Peek a Book: Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

AnnBookCoverTotally thrilled to have Ann Whitford Paul stopping by Finders & Keepers today with Writing Picture Books! Because you get a peek into a wonderful writing book, a chance to win this gem, plus Ann’s tips to keep in mind when writing a picture book. That’s a lot of bang for one little peek!

You’ll notice, down on the bottom of the book cover, a few words that might be difficult to make out. So I’ll spell it out for you:  “A Hands On Guide From Story Creation to Publication.” And that’s exactly what you’re getting, right from the first chapter. Ann takes your story (and even if you don’t have one yet, she’ll wait patiently while you write your first draft), and chapter by chapter, she’ll guide you through the steps of picture book creation and development.

DSC00403At the end of each chapter, Ann’s included a few exercises in “Before You Go On.” See what I mean about step by step instructions?

Here, for example, Ann suggests that you rewrite your first paragraph in one of the forms she discussed in Chapter 4 (Telling Your Story-Part Two)

And what I really appreciate about Writing Picture Books is the way that she gives such thorough explanations with plenty of examples.

How about a further peek into Ann’s brilliance with her Five Tips to Keep in Mind When Writing Picture Books:

1. To thine own self be true—don’t try to imitate anyone else—write about what matters to you.  The books that become best sellers are those that are not mere copies of what has gone before.  They surprise with the new and unexpected.

2. Understand the unique picture book (32 pages) form and how that relates to your writing (lots of action, compelling page turns, etc.) and your double audience of adults AND children—APPEAL TO BOTH.

3. Picture books are tight and focused.  (one of my picture books is only 66 words!) Illustrations are the descriptions you don’t have to write.

4. All Picture books are poems, even if they’re written in prose so it behooves every writer to read lots of poetry.  The language must echo the action of the story.

5. Revise, revise, revise.  Then revise some more!  One of my 200 plus word manuscripts was revised 56 times—these were major changes!  Avoid sending out a manuscript that is not the best you can make it.

Bet you can’t wait to find out how you can win this keeper! It’s simple, really. Leave your own tip (or if you’re tip-less, a comment will do).  I’m keeping the comment line open for all those would-be picture book writers who might be celebrating the Fourth, so you have till Sunday, July 5th. Check back here on Monday, July 6th to see if you’re a winner! (Think positive! Start writing that children’s picture book now!)

27 thoughts on “Peek a Book: Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

  1. Here’s a tip: don’t write a picture book until you’ve read Writing Picture Books by Ann Paul. If you’ve never taken a class with Ann, you’ve missed out. This seems to be the next best thing.

    Nice blog, btw.

  2. This sounds like a great book. My mom – a primary grade teacher – has talked for years about writing picture books, but she’s never committed anything to paper. Maybe a guide like this would give her that necessary push.

  3. One of the best tips I’ve ever heard is to start at the point of difference. This goes along with the tight and focused nature of pb writing – because you don’t have a lot of room to wind your story up, you have to start with the part that makes your character or his/her situation different from the normal or ordinary.

    This book looks great! It’s definitely going on my wishlist as well!

  4. Wonderful to come across a book specifically for this genre. Thank you providing such a detailed helpful review.


  5. Hi Ann,
    Thanks for this wonderful opportunity! I don’t have a tip, but I do have a comment. I subbed a PB to an agent a few months ago, and she wrote back that “this just doesn’t work as a PB; you might want to try re-writing as a MG.” Although I’m thrilled that I didn’t get rejected and banished into outer darkness, I’d still like to know how I crossed the line from PB to MG, and how to get back. Whether I win or not, this book goes on my Wish List.

    Thanks again,
    Rita Lorraine

    PS – And thanks, Cathy, for posting this!

