Diving into Picture Books

I’ve been writing picture book manuscripts for several years now. I read them all the time to my kids, so I decided to write some, too. Picture books are super fun to write because I can be as silly and sweet as I want to be — and then I get to read my silly, sweet story to my kids.

A picture book is roughly 100 times shorter than a novel, so obviously they take less time to write. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Since they’re faster to write, the number of picture books being pitched is probably higher, and I’d expect the competition to be fiercer. But it also means that you can write and (and even query) a dozen picture books in the time it would take to write a novel. So, there’s a lot of opportunity to try out new things, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes.

Picture books can either be produced by a separate author and illustrator, or by a single author/illustrator. I’m an author who likes to draw, so I’ve been working on my picture book illustration portfolio and trying out the idea of becoming an author/illustrator.

My latest addition to my illustration portfolio is below. It’s part of my pitch for a Christmas-themed picture book called The Present Monster.

The Present Monster, sample illustration

The book is about a family of mice who are terrified of Christmas Eve, because they think the wicked “Present Monster” will come and wrap them up as gifts. But brave young Geraldine Mouse doesn’t buy it. So, she sneaks out on Christmas Eve to see the Present Monster for herself and finds… Santa Claus.

This book was fun to write, because it’s kind of like a Christmas horror story, with lots of jokes and a cute reveal at the end. The illustrations tell part of the story, which part of the fun of illustrating.

I don’t know if this book will ever get published, of course. Or even finished. An author/illustrator usually only does one or two finished illustrations and sketches out the rest of the book before pitching the idea. If the book never gets a publishing deal, there’s no book (unless I illustrate and self-publish it).

Also, pitching a book as an author and illustrator gives you two reasons to get rejected: An agent or editor will have to love the story and the art to take on the project. Since I’m more experienced as a writer than an illustrator, I’m primarily pitching as an author. As I build my illustration portfolio, that may change.

Writing picture books has been super fun. I’m still mostly working on novels, but it’s nice to focus on shorter projects when wrangling a huge story gets frustrating. Every addition I make to my children’s writing and illustration portfolio makes me happy, so I’m keeping it up!

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