Writing Children's Picture Books – 10 Tips.
I don’t often give writing advise. The reason is that I find other people have done it better before me and, of course, there are plenty of books in the market to tell you what to do or not to do. This said, you might not want to invest in such books if you are only considering writing a children’s picture book. When thinking about it, you might just want to know what it involves and the sort of thing you want to keep in mind. This is exactly what this post is about.
I am not going to go into the subject of whether it is profitable or not, because it’s not the subject of this post, but I am going to be honest and tell you that it’s a hard genre to choose if you want to make a living out of writing.
I started writing children’s picture books because I had an idea for a series and I wanted the children to meet the characters as soon as possible. Also, my ideas for stories were more appropriate for younger readers, while the main arc will start with the upcoming first chapter series. Add to that the fact that my mother is an artist… the decision of starting with picture books was pretty much pre-made.
But there was a lot I didn’t know. Where to start, was the main question. You might think it’s writing the story, but I’d recommend starting elsewhere.
Traditional or Self-Publication
This is an important question because, if you’re writing a children’s picture book you will need, indeed, pictures. Illustrations will be the most important part of the story.
The difference between both methods of publication is that, in the former, the publishing house would provide the illustrator for you. They are unlikely to publish something already illustrated because they’d want your book, were they to publish it, to fit into their style.
In the case of self-publication, you can do as you like. Hire somebody, do it yourself. Just make sure that the illustrations work with what you want to say and the style you envisioned. Research freelance illustrators, ask for recommendations if you are in a writing group. Finding the right match between the writer and the illustrator can make or break your story.
Wordcount when Writing a Children’s Picture Book
When writing children’s picture books, keep in mind that they should be under 1000 words long. Some of them have as many words as fingers I have on my hands. So, not many.
One good way to keep the word count under is to limit the descriptions. Descriptions will be useful for you and for you illustrator, but the readers will be able to see the house, car, cat, or character on the page itself.
Page Count and Cover
If you are self-publishing and you are doing the layout yourself, be aware that printers work in multiples of four. Internal pages, then, will be anything from 4 to 36, in the case of children’s picture books.
Covers are a bit more complicated, as they need to be formatted on one single piece. So the cover, the spine and the back cover need to be presented in a single PDF document of continuous paper.
If you are curious as to the cost of printing your book, I recommend Book Printing UK because you can get a quote online, without having to send anything to anybody. I ended up going with a local printer though, because they gave me the same price.
You also have the option to go with KDP paperbacks, but be aware that the choice of paper quality is very limited with them, and paper quality does matter in this type of books.
As I said above, I am self-publishing my books. Now, if you have the funds, I strongly recommend that you get an illustrator, and a cover designer and somebody to do the layout, etc. But if, like me, you don’t have the capital, you’ll have to do it yourself.
In that case, when talking to your illustrator, especially if it’s not somebody who has done this before, they will have to consider where the text is going to be. If you position your text on top of an image and the colours are not light enough or there is too much detail, the text won’t be readable. Ensure that there are spaces left where you can position your text and it will be clearly visible.
It is very trendy these days, in picture books, to change the size of words, or even set them in strange configurations. My recommendations is DON’T.
While it’s visually pleasing, it makes reading it more complex, especially those who decide it’s a good idea to set the text in a spiral. If you spend hours working on your text, it is silly that the rhythm you have worked so hard to achieve is disrupted for the sake of fashion.
You can use any fun, readable font you want, on a size of 15 points or over.
Writing the Children’s Picture Book
Things that matter: children’s picture books are for reading out loud, more often than not. And they will be read repeatedly, if they have any success. Read your text aloud and see if any words stick out in a bad way, disrupting the rhythm of the text. I’m not saying it should rhyme, but I am saying it should be pleasant to the ear.
Things that matter less: many, many things. I pay attention to it, but historical accuracy is not that key to this genre. We read books about aliens and underpants, and dinosaurs and humans, and hippos who go to the moon. Except if you want to make something that is educational in some way, accuracy is not vital.
As for language, yes, try to avoid too grandiose a word, but don’t simplify too much just because you’re writing a picture book for children. That’s how they learn.
No matter what the project, the truth is that there is always a lot to chink about, but these are some of the practical issues I found when I was working on The Blue Giant and The Branch Witch. I hope you found this useful.
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