8 Tips for Writing Picture Books

Writing picture books is hard. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written one or one hundred, just ask Jane Yolen or Mo Willems or John Klassen. But good news is if you keep writing and reading picture books, you will get better!

  1. Don’t think your way into your story–feel your way in. Instead of seeing your characters as separate, become your character. For example, if you’re writing about a budgie who has escaped out an open window, imagine what it’s like to be outside for the first time and feeling the wind rustle your feathers, or hearing the sound of cars zooming by.
  2. Remember it’s a picture book and pictures tell much of the story. Don’t waste words telling us something already described in the illustrations.
  3. Sweet spot s between 300-700 words. We get into trouble by going too wide. The secret is to focus on one main idea/feeling/theme/goal. Focus on your character’s goals. Does our budgie dream of being free and wild? If so, focus on this, and how what happens perhaps changes his goal.
  4. Picture books are audio books with illustrations! They are supposed to be read aloud so be aware how your words sound, the rhythm and cadence of your sentences. Use repetition, alliteration, onomatopoeia to plop us into your  world!
  5. Any good picture book captures a familiar feeling in a new and unfamiliar way. Twist, turn, and loop the world to find the unexpected and surprising. A talking crayon, a farting dog, a pigeon not allowed to drive the bus, or a budgie who wants to fly south with the geese… You get the idea!
  6. Avoid teaching a lesson. No preaching, no morals. Of course, your picture can and should have a theme but it should be an organic part of your characters and their choices.
  7. It’s all about the page turn. What will make your reader eager to turn the page to see what’s going to happen next? Some writers use the rule of threes or fives to build the page turn. Or you can ask a question, use ellipsis, or make us care so much about the character that we just have to find out what your character decides to do. Finally, creating a picture book dummy  is an excellent way to test your page turn-ability.  See Tara Lazar’s post on creating a dummy here.
  8. What to write about?  Character-driven picture books are wonderful, but don’t forget concept books. They are timeless and funny and mindful and beautiful and sometimes very funny. Some have characters but they don’t have a traditional story arc. Here are just a few:

KARIN LEFRANC is from nowhere and everywhere. She lived in Sweden, Lebanon, South Africa and the UK but now lives in the US in a small Connecticut town which boasts the largest tree in the state. She’s an admitted tree hugger, who has on occasion, even been spotted kissing a tree or two.  Her debut picture book I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS was published in 2015 by Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing picture books, she’s time traveling to the 6th century in her middle-grade novel. You can find her on Twitter.

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MORE BANG FOR YOUR BOOK, a series on book marketing, interviews Karin Lefranc

Karin’s debut picture book, I Want To Eat Your Books, launched September, 2015. She talks with us today about all she learned from that book launch.269b50326181df1eaf451ff948bc0b66

FoWP: Karin, readers have fallen in love with your zombie and the boy who tries to keep him from devouring every book in the school. A big part of getting this book into readers’ hands was you. You were everywhere when the book launched in September – signing books in bookstores and libraries, even the YMCA! What was your game plan for the book launch?

Karin: I wanted to generate as much excitement as I could for I Want To Eat Your Books anywhere and everywhere! My publicist at Sky Pony sent press releases to the media and bloggers. I visited many bookstores for book signings and I got the word out about all my readings on Twitter and Facebook.

FoWP: Where did you get help from your publisher and where did you need to make things happen for yourself?

Karin: My publicist at Sky Pony, Cheryl Lew, was a huge help! She wrote a press release to the media, including bloggers, a month or so before publication. She also worked with the Sky Pony sales teams to generate excitement for selling the book.

FoWP: What was the most non-traditional place you went to talk about I Want To Eat Your Books?

Karin: Probably the YMCA. It’s not a place I would have thought of, but I’m a member there and so they asked me to be a part of their Halloween celebration—as the author of a zombie book I fit right in! We had a huge cardboard cutout of the zombie, and sponges made to look like books for the kids to toss into the zombie’s mouth. This awesome creation was actually made for the launch party at Simsbury Library. The Simsbury librarians went above and beyond, creating cool crafts, games and treats for the children.

FoWP: I loved your book trailer. Did it cost a fortune to make?

Karin:  Not at all. At first I thought it would, too, but I went to fiverr.com. I got lucky and got found Anne-Rae, and she did a wonderful job. When I wanted to add audio, she was more than willing to add it if I sent her the voice over. And it all cost less than $75. Here is her link: https://www.fiverr.com/amongus.  I got the trailer on Twitter, Facebook, andYouTube. If you have a book trailer, it’s also a good idea to add to teachertube.com and teacherspayteachers.com so teachers can find your book.

FoWP: You had events scheduled during the week and every weekend. It must have been exhausting! How did you balance appearances with everything else in your life and what advice do you have for other debut authors?

Karin: My husband would laugh at this question because my life was a rather unbalanced at the time! As authors, we are usually on our own writing and so marketing our book is a whole other way of life. It’s about constantly putting yourself and your book out there. I tried to schedule two book signings nearby if they were far away. There is only so much publishers can do unless you’re a big name author, so it’s really up to the author to get creative. I made cute badges with the cover of the book and found a company that did square ones, which looked more like a book than a round one. Here is the link: http://24hourwristbands.com/shop/custom-buttons/custom-square-buttons. I also made bookmarks, another inexpensive marketing tool you can giveaway at book signings as well as leave with libraries and bookstores. I called all the bookstores in my area and told them I’m a local author and available to come and do a reading and/or book signing. Every Barnes & Noble has a customer relations manager that you can ask to speak to, or you can also email them with your press release, reviews etc.

FoWP: What did you learn from marketing I Want To Eat Your Books that would change your marketing plan for your next book?

Karin: I would start earlier—at least six months out. I would do a cover reveal on several Children’s blogs. I would do more online blog contests. I think it’s important to use whatever makes your book different and interesting to generate fun ideas and promotions. There are lots of grown up zombie lovers out there, so my goal was also to be where they were online and even at the popular zombie running races around the country. My book is also about the love of reading and the power of reading so I am now targeting literacy groups to find ways to work with them.

Thanks for all your marketing advice, Karin! Find out more about the launch of Karin’s debut novel, here.

I Want To Eat Your Books
By Karin Lefranc (writer) and Tyler Parker (illustrator)
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Sky Pony Press

Find I Want To Eat Your Books:
Goodreads
Indiebound
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

How have you gotten MORE BANG FOR YOUR BOOK? Share your book marketing and promotion ideas in the comments below!

2014-5 NESCBWI croppedAbout R.J. Allen

I write middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. My best story ideas come from my two crazy kids. Connect with me at writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter at @RebeccaJ_Allen.