    • Dear Rita,
      There are many reasons why perhaps the agent wrote that you might want to reframe it as a middle grade novel. The first and most obvious is that it might be too long. I get nervous when my PB manuscripts are over 700 words, but it could go up to over 2000 words if you’ve written a picture story book. Another reason could be that your main character might be older than your audience . . . i.e. if you’re writing about a teenager and getting a first date, it wouldn’t have much interest for our audience. Another possibility might be that you have too many characters or perhaps too convoluted a plot. Picture books are incredibly simple and focused. Remember they are the first experience children have with a book so we need to make each one easy to follow. Sometimes authors write stories that are told from the point of view of a teacher or a partent. Those also wouldn’t hold the attention of our audience.
      So there you have the most obvious reasons. I hope this has been helpful!

  6. Here’s a tip I garnered not from being any children’s book expert but from seeing writer’s rough drafts–don’t use “big words”. I think sometimes we get caught up in finding the perfect word and don’t realize it’s going to bog down the story if a child has to ask an adult what a word means.

  7. Thanks for stopping by, Ann! Got a lot of writers, itching to get their hands on Writing Picture Books (totally understandable, BTW)! Remember, I’ll keep the commenting open till Sunday so that all those vacationing writers can have a chance. Come back Monday to see if you’ve won Ann’s Writing Picture Books. (I can hardly wait!)

  8. Thanks, Cathy and Ann, for this great information and opportunity. Any tips on writing a picture book biography? I haven’t found my picture book voice yet, although it’s slowly growing. WRITING PICTURE BOOKS sounds like it would be a much-needed help!

  9. I haven’t been published yet, but am working towards this as a personal goal. I have written a bed-time poem based on fond childhood memories of sailing my own little boat. My goal was to have the lines present the thread of the story, with illustration magnifying the excitement and sparking the child’s imagination. The poem also appeals to the very real desire of independent action for a youngster. Every day I hear my 2.5 year old daughter say “I do by myself!”. Each line of my poem suggests it’s own exciting visual, making it rich with illustration potential page after page. With beautiful illustration I imagine a child could add their own imaginitive version of the story, how they would like it to be, by following the beautiful images.

    I hope I can write back some day with a published book title to share! Any thoughts or guidance from the readers will be appreciated.

  10. Hi Ann,
    Your blog is great–and so is Ann’s book.

    I already have a copy of it, so I hope one of your other visitors wins a copy. I’ve found the advice and suggestions in Ann’s book relevant and helpful, no matter what type of writer you are.

    Here’s my tip: Read your work out loud.
    I’ve found reading my work out loud to be a very helpful way to discover what doesn’t “sound” right. Better still, read your work to your critique group. My group never fails to give helpful suggestions and comments after listening to my work.

  11. Sounds like a great book. As a picture book writer I agree with all her tips that you included in the excerpts. As a song writer as well I like to think of writing picture books like a writing a song — where the words have to fall on all the right beats. I’d love to win a copy of the book. You didn’t mention how can we enter the contest?

  12. Hi Susan!

    You just entered! (I’ll be drawing a random winner from all who’ve left a comment/tip on this post.) Thanks for stopping by and good luck!

  13. It’s funny. In order to succeed in publishing a picture book you have to first impress a whole bunch of adults. Then, if it gets published, you have to impress the bookseller and ultimately, the adult book buyer (parent, grandparent, teacher, librarian). How many good things for kids ever come out of that many adults having a hand in it? Surprisingly, in terms of picture books, lots.

  14. As an aspiring picture book writer and frequent picture book reader to my almost-five-year-old, write something that doesn’t bore you after fifty revisions, because that’s how often a parent might have to read it.

  15. Thanks so much for sharing info on this genre! I have two PB MS’s I have been working on (off and on) for a few years and hope to have them ready to send out before another year goes by. _Writing Picture Books_ would definitely be an asset to that endeavor. I will be sure to get one, either by winning or purchasing!!

  16. Thanks to Ann for the great tips, and thanks to all of you who dropped in with your own tip or comment. Now all that’s left is to pick a winner for this fantabulous book. I’m a nervous wreck! (Come back tomorrow!)

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