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84 Essential Tips for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators

So you want to be a children’s book writer or artist?

It’s a competitive & tough industry out there and a creative person could use every help she/he can get.

Here’s a short-list of 84 tips, techniques, tactics and ideas that I have compiled from talking to many children’s book writers and artists, and from various articles on the topic.

It covers subjects from book publishing, writing, illustrating, marketing, agent submissions and others. Each bite sized idea is a food for thought that can help you on your way to becoming a published author or illustrator.

  1. Around 600 words is the sweet-spot for modern picture books (with 32-page books being the most common)
  2. Begin your story with a bang! Grab the audience in the first couple of pages.
  3. Write from the perspective of a child or with a child as your main character.
  4. Leave space for the illustrator to do their magic. This usually means, less words.
  5. Picture book means that the art and words have to work together.
  6. Read it out loud
  7. Make every word count
  8. Surprise the reader at the end of your story
  9. Does your character go through a change? Is it an emotional change, physical change, or change of perspective and outlook?
  10. Is there tension / anticipation in your story?
  11. Use page-turns to surprise the reader and create impact
  12. Seed the revelation at the beginning of the story
  13. Read your manuscript backwards
  14. Let your manuscript sit after writing and look at it with fresh eyes
  15. Have someone else read it out loud and listen carefully
  16. Don’t talk down to your audience or be too preachy. Your goal is to entertain them.
  17. Be quirky & have fun
  18. If you’re publishing traditionally, it’s the publishers job to assign an illustrator for your work. Unless you’re self-publishing, you do not need to find an illustrator right away.
  19. Read lots and lots of picture books and find out what works and what doesn’t
  20. Make the best story but realize that it will go through several steps before getting published. It has to pass the muster of the agent, art director, editor, sales team and many others. Learn to accept this process and find compromise in your work.
  21. Share your work and join critique groups.
  22. Get perspective from other artists and writers.
  23. Do your research before submitting to agents and publishers. Each one has their own likes/dislikes & submission process. Plan accordingly.
  24. Make a habit out of creating new work. Carve out a time of your day to work on your book.
  25. Accept rejection and failure. It happens to the best of us.
  26. Tailor your pitch specific to the agent or publishing company – see #23
  27. Work on more than one story. Not all stories are going to be published. Work on other ideas and see where they go!
  28. Be excited about your story. If you’re not excited about it, don’t expect the audience to be either.
  29. Stay consistent with your color palette
  30. Prioritize good composition of your artwork, it can often make or break the final piece.
  31. Play with perspective and point of view
  32. Visually offer an alternate idea to the text
  33. Use scale in your art to create depth
  34. Ensure that your characters have good shapes/silhouettes and reads well on the page
  35. Be persistent. Know that there will be many stumbles along your publishing journey. It’s not uncommon for a project to take years before seeing the light of day.
  36. Don’t compare yourself to other writers and authors. We work under our own timelines and abilities.
  37. Consider both small and large publishing companies and independent publishing. Know the benefits, risks and rewards. Your book might be a better fit for a smaller publisher.
  38. Always carry a notebook or sketchbook wherever you go
  39. When putting together an art portfolio, include between 15-20 images and no more.
  40. Organize your portfolio so that your best pieces are scattered throughout. You don’t want to put your best in the front and worst in the end.
  41. If you work in various art styles, do not mix them in same portfolio. Have a portfolio for each art style or target genre/audience
  42. Think of the story arc when writing your picture book. While there are always exceptions, it is nice to have a beginning, middle and a satisfying ending.
  43. Visit bookstores and libraries and find out what is popular in the market, subscribe to writing publications.
  44. But remember to write and create from your heart and not what’s popular.
  45. Learn about the different types of children’s book formats. Maybe your story is a chapter book instead of a picture book.
  46. Think about the marketing process of your book. Publishing doesn’t end when your book gets printed.
  47. Join a writing or art group specific to children’s books like SCBWI. If you join a writing group focused on a different genre, you will receive a different type of critique and review on your manuscript.
  48. Create a mock-up of your book to find out if it reads and flows well
  49. Consider your target age group and base your word choice on that group
  50. Since adults will be reading your book, make sure that it’s enjoyable for them too
  51. Choose a story theme or hook that’s unique and relatable to the audience
  52. Experiment with your art style or writing style. Try something new
  53. Be okay with feedback, it’s part of the publishing life. Learn from your mistakes.
  54. Over deliver on your projects. Do it before the deadline and do it better
  55. Publishers want to invest in your career and marketability so think about how to make this easier for them
  56. Learn to finish.  Even if it’s bad, finish it and figure out why it didn’t work.
  57. Everything starts with a good premise or a good first sketch. If you don’t have a good base, it will fall apart in the end.
  58. Consider a video trailer for marketing your book
  59. Listen to movie soundtracks to get inspired
  60. Take a break. Often times, when we have a creative block, we might just be mentally burned out and our body is telling us to hit the pause button.
  61. Switch genres and make a story out of it
  62. Find inspiration in nature, books and by being away from your comfort zone.
  63. Write about things that pique your interest, even if it’s something you have no knowledge of. Force yourself to investigate and be curious.
  64. Don’t pay anyone to publish your book. There are various companies out there that masquerade as publishers but only want to rip you off.
  65. Writing in rhyme is not as popular as you may think. Other than bad rhymes, another reason why publishers stay away from rhyming books is because translating to other languages becomes an issue.
  66. Combine multiple ideas & concepts to create something new
  67. Read & follow blog and article posts by other authors or illustrators. Comment on them!
  68. Never stop learning. Join classes and hone your craft. There are many online courses that will help you do this.
  69. Hang around children and find out what they find interesting and entertaining
  70. When querying, triple check your letter and make sure it’s error free. Make it short and sweet, be prepared to wait.
  71. Don’t quit your day-job. Unless you’re a consistent best-seller, you most likely will not supplement a full income from writing or art. Often times, artists and writers have freelance or regular jobs to fall back on while they work on their books.
  72. Build your brand. Use social media, podcasts & blog posts to make a connection with your audience beyond your books.
  73. Be poetic without rhyming
  74. Find ideas and inspiration from your own childhood
  75. Play with words and see what new ideas you can create
  76. Learn publisher guidelines and catalogs before submitting your work
  77. Today’s kids are different from when you were growing up, know their tastes
  78. Find the core of your story, the essence of your idea, and drum it down
  79. Your main character must solve the problem. Don’t make someone else fix it for them
  80. Always ask for publishing specs. What size is the book? Image Resolution? Color space?
  81. Find other avenues for your writing and illustrating career. Learn to spawn into other genres and other publication mediums so you can learn from it while supplementing your income.
  82. Take old ideas and turn them into something fresh and new
  83. If you’re stuck with writing, then draw first. And if you’re stuck with drawing, then write first. One inspires the other.
  84. Keep writing, keep drawing – and grow!

 

More resources below!

Finding Your Voice in Writing and Art

Writing for Children Resources

Writing Resources, Scripting, Beat Sheets, Techniques and Guides

Storytelling & Creativity Resources

Resources for Artists