Workshop Transcript

Writing Picture Books

by Verla Kay


*** VerlaKay has set the topic on channel #Kidlit to Writing Picture Books workshop tonight - 9pm EST

VerlaKay: Nice group tonight...and it's still early.

VerlaKay: Should I start shaking yet?

Holly2: wow, lots of people here

GAndre: Everyone finally figured out how to sign on ;-)

Dori: Had to come a little early to see if Verla was wearing her high heels

VerlaKay: LOL

VerlaKay: Really want to know?

GAndre: You type in high heels?

VerlaKay: I'm in my SLIPPERS! HA!

KarmaW: My guess is bunny slippers!

Suzy-Q: I built her a podium so we all could see her.

KarmaW: LOL!

Suzy-Q: HEY Dori and Gail I saved you good seats right up front

Suzy-Q: I even brought the lemons

Dori: Oh, Good! Thanks, SQ. And I bought popcorn

Suzy-Q: Thanks Dori, It's nice and cozy.

GAndre: This is soooo exciting...I feel like I know so many of you!!!! And here we are "talking" in real time!!!!

VerlaKay: I have two glasses of water on my table right by the computer

Lyra_: you need water for THIS kind of talk, V?

Suzy-Q sneaks lemons into Verla's water.... shhhhhhhhh

Dori: OWWW! Someone just stepped on my foot!

*** VerlaKay has set the topic on channel #Kidlit to Writing Picture Books workshop in progress

Holly: sorry Dori, I have big feet

VerlaKay: All right, everyone. This workshop is about to begin.

Suzy-Q: It wasn't me I'm not wearing any

Dori: And now.... introducing Verla.... (applause everyone)

MissSassy3: clap clap clap

adnil: clap! clap!

Dori: clap,clap,clap,clap

Holly: clap, clap

VerlaKay: Sit down, everyone. Pull up your keyboard and get ready for a fun-filled, informative hour.

Holly: yahoo

Suzy-Q: yea....... go for it Verla

VerlaKay: I encourage you to ask questions and make comments, as long as they are "on topic."

Suzy-Q: Where did Dori go.... No one take her seat

VerlaKay: We will keep personal conversations until after the workshop.

VerlaKay: Unless they relate to the topic, of course.


VerlaKay: Tonight's subject is: Writing Picture Books

VerlaKay: A picture book is NOT a magazine story


VerlaKay: Who knows what the difference is between a magazine story and a picture book?

VerlaKay: Or a picture book and a short story?

MissSassy3: part of the story itself is dependent upon the illustrations in a picture book?

Sally2: A picture book has fewer words and more pictures?

VerlaKay: That's good, Miss

VerlaKay: Hmmm. That's partially true, Sally. But some picture books have a lot of words

Gail: Some picture books are longish. 1500 words.

Katej: a picture book tells a story for kids

Suzy-Q: Picture books are a standard 32 pages

KarmaW1: Aren't longer Pb's called story books?

Lyra_: Many of the latest pic books have MANY words


VerlaKay: A magazine story needs two to four major scenes in it.

Holly: What is the average word count


VerlaKay: A picture book needs 16 - 20

VerlaKay: If you have written a story, no matter how long it is, and it doesn't have at least 16 major "picture possibilities," then you don't have a picture book

VerlaKay: Questions about that phase of this subject?


MissSassy3: Do you need to have an idea of how the book would be illus...not to suggest to the artist but just mental?

MissSassy3: So that you know there are 16 illus scenes?

VerlaKay: Unless you can "see" pictures for your story in your mind, Miss, you won't know whether it is a suitable picture book story or not. So yes, you do need to "see" those pictures when writing


KarmaW1: What about "cutting" and arranging text?

KarmaW1: I've heard that's a good way to "visulize" your PB?

VerlaKay: Yes, it is, karma. And we will talk about cutting and arranging text in a while.

KarmaW1: Okay.


VerlaKay: Okay. Now..there are several different kinds of books in the Picture Book field

VerlaKay: There are board books,

VerlaKay: concept books

VerlaKay: picture books

VerlaKay: picture story books

VerlaKay: and picture books for adults

VerlaKay: All of these are "picture books," but all are VERY different


adnil: do you decide what you're writing before you write it? Or does the editor decide what it is?

VerlaKay: It can be done either way, adnil.


VerlaKay: Board Books are the little hard paged books for babies.

VerlaKay: They are usually developed by the publishers themselves or by artists who design them.


Holly: what about popularity of each of these groups. If you have what you perceive to be a picture story book, will it sell as well as a picture book?

VerlaKay: The publisher will make the final decision as to how your book will be done

Gail: And the bigger the house, the less say you have.

VerlaKay: That pretty much depends on the house, Gail. Big OR little, you will work with your editor.


Sally2: What is a concept book?

VerlaKay: Concept books are books that teach toddlers

VerlaKay: These are the books that teach numbers and colors and the alphabet. They are also often designed and created "in house." This is a VERY hard market to sell to.


VerlaKay: Adult picture books are just that. Books for adults with lots of pictures in them. Many have photographs of a specific subject. These are often used as coffee table books.


VerlaKay: Picture books and picture story books are what most of us think of as "picture books."

VerlaKay: The difference between the two is a gray line. But the picture story book is usually longer, with much more text.

VerlaKay: A picture story book can be read and understood without any pictures.

VerlaKay: The pictures enhance the story, but are not NECESSARY to the story.


KarmaW1: Often with text on one page, and picture opposing, right Verla?

VerlaKay: Right, Karma.

VerlaKay: There is often a full page of small-type text (or even more) with pictures on the opposing page.


VerlaKay: Many fables and folk tales are picture story books

Holly: What about the market for picture story books, does it depend on the house?

VerlaKay: Yes, it does, Holly


VerlaKay: There is a big market for both kinds of picture books.

VerlaKay: What your story is and how you tell it will determine which kind of book you have written.


VerlaKay: A true "picture book" NEEDS the illustrations to make the book complete.

VerlaKay: It tells a story, but without the illustrations, the children won't really "get" the whole story.

Katej: I'm having a difficult time seeing this here


VerlaKay: Writers who are also illustrators have an easy time with this.


VerlaKay: They write a story and draw the pictures, too.

Katej: I guess the picture book is for a younger audience?

VerlaKay: Picture books are usually for younger children than picture story books. Yes, Kate.


Dori: Then isn't it hard to write a true pic book if you're not also the illustrator?

VerlaKay: Not if you can visualize what the illustrator MIGHT draw, dori.

Dori: but how do you get those visualizations across to the editor?

VerlaKay: Editors are VERY good at visualizing, dori.

VerlaKay: They have to be to get where they are.

VerlaKay: You have to TRUST that they will see what you see.

VerlaKay: And if your writing is good, they will.


Holly: Would it help to draw your own pictures, just for yourself?

VerlaKay: You can, if it helps to write a better book, holly.

Dawn1: I do that, I draw them just to help me out.

VerlaKay: But you won't show them to the editor!


MissSassy3: Are your books, like Iron Horses, more picture books, or picture story books?

VerlaKay: They are picture books, miss.

Lyra_: verla's books are picture books


MissSassy3: Do you have to fight the urge to "overwrite" when an illustration would be a better way to complete the story?

VerlaKay: Yes, and we will get to that in a minute, miss.


VerlaKay: Okay. Is everyone clear on the different kinds of picture books, now?

Holly: yes

Dawn1: yes

Suzy-Q: yes teacher

GAndre: yes

Katej: yes

adnil: yep

MissSassy3: yes, ma'am

KarmaW1: yes.

Lyra_: me? guess so

Gail: Stop that!

Sally2: yesum


VerlaKay: It takes at LEAST $50,000 to publish ONE full-color hardback picture book today. And often $80,000 or more

GAndre: Yikes, how many books is that?

VerlaKay: That is for a run of about 15,000 books

VerlaKay: So a publisher is taking a BIG risk on an unknown picture book author

Holly: WOW. Had no idea!

KarmaW1: So you're a $200,000 investment as of now!

VerlaKay: Yep. (I'm STILL trying to figure THAT one out, Karma!)

Katej: not Verla! her books!

VerlaKay: That is one reason, they take SO long to answer some of your submissions.

VerlaKay: They can't say, "Yes," unless they REALLY believe your book will sell and sell well.


GAndre: Is that why they usually don't do reprints of picture books? I mean, just one run unless it's a major best-seller?

VerlaKay: I can't answer that question, GAndre, because I'm not familiar with that phase of publishing, yet.


Dori: Why do you so often see rewrites of fables and fairytales? Are these done in house to save $$$?

VerlaKay: One editor told me that she wouldn't publish a book because she "liked it."

VerlaKay: She would only publish a book if she couldn't NOT publish it.

Katej: huh?

GAndre: So the market pretty much dictates what will be published.

VerlaKay: In other words, if a book was SO outstanding that it DEMANDED to be published, then she would buy it.

Katej: because she thought if she didn't publish it, someone else would?

VerlaKay: Actually, I don't think they CARE whether or not another house may want it, Kate. It's only if THEY want it or not.

Katej: is that really any different than submitting any kind of book? you have to make it so good it demands to be published

VerlaKay: They may LOVE your story about a ghost who goes to the fair...

VerlaKay: but just last week they might have bought one very similar to it about a ghost who was at a circus.

VerlaKay: Right, kate.


VerlaKay: Which leads us to our next question...

VerlaKay: What makes a picture book sell?

VerlaKay: Anyone?

Suzy-Q: timing?

