetry is different from writing prose and therefore will force you to stretch your mind. If you already write poetry try out a poetic form you have never used before (this can be as simple as including a simile in your poem).
  • Is your story not flowing? Turn to poetry. Poets pay attention to stresses and syllables that is why poems tend to flow.  Dr. Seuss wrote many of his books using trisyllabic meter (putting stress on every third syllable). Dr. Seuss’ books move seamlessly from page to page. His books are easy to remember and kids love his books.
  • Poetry can help you get in touch with your inner child.  Literary critic and theorist Northrop Frye said, “the speech of a child is full of chanting and singing and it is clear that the child understands what many adults do not, that verse is more direct and primitive way of conventionalizing speech then prose is.” There is a reason why children love Dr. Suess and Mother Goose.
  • Are you too wordy? Poems show an entire story in very few words. Poets practice the art of compression by paying attention to every single word to make sure it is absolutely necessary. Even the title contributes to the story.
  • Poets pay attention to line breaks. They use line breaks to slow down or speed up a poem. If you write picture books it’s essential to know where to break up a story so that it flows from page to page.  Even if you write novels it’s important to know where to cut a chapter.
  • Practice showing versus telling. Because poems tend to be short they rely on images to tell a story.
  • Poetry can help you express yourself. You might be surprised to learn that poetry is closer to how we speak then prose.
  • Poetry is meant to read out loud and is why poets spend a considerable amount of time thinking about word choice. If you write picture books then you know your stories will have to be read out loud.  Even if you write novels you will have to read sections out loud at a reading.  Get comfortable with hearing your words by writing poetry.
  • Poetry is fun. Poems are not bound by the same rules as prose.  You can play around with form and punctuation as along as your choices are consistent.

Every time you sit down to write you are practicing your craft.  How do you expect to get better if you don’t push yourself? Step out of your comfort zone and give poetry a try. You will be amazed at the new skills you will learn.

Rena J. Traxel writes stories and poems for kids. She is currently working on a fantasy series for tweens. To learn more about her check out her website at www.renajtraxel.com or head over to blog “On the Way to Somewhere” at www.renajtraxelblog.com and enjoy some of her poems and stories.

A note from Jo:

Looking for some rhyming picture book inspiration during Aussie Author Month? I always refer to the two masters of rhyming picture books, Australian authors Graeme Base (Enigma, The Eleventh Hour, The Worst Band in the Universe) and Mem Fox (The Ballad of Skip and Nell, Time for Bed, Where is the Green Sheep?). For poetry, check out some of the works of Banjo Patterson (my favourite is Mulga Bill’s Bicycle).

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts – February & March 2012

I only have a few links to share in this combined post. Don’t forget you can find more links in the masterlist.

How Not to Write a Rhyming Picture Book

Children’s author Juliet Clare Bell shares her 7 top tips on how not to write a rhyming picture book.

How Not to Turn Readers Against You as an Author of Series Books

This post looks at what can turn a reader off wanting to read the next book in a series (and what will make them want to read the next one).

How to Give Good Critique

A great list of tips to keep in mind when critiquing fellow writers’ work.

Questions You Might Be Asked When Offered Representation

Literary agent Mary Kole gives insight into the questions you might be asked by an agent if he/she calls to offer representation and why the agent is asking them.

20 Tips for Writing the Perfect Horror Short Story

A dark fiction writer gives a comprehensive list of tips for making your horror story more effective.

How to Avoid 10 Common Conference Mistakes that Most Writers Make

10 conference organisers share the major mistakes they see writers making at conferences and how to avoid making them.

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts January 2011

Time for the first ‘Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts’ post of the the year. I’ve collected a lot of great picture book links through the 12 x 12 challenge Facebook group, but I also have a few links in other areas of writing, too.

Writing (General)

Some Advice to New or Aspiring Authors

Some great advice and tips for writers new to the writing/publishing journey.

How to Make a Boring Character Interesting

This post outlines the various reasons your character could be coming across as boring or flat and offers some solutions to make your character more interesting.

Five Tips for Revising Your Novel

Literary Agent Courtney Miller-Callihan gives five tips that look at your novel as a whole when doing revisions, including a tip on character names and another on dialogue tags.

