I have to admit, when I first started writing, I would look at picture books and say to myself, “Man, that’s the life. Just put together a story that will only take a few hundred words, tops, and I could write and publish a dozen books a year!” Compared to writing a novel, it seemed an easy access to publication.
Boy, was I wrong. While I was busy cranking out novels for grown ups, I one day decided to write a little story for my girls who were five and three at the time. It was a fun little piece to keep them entertained and mean a little something heavier for me. I called it The Dandelion’s Tale. When my wife first read it, she cried. When I read it to my kids, they showed nominal interest, mostly because it didn’t have any pictures.
Year later, my agent asked to see whatever I had hidden in my manuscript drawer. I sent her my lone attempt at a children’s story and figured she’d send it back and thank me for the effort.
Then a funny thing happened. She loved it. Within a month of shopping it around, we had Disney and Random House showing extreme interest. A couple of weeks after that, I was signing a contract with Schwartz & Wade, a division of Random House.
The hard part was over. I’d make a few edits with my editor and get cracking on the next. I was in the clear, right?
Here’s how wrong I was and what I learned.
- My editor is one of the best in the business. Over the course of the next year, we whittled out a couple of hundred words and went through maybe a couple of dozen revisions. I’ve written full length novels that were revised far, far less. Perfecting a picture book is the hardest work you’ll ever do.
- Every word counts! because you have to say so much in a very small space, everything you put on the page has to have meaning and move the story forward.
- Your prose has to convey motion. When you write, you have to picture the illustrations in your head, even if you can’t draw a stick figure. It’s your story. If you can’t picture how your words will translate into images, how can your illustator?
- You have to know the age group you’re writing to and make sure the message is spot on and conveyed in a way they can easily understand. Oh, and you have to entertain them so they’ll want to read it (or have it read to them) again and again.
- The path from acceptance to publication can be loooong. We’re talking glacial. There’s a lot more that goes into the production of a picture book than any other type of publication. Patience is your friend.
After all is said and done, though it requires Herculean heavy lifting, it is also the most rewarding writing you may ever do.
And now that I’ve cleared up any misconceptions you may have, go forth and write! And come back here to tell me how the process has been for you. Do you think it’s the hardest writing endeavor you can take? Just think of those little faces smiling when they see your book.