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Twenty Tips for Writing Picture Books

By Pat Mora

How exciting that you want to write picture books!  I became interested when my three children were little, and I’ve loved the genre ever since.  Fair warning: they are like candy.  Once you start, it’s difficult to stop.

Because of the emphasis on publishing, we sometimes forget that writing and publishing are different activities.  Publication doesn’t have to be the goal of all writing.  We can write (and illustrate) children’s books for our families, neighbors, students, and friends. Such writing is also valid and important.  Here are a few hints for both writing and publishing books for young readers.

  1. Remember your child-self, your feelings, childhood memories, worries, and pleasures. (Most picture books are for 3 to 10 year olds.)
  2. Create your writing time and mull–about what to write, how to write it, about how to be daring. Among your key resources are your love of stories and language, your spirit, imagination, and persistence.
  3. Be welcoming of your writing. Welcome your ideas as you would welcome a guest. Resist thinking negatively about your work.
  4. Read picture books both old and new.
  5. Visit bookstores and libraries. Become acquainted with the person in charge of children's books who may know about workshops, writing groups and school visit opportunities.
  6. Create systems for jotting down ideas and images.
  7. Consider taking writing workshops, attending conferences, joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Click here for their Web site
  8. Read books on creativity such as:
    • Bayles, David and Ted Orland. Art and Fear
    • Cameron, Julia. The Artist’s Way
    • Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones
    • LeMott, Annie. Bird by Bird
  9. Start or join a writing group.
  10. Cultivate the habit of revision. The many books about writing help this essential habit.
  11. Know your goal. If publication is important to you, learn about the field. Some writers find it helpful to know what's being published. They read reviews of picture books and browse in bookstores.
  12. Understand that picture book publishing is a collaborative process. The collaborators are the author, the illustrator, the editor, the art director, and sometimes the editor-in-chief and marketing staff. If you need total control of the process, best publish your own manuscript.
  13. Know that publishing is a business. Wonderful books get published; wonderful manuscripts don't. A publisher has to believe that a manuscript will sell when it competes with the 5,000 other books published each year.
  14. Be prepared for rejection. Editors receive thousands of unsolicited manuscripts. Have I ever gotten used to the rejection? NO!
  15. Know the advantages and disadvantages of small and large publishing houses.
  16. Submit your best work intelligently. Know the submission process. Check publishers' Web sites.
  17. Be persistent. It is not easy to have a manuscript accepted.
  18. Never underestimate the importance of supportive friends and family.
  19. Share your work. This will give you and others pleasure and will encourage you to write more.
  20. Love your work. Care about the process of writing and the honor of writing for children. Be committed to that. Having a book published probably won't change your life, but being committed to writing and children can change your life and the life of your readers.

May you write work you love.

Good luck!

¡Buena suerte!

Buona fortuna!

Pat Mora, a Mexican American born in El Paso, Texas, is the author of numerous award-winning books for adults and children, including Tomas and the Library Lady, This Big Sky, and several books for LEE & LOW BOOKS. Her memoir, House of Houses, reveals her interest in family and her Chicano heritage. She is also a university professor, popular speaker, and children’s advocate who helped establish April 30th as Día de los niños/Día de los libros, a yearly celebration of childhood, books, languages, and cultures. Mora lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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