Always wanted to write a picture book and have it published? Now you can find out how it’s done.

Aleesah Darlison_hi resPicture Books: Making It Count by Aleesah Darlison 

There’s something magical about picture books.

Many of us harbour the dream of becoming a picture book author. Teachers, librarians, mums and dads, grandparents. Anyone who has ever loved books, anyone who has ever had children and clocked up hours of bedtime readings. Anyone who has ever dreamed or imagined that they were creative. I’d wager just about everyone out there has thought at some stage or other that they could write a picture book, or thought, ‘I couldn’t do any worse than what’s already gone before, right? How hard could it be? It’s only a few hundred words.’

There surely is a picture book in us all.

Whether you’re seeking commercial publication, or whether you want to self-publish, or whether you simply want to write for the pleasure of it, or to share with close friends and family, we all have the right to write.

Whenever I run a picture book course or speak to beginner writers, one of the first questions I’m asked is ‘Do I need to find an illustrator for my book?’.

This is a common misconception people have when they’re starting out. The answer is ‘No’.

Unless you’re thinking of self-publishing, the task of finding an illustrator is undertaken by the publisher.

Publishers work with several, if not many, illustrators. They may even have a ‘stable’ of illustrators who they regularly employ on projects, whether they are picture books, chapter books or book covers.

Authors may not even know the illustrator who is commissioned to work on their picture book. I’ve worked on a book where the illustrations were done by two manga artists living in Japan. Other books I’ve worked on have involved illustrators who live in different states.

Different types of relationships will evolve on different projects. This is all normal.

What the publisher wants to see from an author is fresh, clever, original words. And usually words alone. Your words have to stand out. They have to SING.

Another question I’m often asked is, ‘Does an author need to include illustration instructions within their manuscript?’.

There are two schools of thought on this matter. Some authors and industry experts believe it’s crucial to include illustration instructions. Others believe minimal or no instructions are better and that the text should be able to stand on its own. I think somewhere in the middle ground is best. You don’t need to include copious amounts of illustration instructions about your characters or setting or plot. Editors and illustrators don’t need to know that your main character is wearing a red dress or red shoes, for example, unless it’s critical to the story.

But they may need to know that your main character is, for example, confined to a wheelchair, or a panda bear not a human. When I submit a picture book text to a publisher, I only include the most minimal, most important illustration instructions to provide visual clues. And when I do, the instruction is bracketed and in italics. For example: (Max lives in the city. PK is his dog.).

The best advice I can give to picture book authors is to make sure your manuscript is well and truly road-tested before you submit it. You usually only get one shot at a publisher with any given story. So make that shot count.

Aleesah Darlison is a multi-published, award-winning children’s author. She writes picture books and novels for children and young adults, both in the contemporary fiction and fantasy genres. Aleesah’s picture books include Spider Iggy, Our Class Tiger (2015 Environmental Society Award for Children’s Literature Shortlist), Little Meerkat, Bearly There, Puggle’s Problem and Warambi (2012 CBCA Notable Book Eve Pownall Award: Non-Fiction; 2012 Wilderness Society Award for Children’s Literature Shortlist). She has also written several novels and series for children including Ash Rover, I Dare You, Little Good Wolf, the Totally Twins series and the Unicorn Riders series.

Aleesah will have loads more information about picture books to share in her upcoming Introduction to Making Picture Books workshop at the Gondor Writers Centre on Saturday 18 July. Aleesah’s workshops are always extremely informative and inspirational. Book now to avoid disappointment.

Video conferencing and Skype connection is available for all workshops.

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