Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Complete Picture Book Experience

For those of you writing picture book manuscripts, you know the answer to the following question before I even ask it.  Which is harder to write: picture books or novels (or novellas, or short stories, etc.)?

Yep.  Picture books.  The only thing harder perhaps is poetry.  Why?  Because picture books are poetry.  Not because they rhyme (because some of the best picture books don't as well as some of the best poetry), but because they are concise and beautiful.  Every word counts, and the words have to create pictures in your mind.  And if your picture book doesn't rhyme, your words have to have a built-in rhythm that pulls you through the story and makes you want to read it the twentieth time to your adoring preschooler.

Sooooooo, after many years of trying to write great picture books, I'm now considering the whole picture book experience.  When I first started writing, I was all about the story and the plot.  A great story will always produce a great picture book, right?  Well, not quite.  A great story needs a great main character, and a great main character needs a great voice, and a great voice needs a beautiful rendering that melts like butter on the tongue.  All that, plus, the picture book needs to flow from page to page. 

To mimic this experience, I now dummy book all my picture books before submitting.  I don't necessarily do it in the early stages, to which my patient critique partners will attest, but somewhere along the line it happens.  My story gets cut and pasted (yes, this is tedious) onto 28 pages (32 standard pages minus 4 for front and end matter), and it gets read aloud, just like a picture book.  If each page has a wonderful pause, and if a picture is brought to mind for every single page, then it passes my test and gets submitted.  If not, then back it goes to the drawing board.

Be warned....most editors don't like you to build in these page breaks in the manuscript.  Take out the breaks before submitting.  But definitely make sure you have an idea what your picture book feels like before you submit.  Know the whole experience of your book, not just the story on the page.


  1. I do this, too. It just helps to make sure that the book flows well. =)

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  3. Great post, Kristen. Makes me feel a little better about the fact that I have been working on the same PB manuscript for nine months now!

  4. Great post! I started doing the same thing with my pb manuscripts after Tammi's workshop last fall.

    Are you going to SCBWI MO this year?

  5. Sharon, so far I am not going to SCBWI MO, but I will be going to SCBWI KS. How about you?