What Will Make an Agent ‘Gong’ Your Query

Thirteen reasons why an agent will stop reading your query–things to avoid when writing query letters.

Grandma Mary Can’t Market Your Book

Whether you intend to self publish or go the traditional publishing route, authors need to consider marketing. This post gives 7 steps to building a marketing plan and reaching out to your readership. It even includes a nifty chart you can use.

When to Quit Querying and Self-Publish

This post does a great job of presenting the various aspects you need to consider if you’re thinking about self-publishing after having little success with querying. It takes a very honest look at the possible reasons your work may be getting rejected and whether self-publishing is a viable alternative and also gives the honest facts about what it takes to self-publish. I love how honest, balanced and unbiased this post is in regards to self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.

Writing for Children

9 Factors That Make a Picture Book Successful

If you are a picture book writer this is a post well worth reading. These are nine important elements to writing an effective picture book.

The 6 Most Common Mistakes Made by Aspiring Children’s Book Authors

6 common mistakes this editor sees made by picture book authors and some advice on how to avoid them.

For All Picture Book Writers, Read This

Links to a four-part interview with Vice President and Editorial Director of HarperCollins Children’s Books and a three-part interview with Golden Books/Random House Editorial Director. Lots of great little nuggets of advice for picture book writers in both interviews.

Picture Book Tips from Successful Agents

Children’s book author and editor Tamson Weston consulted with agents on what makes a picture book successful and shared the top five tips for making your submission stand out.

Writing Easy Readers – Or How To Get 2nd Graders to Love You

5 quick tips for appealing to early readers as shared by an author of children’s chapter books.

Writing Picture Books – 4 Ways to Get Inspired

As I mentioned in my last post, this year I’m taking part in the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge. Some of the participants are using ideas they came up with during PiBoIdMo in November, which gives them a great starting point. I didn’t do PiBoIdMo since I was busy entrenched in NaNoWriMo at the time. This means I’m going into 12 x 12 without a stockpile of ideas to pick and choose from. I was lucky enough this past week to have been inspired by a particularly hot day (actually it was about three hot days in a row). Sometimes inspiration can just strike like that, other times it doesn’t. I’ve still got eleven months of ideas to find (not to mention an extra six during NaPiBoWriWee if I do that too).

So how does one go about finding picture book inspiration?

These are some of my favourite ways to get inspired:

– Observing children at play. I’m lucky enough to have two little muses running around my house and they provide fantastic inspiration. It’s hard not to find story ideas when watching children play as they have such vivid imaginations themselves. You find yourself immersed in their world and you’re brought down to their level. If you don’t have children of your own and you’re not a teacher or childcare worker, seek out places where you can watch children play: a local park; the McDonald’s playground; friends/family with children. Don’t forget to take a notepad!

– Sitting outside. I’ve always found sitting outside and just absorbing the world around me to be a great way to get inspired. Take a notepad or laptop and find a nice spot in the garden/at the park/at the beach/by the river to sit and let your senses take over. What can you see, hear, smell, taste and feel? Try to see the world from a child’s point-of-view. Is that a fairy hiding in the roses? Is that a pirate ship out at sea? It doesn’t all have to be fantasy, of course. A game of soccer could be the starting point for a story about being left out/trying your best/trying something new. If the weather is bad, try sitting and staring out the window.

– Draw on your world (aka Write what you know). I live on a farm and I draw on those farm experiences to find inspiration. A mouse in the hayshed? What if he was trying to find a new home for his family? Think about where you live and how you can draw on it. Perhaps you live in the city or by the beach or in a small neighbourhood; what unique experiences can you use in a story? Look at your world from a child’s perspective; what would they see? What about an animal?

– Go places. Go to the zoo and watch the lions/meercats/penguins. Go to the museum and imagine stories behind the exhibits (Who flew that plane and where did they fly it? Was that dinosaur shy or boisterous?) Go to the beach and observe the people/families/animals. What are their stories?

As you become inspired, just keep one important point in mind: Picture books are written for children, so when crafting your character (whether human, animal, monster or alien) make sure your character has a child’s perspective. Children should be able to relate to the character and the character’s situation.

How do you get inspired? I’d love to hear where you find inspiration when writing picture books.

Picture: omar franc via stock.xchng