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Stephanie Baudet

Writers Bureau Tutor Talks About Writing Picture Books

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We all remember picture books from our childhood, favourite picture books or perhaps ones we read to our children. They're the first books that children actually come across and if they enjoy stories when they're very young they tend to become readers and love books all through their life. I think there's nothing more wonderful or more enjoyable than sharing a picture book with a child and seeing their rapt expression. And, picture books are often read over and over so that the child gets to know the story off by heart.


Many people think that they're very easy to write but in actual fact, every word is chosen very carefully. They have to have a certain poetic rhythm to the text so they may be few on words but the author has spent a lot of time choosing those words. They are expensive to produce, they're a large format, they're generally in hardback first and coloured illustrations on every page, which makes the production costs high, so that the publisher has to be sure that they're going to sell enough books to make it financially viable.


It's very tempting to send in illustrations with your text because you know how you imagine your story to be, but I wouldn't advise it. If you are a good artist, by all means send in some illustrations, some samples for the publisher to look at but make it very clear that you're not selling a package, that you are willing to sell the text on its own, the advantage being that a well known illustrator will sell more copies of your book and also an illustrator will know how to illustrate the picture book and will also add to the story by having a parallel story perhaps going on in the pictures that isn't in the text.


Children do love rhyme, any play on words and it is fun to write. It's very tempting to write picture books in rhyme. The disadvantages are that you have to be very good at it to do it well and the other thing is that because of the high production costs of picture books, publishers in this country often have to collaborate with foreign publishers to share the costs and of course, rhyme doesn't translate or it's difficult to translate.


It's fine to send in the text as a normal manuscript, double spaced and indented paragraphs and so on, but it does help you as the writer or the editor to see how the picture book is going to work in terms of pages and so it's advisable to paginate it which means numbering the pages and thinking about what's going to go on each page. Picture books have 32 pages, of which 24 are for the story itself, the text and illustrations, the others are end papers and title page and copyright page etc, so you have to think of the book in terms of the 24 pictures and how your story is going to work out, having a surprise over the page and not on the same page for example.


The stories of course have to be strong stories with a theme that the young child can comprehend and strong characters. The stories are short and appear simple but nevertheless, they are real stories, they have a beginning, a middle and an end. The main character should have an aim or a problem at the beginning of the story and after overcoming a number of obstacles, they achieve whatever it is at the end. Have a little twist at the end, a little surprise and don't forget repetition, children love repetition. Also because an adult will be reading it, probably many times, put something in, a little joke or a little reference or a pun for the adult's benefit as well.


My main tips which apply to other writing as well would be to read as much as you can, read as many picture books as you can, not books that you read as a child, not books you read your own children but recently published books because children's marketing trends change very, very quickly. Send for publishers' catalogues, be aware of what publishers are producing. When you're writing the text, choose every word carefully, it's very important to make every word count, every word has to pull its weight and read your work out loud when you've finished. Picture books have a certain rhythm and it's only by reading it out loud that you will spot the hitches or any other mistakes that you may have made. Revise, revise, revise, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.


Annemarie Munro Writers Bureau's Student of the Year 2022

"I have seen my writing journey as an adventure: What can I write? What am I best at? What new aspects of writing can I discover and contribute towards? I have welcomed the wide range of modules covering different types of writing, challenging me to try new aspects in style and content, pushing me gently outside my comfort zone with encouragement.

"I signed up for the course in December 2020 as a Christmas present to myself and I started the first module in January 2021. I have had eight pieces published: three paid earning £1080 and a star letter where I won a £250 hotel voucher."

Annemarie Munro - Writers Bureau Student of the Year 2022

Read Annemarie's full story

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