Updated: Aug 19
Self-publishing The Train Rolls On has taught me many things about writing, publishing, and marketing picture books. Today, I want to share a bit of that knowledge with you by reflecting on five of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about writing picture books.
Where I Started
When I began writing picture book manuscripts in 2019, I was very naïve. In fact, I didn’t know the first thing about writing a picture book. (Of course, I didn’t know that at the time, but I guess that’s what the learning process is all about…figuring out everything that I mistakenly thought I knew in the first place. 😊) Sure, I had read a lot of picture books with Avery, and I had formed my own opinions as to which ones were spectacularly well-written and which ones...well, weren't. Based on that, I was confident that I could, at the very least, write a story that was better than some of the books currently on the market.
So, without doing any research whatsoever, I turned to some of our favorite picture books for inspiration, put on my creative thinking cap, and…wrote some stories. (Pretty naïve, right?) Since then, I have learned that there is a lot more to writing picture books than initially meets the eye.
5 Things I’ve Learned
1. Research the market BEFORE writing the book!
By the end of 2019, I had written roughly ten picture book manuscripts, but I hadn’t yet begun researching the publishing process. (Deep down, I knew the research phase was going to take a lot of time and effort, so I was content to procrastinate on that front, instead spending my free time brainstorming book ideas and exercising my creative writing skills…you know, the fun part.)
It wasn’t until January of 2020 that I finally decided to dive into the book publishing research. Once I did, I learned that one of the critical steps in the picture book writing process happens BEFORE the writing even begins and consists of researching the existing picture book market, validating a book’s concept, and determining its target audience. (Hmm…that would have been nice to know before I had written ten books!) I have since returned to those “completed” manuscripts and made several changes (both major and minor) as well as modified my writing process to include this research step. Lesson learned!
2. Keep it concise!
Standard picture books are just 32 pages long, and that often includes the title page, dedication page, copyright information, and any other front or back matter that might be present. This means that authors are typically left with only 24-30 pages (or 12-15 spreads) to tell their story. That’s not very many! To help you visualize this, I've included two diagrams of sample picture book layouts below, both courtesy of Author Tara Lazar: