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Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Hard Thing About Writing Picture Books

Disclaimer: All writing is hard. All writing is easy. Um, yeah......

The hard thing about writing picture books (if you are not the illustrator) is that you don't necessarily tell all of the story. You tell most of the story, you provide the guts of the story, the flashy words and language for the story, but you must also leave a bit of mystery in the writing, so that the illustrator can do their job. The text should need the pictures as much as the pictures need the text.

Which makes getting feedback on a PB kind of hard, and the selling of a PB manuscript even more subjective than other types of writing.

First off, if you want feedback, your readers must be people who read a lot of picture books......either kids or teachers or parents or librarians or those rare souls who just really love PBs (these are some of the most wonderful folks in the world). They can tell you if you are off the mark.

Second, the subjective part on selling the idea is HUGE! What is one editor's been-there-done-that manuscript screams with possibilities to another. After all, think about it. When the editor reads a PB manuscript, it has to create a vision in her mind. It has to make her think, "Wow, if I paired this writing with so-and-so's artwork, hmm......we just might have something here."

Selling the text of a picture book is like trying to sell a dream.

Actually, writing the text is like trying to capture that dream that you had last night and can only slightly remember because your brain is still foggy from sleep but you can see it, hiding right behind your left-eye in your brain and if you could only capture it.........

......before it disappears altogether.



Kelly Moran said...

oh yah. agreed. i'm trying to agent mine, and it's so tough in that market right now.

Lazy Writer said...

I don't write picture books, but I see what you mean. The illustrations do tell half the story. I have a whole new admiration for authors of picture books. It would be hard to capture that.

KM said...

I really love the title of your book GOOD NIGHT, GOOD KNIGHT! I've never written a picture book, but it sounds difficult. I talked to a guy who writes comic books, and he said something similar: don't write what the illustration is already telling you.

Stephanie Faris said...

I think it's similar to writing screenplays. You're only in control of part of the story. I like control so I don't think I could do it!

Carrie Harris said...

I don't write picture books either, but I'll be honest: it's because they scare me. Anyone who says that it must be easier because there are so few words deserves to have someone laugh right in their face.

storyqueen said...

Kelly-good luck with your book!! Getting an agent is harder for PB's, too, because not many agents will take them on.

Lazy-It is hard to many time I think I'm almost there....but then it flits away and escapes.

KM-Thanks. The first Good Knight book was definitely one editors BTDT book, but a different editor saw some magic in yay!

Stephanie- I actually love having no control over the pictures....(I am no artist!) it is just getting someone to see the spark of possibilities that is the challenge for me.

Carrie-I bet you could write a hilarious picture book!! I dare you to try it!

Corey Schwartz said...

Yeah, totally with you! It is getting even harder, because these days many agents and even editors prefer to find one person who both writes and illustrates! UGHHH!

Shelley, I am always happy to be a reader for you! (I'd even love to try a collaboration some time!)

Kelly H-Y said...

Yes, yes, yes ... you captured it all perfectly!!! (And it can get mighty frustrating at times!!!) :-)

Kathryn Magendie said...

The covers of your books are wonderful! I'll soon have my first biological granddaughter - and I have a step-grandaughter and step grandson - so lately I've been noticing children's books more and more - *smiling*

Kiersten said...

I tried my hand at children's books and realized it was much, MUCH too hard and I had better write novels instead : )

storyqueen said...

Corey-It's such a strange quandary, no? More and more publishing houses only want agented material and many agents don't want to represent picture books......catch 22.

Kelly-thanks, good to know I'm not alone.

Katherine-Thanks for coming by! When I have grandkids, I want to be the StoryGranny.....the one that gives cool books!

Kiersten-Well, Picture Books are hard in their own way, true, but novels......I am trying my hand at writing a middle grade and a YA and let me tell you, not made of easy. My hat is off to you for all that you have done!

Wend's Place said...

Congrats on your success and helping others to fulfil their dreams of publishing.

Janet said...

I write picture books, too. What was hardest for me at first was to leave out all the description I wanted to put in. The hardest think now is figuring out who to send them to. Like it's been said, a lot of publishers don't accept unagented submissions.