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5 editorial tips for self-published picture book authors

5 editorial tips for self-published picture book authors

By Caroline McArthur |

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

Here at whitefox we’ve helped several authors self-publish children’s books and it’s always so much fun bringing a story and characters to the page. There are lots of things you can do to market and promote your book, but before all of that, here are five editorial tips to help you bring your story from manuscript to picture book.

  1. Know your market. Have a look at other books being published for the same age group and make sure your story is pitched correctly for your readers. Consider including current issues in your story. We recently worked with Serena Hassan on her picture book The Tap-Dancing Pigeon of Covent Garden. There is a strong environmental message in the story that really chimed with readers and Serena was able to organise readings and publicity that might otherwise have been difficult.
  2. Stick to formats that work. Books for babies and toddlers should be short and sweet. Picture books for ages 3+ are usually 32 pages long with up to 1,000 words. These are proven formats, long enough for a good story before bedtime, but not so long that children (or adults) lose interest. If your manuscript is much longer, consider splitting it into a series of shorter books, or perhaps writing a collection of short stories instead.
  3. Always keep your audience in mind. Picture books can be for babies, toddlers, 3–5-year-olds or 5–7-year-olds – all with very different needs and interests. The vocabulary needs to be appropriate for the age group and an editor with experience in your target age group will be invaluable for this. Younger children will be confused by too much going on in the illustrations, while older children will be better able to understand details and references. Of course, great picture books can have a mixture of the two so that children can grow into them and see new things as they get older.
  4. Don’t forget that your picture book will most likely be read out by an adult. Read it aloud and you might find that you stumble over words, or that certain arrangements of words bring a rhythm to the story that children will love and that will make it a little more fun for a parent who’s reading it for the umpteenth time. Make sure the words can be read in low light at bedtime and remember, your book will be bought by an adult, so make sure the cover and content appeal to the parents as much as the children.
  5. Trust your illustrator and designer. Projects come to us in different ways. Often it’s my job to pair up a writer and illustrator. It’s something I love to do and I’m always looking out for talented artists. I’ll usually present a few different options and styles to an author and they decide who they would like me to approach. It can be difficult to hand over your story to the imagination of another creative, but designers and illustrators can bring so much to a character and a story, and don’t forget that they’ll be thinking about all sorts of technical things you won’t even be aware of. Allow yourself to be inspired and give them the space to create – it can and should be an incredibly rewarding collaboration.

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