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Dalen Keys -
Writing Children's Picture Books : Page 2 of 2

14 Key Learnings about Writing Children's Picture Books

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8. Remember, it's called a "picture" book.

In novels, it is important to provide word descriptions to bring your readers into the story. This is not usually the case in picture books. The "pictures" provide a great deal of the setting. This frees you to work on the story. Your challenge will be the dialog.

9. Read other picture books — a lot.

I am sure we have all read picture books; but, do you do it every day? If this is your business then you should understand the latest products and the competitive environment. I read 10 to 20 picture books every week. I make note of the publisher, number of words, number of pages, the dialog, the artwork, the settings, the characters, etc. I try to read a mixture of award winners, newly published and whatever else I grabs my attention (I figure if a book grabs my attention, it will grab a buyers attention). Occasionally for fun, I'll mix in a young adult book — just to keep me thinking. Do your homework!

10. You don't have to grow up.

I guess the reason I write children's picture books is because it provides me so much creative freedom. I'm not limited to conventional human boundaries. I can explore silly subjects. I can use almost any character — plant, animal or mineral. I can cover tough subjects in a fun way. I am really only limited by my own lack of creativity. I want to make it clear that I don't anticipate writing for adults as I grow up. I don't view my interest in children's books as a phase. This is my passion.

11. Have friends, writers, and critics read your manuscript.

I often ask my wife to first read my manuscripts. She is a great source of initial feedback and editing. But, I can't just stop with her editing. I need a breadth of perspectives to give me input. I don't always use the input, but I do listen and I weigh their comments carefully. Sometimes the best input comes from those people you know the least. They are less concerned about my feelings and more concerned about a good story. I have a few friends that are English teachers and professors. It scares me to death when they review my manuscripts; but, their input is so good. I would rather have them read it now and help me get this to be the very best manuscript possible rather than read it later and tell me what I should have done. Seek a breadth of input!

12. Make your characters come alive.

As you write, be sure to make your characters more than remote characters. For instance, have your characters show and express their feelings, don't just describe their inner feelings. Make your characters active and make them exciting.

13. Be ready for rejection and criticism.

Let me advise you right now that if you cannot accept rejection or criticism, do not go into writing (it is far worse than the dating years). In fact, you even seek criticism and rejection like some weird punishment freak. You willingly ask people to edit and critique your writing and some people will gladly provide you with their input without regard to your feelings — ouch! Take any input, whether friendly or gruff, and use it to improve your manuscript (after you finish cursing them). Then, once you get your manuscript polished to perfection, you send your manuscripts to publishers. If you get nothing but acceptances, please let me know. My approach is simple. I keep every rejections letter — just for the memories. And, as I receive a rejection, I send the document out again to someone else. If the writing is good, it will find a home at the proper time. Oh, by the way, I celebrate every acceptance. It keeps me sane.

14. People love to meet an author.

For a reason I have yet to fully understand, people are amazed and honored to meet a writer. It is almost a mystical experience. So, two important things I have learned:

  1. I always have a business card handy;

  2. I always have a few words ready to share — sometimes a little story, sometimes it is an update on my current project and sometimes it is even a few tidbits of knowledge that I might be able to share about the world of writing.

I am still learning about this world of writing children's picture books too (maybe that should have been point 15 — hum?). You need to keep learning about your craft and business all the time. Keep pushing boundaries and exploring new techniques. Learn something new about the fundamentals of English and then learn something new about juggling or crickets or geometry.

Well, that's the best I can do. There is no absolute prescription for success in writing but maybe these fourteen points (or was it really fifteen) can help you. Whatever you do with your writing make sure you enjoy the process. Even if you never sell or publish anything, you are challenging yourself and you are participating in the creative process. There is joy in that simplicity. •

Copyright © 2009 Dalen Keys

Dalen KeysDalen Keys has a B.S. in chemistry from the University of North Alabama and a Ph.D in chemistry from Rice University. As a science nerd, Dalen has devoted himself to the creation of leading edge technologies and products in the fields of printing, electronics and displays. More »