Hello! In my work, I get to meet so many wonderful writers and illustrators, in all stages of their children’s publishing journey. It inspired me to create this space for resources I love.
When I first started writing picture books I thought how hard could this be? I read picture books to my kids. They seem simple enough! Well, I quickly had a reality check. Writing picture books is a very competitive space, there are several thousand people writing books, and a small number of publishers publishing them. Only by truly understanding the medium and the needs of the publishing industry, can you realize your big dream.
Before you can do the work, you have to learn the work, and I recommend these sources:
- Highlights Foundation: Visit https://www.highlightsfoundation.org/upcoming-workshops/ and find their latest Intro to Picturebooks class. If you can’t find one, email them, and they will let you know when one launches. The Highlights team is the nicest and most invested in uplifting writers and illustrators. (Disclaimer: I am a Highlights Muslim Storyteller Fellow)
- Storyteller Academy: Visit https://www.storytelleracademy.com/ When I first wrote picture books my husband bought me a storyteller academy membership for my birthday. I think I took every class they had available and participated in a hundred live classes. Only by putting in the work every day did things finally start to click. (Disclaimer: I teach the Social Media Mini-Course at StorytellerAcademy.)
- SCBWI: Visit https://www.scbwi.org/ As a member of SCBWI you get access to digital workshops, and at an additional cost you can attend regional conferences. These events gave me access to industry professionals who helped me understand what editors, art directors, and agents were looking for.
- KidLit411: Another great resource that always comes up, is KidLit411, visit http://www.kidlit411.com/. There are a lot of great FREE resources there.
A critical piece of writing and illustrating is getting critiques. In my early career, I found a few great opportunities for critiques.
- #12×12: Visit https://www.12x12challenge.com/. Julie Hedlund has built an amazing community for picture book creators. As a member, you have access to the forums where you can form critique groups. You can also drop a manuscript in the forum for community critique.
- Pbparty: Visit https://mindyalyseweiss.com/pbparty-new-draft-challenge-critique-train-faq/ Early in my career, I participated in the critique train a lot, it was a wonderful way to do a one-time critique exchange.
- Illustration Dept: Visit https://illustrationdept.com/ I have not attended, but I hear this is an amazing opportunity for illustrators to receive feedback every Thursday.
Often when aspiring writers tell me about their picture book idea, I know of a similar book. That’s because I read so many picture books. A similar book existing is not a deal-breaker, as long as you have a new twist. But another reason why the foundation of writing picture books is reading picture books.
In addition, here are some craft books that are currently in my bookshelf:
- The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
- Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul
- Picture This by Molly Bang
- Writing with Pictures by uri shulevitz
- The Magic Words by Cheryl Klein
- Emotion Thesaurus
As a Bangladeshi Muslim American creator, finding niche communities that could connect to my experience was so important. These communities usually come in the form of private Facebook groups that require an application or introduction, but I’ll share two now:
Traditional Vs. Self-Publishing Picture books
I wanted to follow a traditional path for publishing my book, but many authors and illustrators find success self-publishing their books via Amazon and related channels. When I think of leaders in self-publishing education, I think of Miral Sattar. You can visit her website https://learnselfpublishingfast.com/ for more information!
The Traditional Path
If you are leaning toward the traditional path, then here are a few things to know. Most publishers (especially the “Big 5”) do not take submissions from authors/illustrators. In traditional publishing, agents submit on the author or illustrator’s behalf. Yes, there are several publishers that will take un-agented manuscripts, but I think to be a career author, it’s better to have an agent. Agents are your advocates and business representatives, they serve an important role. Also, I love my agent, I wrote all about it on the 12×12 blog. Also, on the traditional path, expect a lot of waiting, waiting for contracts, waiting for feedback, waiting for dates, traditional publishing is slow. That is not a reflection of the commitment of editors, and art directors, it’s a reflection of all the work they have to do to meet the gold standard of traditional publishing.
Getting an Agent
The mistake that most people commit early in their journey is querying too soon. That means sending a manuscript to an agent before you are ready. And what does ready look like? Here are some broad strokes:
- At least 3 polished manuscripts: Do you have 3 manuscripts that have been critiqued, revised, put away, and revised again, and again, to form polished manuscripts? ( I actually hired a paid editor for my books.)
- Have you read 100 books in your genre (e.g.) picture book nonfiction)?
Once you have completed the above tasks, then you can start querying. I highly recommend you read the 12×12 blog post about how I got my agent. All agents and agencies are not created equally. It’s important to find an agency with reputable authors and illustrators, and someone you have a great gut feeling about.
If you have questions about the process, leave a comment and I’ll be sure to answer.