I am not of the school that anyone can be anything they want to be if they try hard enough. (I can’t be the Queen of England, whether I want to or not.) But I do think knowing what true picture books are, and what they are not, would go a long way to reduce the heaping piles of submissions. These few tidbits could move the odds of publication from the absurdly impossible to the merely unlikely.
No, I’m not going to tell you that your text should not rhyme. Obviously, rhyming well is a must. While many feel called, few are chosen to be great rhymers. But rhyming picture books are published all the time.
No, I will not repeat that oft-mentioned admonition not to use cute alliterated names, or even cuter animals. They are clichés, but these sorts of pictures books are still being published every year.
I will not echo that agents are not interested in picture book writers unless they also write novels for middle grade or young adults. I have met and spoken to many first-time picture book writers who have agents representing them, and selling their manuscripts.
Instead, I thought I will make this post about the one thing that makes a picture book text a true picture book, and thus a possible contender.
Allow me one more “what it is not”- A picture book is not a short story.
“What?!?” you might be saying. “I thought it was. Every fiction picture book I’ve read was a story, complete with a beginning, middle and end. And they are short, aren’t they?”
True. But if you look at trade picture books published in the last thirty years, they are a true collaboration of art and text. They have few if any descriptions. They have whole sections where the story is advanced by the visual art alone. In fact, it would be accurate to describe picture books as the artists’ medium. In this concerto-like dialogue, though both have a role, picture books are more about pictures than words.
It should leave us in awe of those who can write them so expertly that, even without the art, an editor is transported by our offerings. Even with less than half the tale, the story jumps off the page. Whether they rhyme or not, true picture book texts have a lot in common with great poetry, and great poetry is not common.
Don’t be discouraged. Use this to go forward, and write a true picture book.