Writing Picture Books for Children

Earlier this year, on a complete whim, I decided to sign up for a course on writing picture books for children. I’m about half way through now, and I’m having an absolute ball.

I have learned so much about the pernickety structure and rhythm that goes into writing for children. It’s a lot harder than it looks.

I’ve also come up with some other insights along the way, such as:

Research is great fun, but Book Depository will take way longer than you expect to deliver books. You’ll click and see that a book is ‘in stock’, then that it has been ‘dispatched’ and then you’ll wait for up to 3 weeks for your books to slowly tickle in one by one. Probably better off to just pay the extra dollars and get them from Australia.

It’s hard to come up with something parents can stand to read night after night.

12 years of using APA formatting is very difficult to undo. To think of all those poor suffering students I used to have to mark down due to their inaccurate placement of full stops and not putting a comma after a full stop (e.g., et al., and stuff). Now I have to re-learn that outside of the Ivory Tower there are other ways to communicate. I can barely get myself to use the word ‘their’ to mean one person instead of using the ‘proper’ but rather impractical s/he version.

Gatekeepers are really important people. They hold all the power and won’t recommend your book to anyone unless you supply them with a never ending packet of Tim Tams and a silo of sauv blanc. They sound downright scary, and not only because thanks to playing that video boardgame in the ‘90s, I can only visualise a gatekeeper as a deathly figure in purple robes who will call me ‘maggot’.

In 3 weeks, I have produced 4 drafts for 4 books.  3 fit the expected format for a picture book with a 3 act structure, and are readable, 1 doesn’t quite fit the format yet, and I suspect all of them need a lot of editing. The first one is about teaching children to relax, the second one is about bedtime, the third one is about coping with sadness, and the other is about robots. Actually, it’s about jealousy but robots are pretty cool.

I’m trying to be optimistic about getting published, but also trying to be realistic. I definitely don’t think I will be in any position to give up my day job any time soon. I also keep hearing Mem Fox’s words about not expecting anyone to ever take you seriously as a children’s writer echoing in my head. In many ways, I think writing picture books is a lot more difficult than any of the academic writing that I’ve done – but it’s also way more fun!