A lot of people have great ideas, and a lot of people tell their own kids really wonderful stories, but how to translate those ideas and stories into the right format for publication is always a tough question. Recently, I’ve seen a lot of artist-driven picture books by people who both write the text and illustrate the book. When you can have one person deliver the goods—both text and art—publishers get excited.
But at the same time, if you’re a writer, write. If you’re not a visual artist, don’t try to illustrate your own book, and don’t spend your time and energy trying to find an artist. Let the editor do that; it’s his or her job. Publishers may have artists with whom they already like to work or artists with whom they want to work, and they will use your manuscript as bait to bring in those big artists, especially if you’re new to the business. Often, publishers will try to partner a new writer with an established artist. They already know that artist can sell books, so bringing him or her to the project can help lessen the risk of taking a chance on a new author.
So if you’re a new, first-time picture book writer, just make sure your manuscript is really great. Read as many picture books as you can. Get to know the cadences and patterns good picture book writers use, and notice the succinctness and efficiency of the writing. A lot of first-time picture book writers make the mistake of using too much text. You’ll almost certainly want to keep your manuscript at less than a thousand words, and less than six hundred is even better. That said, sometimes you’ll have a great set of characters or a great idea, and you’ll just have to follow where it leads you.
Early reader books are really exploding right now. Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie and Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee’s Bink and Gollie are books that are doing well with preschool children and early readers. It’s a growth market, and how you go about reaching the target audience depends on what kind of story you are trying to tell and what kinds of characters you’ve created. The format will often dictate how you approach a project, but sometimes the voice is just as powerful as the image on the page.
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