Updated: Sep 19
“I want to write/publish a picture book--but where should I start?” I hear this question all the time! Fortunately, the answer is simple:
Just start with an idea. Let your imagination run wild! If you come up blank, think about your passions. Is there something you really like or enjoy? Is there a gap you've noticed in the literature? Start there!
Step 1. Write your children's book
If you want to write a picture book, just write it! I know that's easier said than done. Doubt can creep in, especially if you have no writing experience, or if you're just letting imposter syndrome get the best of you. But here's the thing...
No first drafts are good.
Yup, you read that right. A first draft is not a finished product, so don't be afraid to just put words on the page.
Right now, you don’t need to worry about your word count, vocabulary, and all of the mechanics. It is so much easier to revise it (when the real magic happens) once you actually have words on the page. You can’t revise anything if there’s nothing there to work with!
But if you're new to all this and need some step-by-step guidance to get your picture book written, I've made a workbook just for you:
So that's the first step: get your idea down on paper. You can always make adjustments later, but you have to put the pen to paper first.
2. Time to revise!
Once your first draft is written, it's time to start tweaking. Remember, revision isn't about changing your concept: it's to ensure that what's on the page matches your vision for the book.
For example, I once wrote a book that had two characters. One was cautious and careful; the other was aloof, carefree, and fun. When I sent the book to a professional editor, she asked, "What are your character's personalities supposed to be like?"
When I explained to her my intention, she said, "That makes a lot of sense... But your second character comes across as arrogant, not playful."
I frantically opened my draft and read through the book...and she was right. Because I knew what the character was supposed to be like in my head, I was reading with a bias. It took a professional third-party to objectively assess my book. When I did some revisions with my editor's words in mind, the impact on my story was instantaneous.
When you're writing stories, especially children's literature, your impact is more important than your intention. You can have the best concept in the world, but if that isn't what the reader gets out of the book, you've missed the mark. Overall, that's what the revision process is about: elevating your idea to be the best it can be.
(Need some editor recommendations? Check out our favorites here.)
3. Decide on your publishing route
Phew! You've written, revised, and revised some more. Now, you need to determine how you'd like your book to be published.
There are pros and cons to both traditional and self-publishing. While there's a lot of debate online about which route is better, the truth is simple: the best route is the one that's best for you and your book.
Traditional publishing involves an author querying agents with their finished book. A query is similar to a job application; you pitch yourself and what you have to offer in the hopes that you'll 'get the job,' or in this case, get the agent. An agent will then pitch your book to publishers, and when it's picked up, the production process begins. (The publisher handles it all!)
Important: traditional publishing is 100% free to the author. In fact, a real traditional publisher pays YOU! But that isn't the case for self-publishing.
When you self-publish, you are the publisher. That means that you take that polished, professionally edited manuscript and turn it into a book. That also means that if you need illustrations, formatting, and more, you have to hire freelancers to help.
You have to deal with illustrator contracts, ensure you have the proper commercial usage rights to the images, communicate art revisions, and more. Then, you'll need to have the book properly formatted for the printing and distribution route you've chosen, and all the while, you're marketing like mad. (Yes, before the book is published!)
However, self-publishing means that you maintain complete creative control. You don't have to be at the whims of a publisher, who will decide every minute detail of your book (except for the words you wrote!). Self-publishing may take more work and money up-front, but you'll be the one calling all the shots.
The real secret to publish a picture book...
...is to keep learning and never give up. Every step you take, no matter how small, gets you closer and closer to your goal.
I know this can be an overwhelming process--believe me, I've been there! But if being an author is your dream, keep moving forward. It gets easier with every step. Just put one foot in front of the other, and you'll be there before you know it!
P.S. If you want more in-depth help with writing, publishing, marketing, and more, we're here to help!
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