I write picture books! And I'm lucky enough to have two being published in 2019:
written by Cheryl Klein
illustrated by Tomie dePaola
March 5, 2019
Atheneum/Simon & Schuster BFYR
The Description: "Wings! Clings. Flings . . . With a cleverly simple rhyme and playful, vibrant artwork, Cheryl B. Klein and Tomie dePaola lovingly paint the picture of a baby bird’s first flight—overcoming stings and dings along the way to soar triumphantly."
The Idea: In 2011 or so, I encountered or thought of the phrase "things with wings" and liked the buzz of it, so I started making a list of words that rhymed with "wings." Then the list got buried in a file in my computer.
The Writing: Every so often, I would come across this list in the file again and poke at it, but I couldn't link the words into a story. One Sunday in August 2016, I was walking through Park Slope and turning the words over in my mind, and the arc of the story suddenly leaped into my head--how a bird could fling herself out of the nest, and it might sting if she fell, but she could spring up from there. I sat on someone's stoop and wrote the whole manuscript on my iPhone, then worked out the proper 32-page picture-book pagination when I got home.
Lessons for Writers:
Keep everything; often ideas just need time.
Other times, what an idea needs is a restriction. Limiting the text to twelve one-syllable words that end in "ings" gave it a distinctive energy and tension. When the manuscript went on submission, that simple form, plus the fact that it nonetheless managed to tell a three-act story with a beginning, middle, and end within those limits, helped it stand out.
While we don't talk about it a lot, the sound of a picture book makes a huge difference. Don't be afraid to start from some cool sounds you like, and read your drafts aloud often to be sure the text resonates (literally!).
If you're stuck on a picture-book manuscript, paginate it in spreads or thumbnails. Leave pp. 1-3 blank for the title page, copyright, and dedication; put your climax on pp. 28-29 or 30-31. How does the rest divide up within the pages? You can download a Word doc with a thumbnail template at the bottom of the page here.
written by Katy Beebe & Cheryl Klein
illustrated by Mike Boldt
September 10, 2019
The Description: "Dozer, Crane, Dump Truck, Fire Truck, Tanker, and Big Rig work together to construct a wonderful thunderstorm."
The Idea: Katy Beebe has been my best friend since our freshman year of college, more than twenty years ago, and she is also the author of three lovely (and wildly different!) picture books. In February 2017, I went to visit her, her husband, and her then two-year-old son (my godson) near Dallas, where my godson and I played with a lot of toy trucks. One night, we experienced a Texas-size thunderstorm, and Katy cuddled her son to comfort him. I remembered that old saw about the angels bowling and said to him, "Don't worry, it's just the Thunder Trucks up in the sky." Katy and I looked at each other, and we knew.
The Writing: I made a few stabs at writing the text, and I could see what the plot should be, but I couldn't make the rhymes trip along as I wanted them to. When I saw Katy a few months later, she said she'd been working on it as well, but she couldn't figure out the story. I sent her my plot outline and preliminary pagination. A week later, she sent back a terrific first draft. We revised and edited it together, and for both of us, it was the most fun we've ever had while writing.
More: Katy and I do a short, fun video cover reveal.
Lessons for Writers:
If you have a writer friend whose strengths complement yours, AND you can manage your respective writerly egos, consider drafting a book together to use both of your types of genius. (The writerly ego point is important, though. I think a writerly ego, within limits, is generally a good thing: You need one to push through a whole manuscript and the rigors of the submission and publication process. But in college, Katy and I couldn't possibly have written a whole text together; whenever we tried writing together at all, we had one of our few fights, because we were young and said egos got in the way. We had to grow up to work together properly.)
If you do write with someone, and the project goes on submission, draw up a contract between the two of you that specifies the terms of your agreement -- who will get paid what percentage (if not 50/50), how decisions will be made, who gets copyright, who has final say if needs be. This will help you avoid a possible legal mess down the line.