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Ten Tips for Writing a Best-selling Picture Book

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

If you're writing a picture book, how do you make your story stand out from the crowd? Here are ten techniques to help you craft a picture book that will delight children and parents alike.

1. Choose a unique topic or a fresh angle. An old storyline will need a new twist or perspective. Often the best stories will come from your unique life experiences.

2. Create memorable characters. Your characters should have distinct personalities, voices, and appearances. They should also have flaws, goals, and challenges readers can relate to or root for.

3. Don't write in rhythm and rhyme unless you've practised and have skill in this. Although many books are written in verse for children, poor prose can sound unprofessional. Picture books are meant to be read aloud, so make sure your text flows smoothly and sounds pleasing to the ear.

4. Write and re-write, cutting out as many words as possible to fine-tune the script.

5. Show, don't tell. Use vivid details and sensory words to paint a picture in the reader's mind. Use all five senses in your descriptions.

6. If you decide to find your choice of illustrator, choose carefully. Many self-published books for kids are poorly illustrated. A picture book cover must be colourful, detailed, and appealing. As a children's school librarian, I know first-hand how a great book can sit on the shelf, untouched merely because it has a poor cover image. So don't settle for mediocre!

7. Have a clear structure and plot. Picture books usually follow a three-act structure, with a beginning that introduces the characters and the problem, a middle that shows how the characters try to solve the problem, and an end that satisfyingly resolves the problem. The plot should have rising action, conflict, climax, and resolution.

8. Use humour and surprise. Picture books should be fun and engaging for both children and adults.

9. End with a bang. Your ending should wrap up your story in a satisfying way that makes your readers feel happy, moved, or inspired. You can end with a lesson learned, a problem solved, a wish granted, or a question answered. A good storybook always has some character growth or discovery.

10. Great picture books are always multi-layered, so whatever a child takes away from the reading experience is good. Still, you want them to dig a little deeper. For example, I wrote Barclay & Berk as a modern-day, fun story about builders, which will appeal especially to boys with lots of noisy power tools. If that's the only takeaway, it must be well-told and fun. (There's also a cute & crazy seagull on every page.) But perhaps readers will also discover from the Bible reference in the back of the book that Jesus told this story. So, who is Jesus, what is a parable, and was He merely talking about builders? You get my drift! Good elements of writing need to be multi-layered, through showing without telling.

Finally, don't rush the process. Most of my books take three years, from first thoughts to printed copy. If it's worth writing, pay attention to every detail.

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