Eight Tips on Writing a Picture Book

(First posted on Wingedpen.com)

Writing picture books is hard. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written one or one hundred, just ask Jane Yolen or Mo Willems or John Klassen. But good news is if you keep writing and reading picture books, you will get better!

  1. Don’t think your way into your story–feel your way in. Instead of seeing your characters as separate, become your character. For example, if you’re writing about a budgie who has escaped out an open window, imagine what it’s like to be outside for the first time and feeling the wind rustle your feathers, or hearing the sound of cars zooming by.
  2. Remember it’s a picture book and pictures tell much of the story. Don’t waste words telling us something already described in the illustrations.
  3. Sweet spot s between 300-700 words. We get into trouble by going too wide. The secret is to focus on one main idea/feeling/theme/goal. Focus on your character’s goals. Does our budgie dream of being free and wild? If so, focus on this, and how what happens perhaps changes his goal.
  4. Picture books are audio books with illustrations! They are supposed to be read aloud so be aware how your words sound, the rhythm and cadence of your sentences. Use repetition, alliteration, onomatopoeia to plop us into your  world!
  5. Any good picture book captures a familiar feeling in a new and unfamiliar way. Twist, turn, and loop the world to find the unexpected and surprising. A talking crayon, a farting dog, a pigeon not allowed to drive the bus, or a budgie who wants to fly south with the geese… You get the idea!
  6. Avoid teaching a lesson. No preaching, no morals. Of course, your picture can and should have a theme but it should be an organic part of your characters and their choices.
  7. It’s all about the page turn. What will make your reader eager to turn the page to see what’s going to happen next? Some writers use the rule of threes or fives to build the page turn. Or you can ask a question, use ellipsis, or make us care so much about the character that we just have to find out what your character decides to do. Finally, creating a picture book dummy  is an excellent way to test your page turn-ability.  See Tara Lazar’s post on creating a dummy here.
  8. What to write about?  Character-driven picture books are wonderful, but don’t forget concept books. They are timeless and funny and mindful and beautiful and sometimes very funny. Some have characters but they don’t have a traditional story arc. Here are just a few:

Check out this Spotlight Interview Celebrating I Want to Eat Your Books! Bookaversary

Spotlight Interview with Karin Lefranc

You know you’re a children’s writer when…


  1. …someone says the word DUTY and you giggle like a third grader
  2. …you know more about the books your kids read than they do
  3. …you shamelessly wear dragon jewels!
  4. …you have more in common with kids than their parents
  5. …you get a paper cut and bleed coffee/tea
  6. …you day dream A LOT
  7. …you have creative ways of procrastinating like sock skating
  8. …your co-worker is a cat or dog or rabbit or bird
  9. …every time one of your adult friends talks about an issue they’re having with their kids, you immediately recommend a middle-grade novel that deals with the same situation
  10. …you’re more excited about the BFG movie than your kids are
  11. ….you struggle to remember the last adult book you read
  12. ….you still secretly keep an eye out for the wardrobe that will get you to Narnia
  13. ….you analyze the story structure of every movie and TV show you watch (much to your spouse’s chagrin)
  14. …when you can’t focus on doing taxes and filing your child’s college aid forms because you want to finish your Rick Riordan novel
  15. …people in the airport give you weird looks because you’re reading a chapter book
  16. …you’re the one with the spaced-out look in the supermarket because your head’s still in the 1800s or on planet Zippon


New PB: I Want To Eat Your Books by Karin Lefranc

Darlene Beck-Jacobson, author of Wheels of Change, interviewed me on her fabulous blog!

Darlene Beck-Jacobson

Why not celebrate a new year with a fun-filled read?  My author friend Karin Lefranc’s debut picture book takes kids on a fun ride with an unusual student whose favorite food is…books.

The new kid in school is a zombie, who eats books instead of brains. When the monster catches a whiff of the library, the students need to find the perfect book to change his ways before all their books become history!   IWANTTOEATYOURBOOKSCOVER (1)

twitter: @karinlefranc
I Want to Eat Your Books: Sky Pony Press, October 2015 (Illustrated by Tyler Parker)

Karin Lefranc grew up all over the world, living in Sweden, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, but she moved to the U.S. to attend college in upstate New York. She now lives in Connecticut with her three girls and one boy, who all love devouring books in all shapes and sizes. This is Karin’s debut picture book.

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Five things I learned making a Book Trailer        

I’ve been so busy trying to finish my middle-grade novel that the publication date for my picture book snuck up on me. I Want To Eat Your Books is publishing September 22, and while I have a great publishing team at Sky Pony Press,we all know it takes a village—no a hundred villages—to launch and nurture our book babies as they flap their pages into the world!

In addition to all the other things on my launch check list, I decided I needed a book trailer. If made professionally, these can be very expensive, and I didn’t have the time or money to fiddle around with that. But my technically challenged brain knew I also didn’t want to do it myself. For those of you who do want to do it yourself, check out this excellent post from the Creative pen here.

A friend suggested I check out fiverr.com, a site which offers all kinds of services from graphics and writing to video and animation for $5. After a little searching, I found someone that seemed like a good fit. I made a great choice because Anne-Rae was beyond fabulous. I ended up paying about $50 which included revisions and tip. She was open to all my suggestions and the final trailer exceeded all my exceptions.

The first draft included only text and music, but I thought it would be even better with a voice over, so she told me to send her a recording in a m4a format. I stepped up to the challenge. I wrote a script, downloaded a voice recorder onto my phone, and recorded myself reading it. My first readings were pretty bad, but after a a little practice, I managed to get an okay recording. Anne-Rae magically synced my voice with the illustrations and music beautifully. Here’s what I learned:

  1. A book trailer shouldn’t be too long. We all know the first thing we do when we finally  click on any video is see how long it is. We don’t want to lose our view half-way through. I wanted it under 60 seconds and it came out at 50 seconds.
  2. The object of a book trailer is to want the viewer to read/buy your book so your pitch has to entice them to do just that. Some trailers go on too long and give too much away. Keep it short and sweet and leave the viewer intrigued and wanting more.
  3. A book trailer is a form of advertisement so it needs a call to action. Your final screenshot should show where viewers can purchase the book. In mine I said, “Available anywhere human books are sold,” but you can be as specific as you want from your own website to your closest independent book store or Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
  4. If your book is funny add humor to your book trailer. If it’s scary, scare us a little. If it’s romantic, make us swoon. I tried to insert a little humor with my call to action—see #3 as well as making my script funny. Not sure if I succeeded but at least I tried!
  5. Thanks to Anne-Rae’s suggestion I added my website to the final screen shot along with my publisher’s logo.

And without further ado, here is my book trailer! It’s not perfect but not bad considering my limitations. Hope you agree!