Getting Started in Kid Lit?
5 Reasons You Should Take a Picture Book Writing Class
There are thousands of reasons people want to write picture books for children. Some of us loved books as a child and want to contribute our own ideas to the world. Others of us have children and want to tell stories we think our families and communities need. There’s also the challenge of taking an interesting story and parsing it down to a level appropriate for children.
Whatever your reason, the time is now to go for it!
The only way you can actually become published as a kid lit author is to sit down and write that picture book manuscript.
But how to get started? The craft of writing picture books is not easy, despite the fact you typically need only a few hundred words to tell a story.
There’s also thousands of other aspiring writers out there, all with the same goal of writing and publishing a picture book. Combined with the successful authors already in the business, you can easily become daunted with the whole process.
That’s why taking a class in the craft of picture book writing can be so useful as you’re getting starting. Yes, investing months or your time and resources is a big commitment, but there are plenty of worthwhile reasons for doing so. Here are five ways a picture book writing class from industry professionals can benefit you.
1. Stronger writing skills create your best work
There’s a common myth among many aspiring kidlit writers that writing picture books is easier than other genres since word count are typically between 100–500 words. But there’s a big difference between writing a picture book and writing a picture book that is engaging, surprising, and marketable.
Writing well at any genre is not easy. We all have our less than stellar, sometimes quite awful first drafts. But a first draft is just the beginning. Many successful writers revise first drafts upwards of fifty times before they have a manuscript they consider their absolute best work.
Why is it important to get your manuscript at its absolute best? Because you usually get one shot to impress an agent or editor and because there are so many aspiring picture book authors, you are competing against thousands and thousands of individuals from a slush pile to make your work stand out.
By taking a picture book class, you are already setting yourself above your competition by learning the techniques agents and editors know and expect in a picture book manuscript.
As an added bonus, for those who are unpublished authors hoping to break into the industry, you can include in your query or cover letter that your manuscript was developed as part of a class. Right there you have a credential indicating that you’re taking your writing seriously enough that you are willing to invest your time and money in it.
2. Regular feedback improves your writing
The kidlit community is one of the best writing communities to be involved. Not surprisingly, people who write for children usually have a good sense of humor and an inquisitive way of looking at the world, and they are friendly, kind, and compassionate to others. The kidlit community is quick to cheer and encourage one another in our writing.
However, to become a published writer you also need a community who can help you improve your writing. Oftentimes, critique groups only meet once or twice a month and authors have to take turns when presenting their work. In an course taught by kid lit professionals, your work is regularly evaluated by an expert based on the picture book skills you’re currently learning. This constructive criticism can reduce the number of overall drafts needed to go from first draft to best draft.
Furthermore, because you and your classmates are all learning and practicing the same writing skills, you develop sharper eyes and ears for how to improve each other’s manuscripts. Every week you get exposed to a variety of different writing styles from your classmates’ work and you get to regularly practice your critiquing skills. You can see how their drafts change over time and how the drafts improve based on specific suggestions from you and your instructor.
These benefits make an online class an efficient and effective way to improve your manuscripts, while giving you experience critiquing others, which, in turn, will also improve your own writing.
3. Insight into industry practices and trends
First-hand knowledge from industry professionals, whether they are published authors, agents, or editors, is invaluable in navigating the path from unpublished manuscript to book contract. There are so many common, yet unnecessary, mistakes that aspiring authors make that can ruin their one-shot chance to impress an agent or editor. Having a knowledgeable instructor can help you minimize these mistakes so the only aspects of your work that are getting judged is the quality and salability of it.
Having a picture book published is a lifelong dream for many of us.
Especially for writers getting started, we don’t always remember that publishing is a business and to be successful we need to approach our manuscripts with a business mindset.
Having a teacher who is actively involved in the industry, will be better suited to provide us with feedback to not only make our picture books a work of heart, but to make them as marketable as possible.
Plus, industry professionals know what is happening in picture books right now. A lot of aspiring writers think fondly of their favorite picture books from childhood, such as Goodnight Moon, or Harold and the Purple Crayon. These stories are classics for a reason, but also recognize that what was popular 50 years ago, may not be ideal for new publications today. As an unpublished author, you are expected to write in similar styles to picture books currently being published, not from years past.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think outside the box or write in fresh, innovative ways. Like everyone else, picture book agents and editors are also looking for the “next new thing.” If you have successfully come up with something that is going to knock the industry’s socks off, having an industry insider provide feedback and advice will increase your chances of making sure your idea has the very best shot of getting out of the slush pile and into the hands of those who can publish it.
4. Focused reading lists for comparison titles
One of the single best pieces of writing advice is to read, read, read, in your genre. Yes, that’s a lot of reads, but you can’t write what you don’t know. The good news about picture books is that they don’t take very long to read. Ideally, read 2–3 every day for the duration of your class (and beyond) and watch your writing skills explode.
One of the biggest problems emerging writers have with this step is they read older books. Although the classics can be informative, they are perennial favorites and unlikely to be unseated as bestsellers in the kidlit world. With 2,000–3,000 picture books published every year, emerging authors can become overwhelmed with finding outstanding current books to read.
Having so many choices is why it’s necessary to have a teacher guide you through reading lists.
Of course, your teacher is going to have their favorite books. But those books are favorites for a reason. And, when you have a teacher with picture book publishing experience, they can expertly explain why the book is their favorite and why the book received such positive reviews from the publishing world.
Finally, by becoming a critical reader of picture books, you will be able to more quickly uncover your writing fall backs, for example, cliched writing, forced onomatopoeia, and on-the-nose morals, because you will be better versed in writing done well.
5. Opportunities arise for on-going support and encouragement
Once you have learned an arsenal of picture book writing tools and you’ve learned to become an eagle-eyed critiquer of manuscripts, you’ll need to continue working on your craft/skills to keep improving. If you don’t already have a critique group, then your classmates will make ideal candidates as you all work towards the path of publication.
Even if you already have a critique group, not everyone in your current group may be at the same level of writing, and there’s no reason you can’t belong to more than one group.
Having someone who is taking the same steps to invest in their writing and who is at a similar stage on the publishing path can be a great source of comfort during the emotional ups and downs of the submission process.
We all hope for success with publishing our picture books. Success is never guaranteed, but there are steps you can take to prepare your work so you have the very best chance possible.
If you’ve been inspired by this post to get started on your dream of writing a picture book, check us out on Kid Lit College. We’ve got an 8-week online picture book pacing class starting Wednesday, October 25th. Learn 40 different tools for picture book writing with Jodell Sadler, MFA, founder of Kid Lit College, contributor to Writer’s Digest University, and editorial agent with Jill Corcoran Literary Agency, JCLA.
You can also check out our other offerings of webinars, classes, and critique sessions with top kidlit editors, agents, and authors on http://kidlitcollege.org/ or you can connect with us on Facebook or Twitter.