When I first started writing picture books, I had no clue what I was doing. Literally. No idea. Luckily, I did a little digging and got connected with the writing community. Thanks to the help of many fantastic people, I quickly found that there are so, SO many resources out there if you're looking to learn.
I'll be honest. I was expecting my first child when I got the idea that I wanted to write picture books. My husband was finishing up school at the time, and we were living on my salary and the part-time income he was bringing in. After my maternity leave, I was going to have to go back to work, and we were going to have to pay for daycare. My writing budget was literally zero. When I started adding up the costs of all these great classes and programs, I felt like maybe I couldn't do this. Or at least, I couldn't do it on my current budget.
If there are any writers out there who are feeling this way, I'm here to tell you: YES YOU CAN. There are tons of affordable writing resources, but when you’re starting out, it can be tough to know where to look. That’s why I put on my detective hat, shined my trusty magnifying glass, and scouted the very best tips and tricks. (Okay, not really. I just asked other writers on Twitter.) The best part about these resources? They’re all 100% Certified Budget-Friendly—a.k.a. completely free!
1- Your Local Library: If you don’t have a library card, what on earth are you waiting for?! Go out and get one, and then check out these suggestions:
- Recently-published picture books- Everyone loves Goodnight Moon, but if you’re looking to get published in today’s market, you need to read books published within the last three years. Look for books that are similar to your own—for example, humorous vs. quiet vs. nonfiction. BONUS- find books by debut authors; they’ll give you a great sense of what might catch an editor’s eye. Got a stack of books? Super! Now, study them. Look at the physical structure (number of pages, layout, etc.). Check out the interplay between text and illustrations. Pay attention to the types of words used and the brevity of language. Look at the pacing—how many spreads does it take to get to the conflict? How many more until main character’s low point? How is the author getting you to connect with the story emotionally? Pay particular attention to authors who resonate with you—their books can be used as mentor texts for your own writing.
- Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul- This is a must-read. See if your library has a copy. If they don’t, ask if they can order one for you.
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold Underdown- As an author and editor, Harold is a wealth of information. Checking out this book is a must!
- The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein- While not specifically focused on picture books, this is another helpful read. If your library has it or can get it, be sure to snatch this one up, too.
2- Twitter: Yes, really. If you aren’t on Twitter, create an account. You can follow authors, agents, and editors—all of whom will likely be tweeting general writing advice and links to helpful blog posts. Not sure who to follow? Look up the authors of your favorite books and see if they’re on Twitter (odds are, they are). Scope out agency and publisher websites for agents and editors to add to your list. You can also follow hashtags, like the popular #pbchat, to read writerly discussions on craft.
3- Author Blogs: Here’s the thing about author blogs: just about everyone has one, so it can be difficult—and even overwhelming—to know where to look. Here are two of my personal favorites, which were also recommended by several writing pals:
4- Podcasts: Raise your hand if you love a good podcast! Okay, now put it down, cause you’re gonna need that hand to click the links.
- Agent Jennifer Laughran’s Literaticast- when I conducted my very official poll (magnifying glass in hand!), the Twitterverse practically SCREAMED Literaticast, so you know it’s good.
- Matthew C. Winner’s The Children’s Book Podcast covers a variety of topics, including current trends and insights on writing process from published authors.
5- Writing Challenges: There are LOTS of writing contests and challenges out there—as in, way too many to list here. Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned writer (and by ‘seasoned’, I mean covered in just the right amount of salt, pepper, and lemon zest), you should definitely participate these two:
- Storystorm, organized by picture book dynamo Tara Lazar. Storystorm is a month of brainstorming picture book ideas (in January), but the best part might just be the daily guest posts by authors and publishing professionals. Plus, you can win things! Win-win!
- ReVISIONWeek, hosted by Lauren H. Kerstein and several other stellar authors. Once you’ve written a manuscript (or two, or twenty), ReVISIONWeek will help you get those manuscripts in tip-top shape. This one just happened in September, but definitely read the fantastic blog posts. I’ve also got a whole post of my own with more info here. Bonus- prizes include critiques from published and soon-to-be-published authors.
I hope these resources provide a great jumping-off point for anyone looking to dive in to the world of writing picture books. And if you’re so inclined, be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @llavoieauthor, for more tips, book recommendations, and as always, a smattering of bad puns.