My 12-part guide to writing and publishing picture books for children
These two topics — editing and storyboarding — are not necessarily closely related, but they are both, nonetheless, crucial elements of writing and publishing picture books for children. Why I thought I’d tackle them in the one post, I can’t remember now, but seeing as I had already outlined my 12-part guide before I’d written the posts, I am sticking to my guns. So, here’s part 5 of my 12-part guide. I hope you find this information useful on your journey towards becoming a published children’s book author.
Never underestimate the importance of editing. Any good writer will tell you that they’ve spent a great deal of time polishing and perfecting their manuscript. In the case of children’s picture books, editing is imperative: there are so few words in a picture book, each word and every sentence counts.
Edit and craft your work. Do not settle for good enough. Do not settle at all. A memorable story needs to have perfect rhythm and the words need to be exactly right. Remember to read your story aloud as you are writing it. How does it sound? Consider your rhythm and your choice of words. Could you choose another word make the sentence more interesting? Check your spelling, your grammar and your punctuation. Wrestle with your writing and buff it until it shines.
Remember, too, editing does not only occur once you’ve secured a publishing contract. Make sure you edit your manuscript before you submit it to a literary agent or publisher. I’ve spoken with a few aspiring authors who assume, should they be accepted for publication, that their idea is enough — it is the editor’s job to whip their story into shape. Of course, while it is true an editor will help you refine your manuscript, it is your responsibility as the writer to make your story the best it can possibly be before you submit it. How insulting to send a publisher a half-baked story containing errors, and what a waste of an opportunity. Edit your work and give yourself your best chance of being published.
On that note, writers are not always the best editors of their own work. Indeed, while some writers love to write and can tell a cracking story, their writing may be far from grammatically correct. Not all writers are editors and that is okay. Also, even if a writer has a firm grasp of the written language and of editing, they are often too close to their work to clearly see the problems. Consider contracting a professional editor to edit your work before submitting to publishers or agents. While I cannot promise you your story will be accepted for publication, you will definitely better your chances.
If you are truly determined to become a published author, and if you want readers to love your stories and your writing, always, always edit your work.
A storyboard is a tool used by authors, illustrators and designers to map out a book (or a magazine, film, animation, play etc.). It is usually done after the manuscript has been edited, at the start of the illustration or design process. A storyboard is used to organise the text across the number of available pages of the book, to iron out any problems. Illustrations are usually sketched on the ‘pages’ of the storyboard, so the author, illustrator, editor and designer can each see the author’s concept of the book. Storyboarding helps the author to nut out any issues, and detect any dead spots or sequence dilemmas.
I highly recommend children’s book authors take the time to create a storyboard, even if another person is illustrating the story. By dividing your manuscript across the pages, you’ll begin to understand the flow and pace of your book, and you’ll see more clearly just how your story is going to look in a book format. It can be a little daunting, and plotting your story takes time, but it is an exercise well worth doing.
Also, you do not have to wait until you have secured a publishing contract to mock up a storyboard. In fact, once you’ve written your story and edited it — remember the importance of editing — it can be a great idea to create a storyboard. As already explained, a storyboard will reveal to you any problems that need to be tackled, and you can attend to these before you send your story to publishers.
The standard picture book for children is 32 pages. The storyboard, however, is made up of 40 numbered pages. How can this be? Let me explain. Here’s a mockup of a storyboard, below.
- Page number 1 is actually facedown, stuck to the inside front cover of your book. It is the reverse of the first endpaper page.
- Pages 2 and 3 are the endpapers at the beginning of the book. When doing your storyboard, particularly if you are also illustrating your book, you may like to consider if you’d like your endpapers to feature a plain colour, a pattern or an illustration.
- Page 4 is usually reserved for the imprint page. Information listed on the imprint page may include the publisher’s name and contact details; the author’s name and birth date; the name of the illustrator and designer; copyright information; and the ISBN and catalogue-in-publication details. In children’s picture books, because pages are so few, the imprint page may also house a short author biography, an author photo and even a dedication. The imprint page is sometimes better placed at the end of the book on page 37, depending upon the space required for certain illustrations and the flow of the book. The best place for the imprint page can be determined through the storyboarding process.
- Page 5 is usually the title page, which may feature the title of the book, the authors’ name, the publisher’s logo and an introductory illustration.
- Pages 6–37 are reserved for the story. The text and illustrations are plotted across these 32 pages or 16 spreads. The storyboarding process can help you decide where you want to place single-page or half-page illustrations, where you intend to have double-page spreads, and where you’d like to see text and no illustrations.
- Pages 38 and 39 are the endpapers at the end of the book. These usually mirror the endpapers at the beginning of the book.
- Page 40 is the reverse side of page 39, and it is stuck facedown on the inside back cover of the book.
Feel welcome to download my free Children’s Picture Book Storyboard template so you have one at hand. When you’re creating your storyboard, you’ll need to use a much larger sheet of paper or several sheets of A4 paper, as the spreads and pages represented in your storyboard need to be large enough for you to draw and write on them. If you are creating your storyboard using computer software, you can make it whatever size you like, but do keep in mind you or your publisher may need to print it out.
That’s all for now. My next post will look at illustrating children’s picture books. Exciting things to come!
If you found this post helpful, you may like to read other posts in the series: My 12-part guide to writing and publishing picture books for children. I will publish the posts over the coming weeks and announce them on Facebook and Instagram, but if you want to make sure you don’t miss a post, subscribe to my newsletter for free.
My 12-part guide to writing and publishing picture books for children:
Part 1: Know and love your readers
Part 2: Ideas and inspiration
Part 3: Character, theme, rhythm and rhyme, and all of that writing stuff
Part 4: Who’s who in the zoo (writer, illustrator, editor, designer, publisher)
Part 5: Editing and storyboarding
Part 6: Illustration
Part 7: Traditional publishing or self-publishing
Part 8: Submitting your manuscript — the slow business of traditional publishing
Part 9: Contracts, advances and royalties
Part 10: PR — book launch, web presence, book talks and more
Part 11: Who are you and who do you want to be?
Part 12: Resources