Gail: Historical is selling well right now.

adnil: something that is different and creative?

VerlaKay: Right, adnil!

Katej: wait a minute... are you talking about selling to the publisher/ or to the public?

VerlaKay: to the publisher, kate

Katej: the characters


VerlaKay: Historical is what my books are. And yes, there is a BIG market for that kind of story right now, Gail.


VerlaKay: zap? I think I saw you come in...what made YOUR book sell?

zap1: strong voice/ action (i think)




VerlaKay: Your story has to be SO special, that the publisher simply CANNOT let it pass.


GAndre: A good, visual story line...

VerlaKay: Right!

VerlaKay: Exciting, dynamic characters will make your book special

VerlaKay: A good strong story!

VerlaKay: And YOUR personal "voice" coming through.

zap1: (oh yes...AND character <g>)

VerlaKay: My voice was the strong point in my books. The WAY I wrote the books and the fact that they were history-based made them special to Putnam

VerlaKay: You need to find YOUR strong points and make them stronger

VerlaKay: Make your writing so special, that it leaps out of the slushpile and demands attention


VerlaKay: You can do this by picking a subject that is different/not overdone and then writing the story as ONLY YOU can do it.


VerlaKay: Some subjects that editors see ALL the time are:

VerlaKay: the child or animal who is "different" and then saves the day and is then accepted by his peers

VerlaKay: the monster under the bed or in the closet

Holly: So stay away from writing stories with these themes?

VerlaKay: Yes.


Lyra_: alliterative stories

Lyra_: like Ally the Alligator

wing: what's alliterative?

VerlaKay: You can get a good grasp of what alliterative is by reading Gail's workshop on my transcripts page, wing. It was held on March 31st

Holly: Sally sells sea shells at the seashore

adnil: repetitive syllables in the title


VerlaKay: Other kinds of stories to stay away from are stories with characters that are not really alive...such as the talking toothbrush or the stone that wants to be in the ocean.


Sally2: the lonely little Christmas tree in the forest---- until!

VerlaKay: Right, sally!


zap1: and the "but it was all a dream...."

VerlaKay: Thank you Zap! I forgot that one and it's a BIGGIE!


VerlaKay: You hear a lot that publishers don't want to see rhyming stories.


zap1: that's because much rhyme isn't done well.

Katej: so, as with everything else, if you do rhyme, do it so well it demands to be published

VerlaKay: Right, kate.

VerlaKay: That's not totally true. They just don't want rhyming stories that aren't GOOD rhymes.

VerlaKay: (I will do another workshop later on how to write good rhymes.)

Holly: ohh good

KarmaW1: YIPEE!


zap1: you've got to learn to look at your work objectively.

VerlaKay: One of the most important things you can do to get a picture book published is to make it SHORT.

VerlaKay: Make every word WORK for you.

Holly: easier said than done

VerlaKay: MUCH easier said than done, Holly.

Katej: short, but with at least 16 picture scenes... hmmmm


VerlaKay: I wrote my first book in two days.

VerlaKay: And then it took me another YEAR before I had perfected those 150 words until they were ready to submit.

Lyra_: It was very good to begin with, Verla

VerlaKay: After it was bought by Putnam, I had to almost rewrite the entire one week.

VerlaKay: We made a lot of changes to it.

VerlaKay: And now, it is SO much better.

Katej: what kinds of changes?

VerlaKay: That would take too much time from the workshop, but ask me again afterwards and I'll be glad to tell you, kate.

Katej: ok


zap1: I think a lot of beg-mid writers don't spend the time perfecting their work



VerlaKay: You have to make sure that you are leaving room for the illustrator.

VerlaKay: You story has to really SING to you.

VerlaKay: Even if it isn't poetic, it needs to FEEL lyrical when you read it.


zap1: have someone else read it aloud; their tongue can't trip!

VerlaKay: If you stumble over a word or your tongue trips on a phrase...rewrite that part.

VerlaKay: Yes, let someone who has never heard the story read it out loud.

VerlaKay: (Parents in parks are great for this...)

Sally2: i tape my material and play it back to correct, etc.

KarmaW1: Read it MONOTONE!!!

KarmaW1: You have to be able to read it to a metronome with no inflection, and not stumble.

VerlaKay: Good suggestions, Sally, zap & Karma

KarmaW1: I know I always write stuff that rhymes great the way "I" read it.

VerlaKay: When you write your story, don't say that Sally is wearing a red coat.

KarmaW1: LOL

Sally2: But that's my best color!

VerlaKay: Let the illustrator put that coat on Sally. Perhaps Sally will end up with a striped coat with zebras on it...

VerlaKay: And there will be a zebra theme all the way through the book by the illustrator. Something that adds a whole new dimension to your story.

GAndre: Oooohhhh, stunning, Sally...

KarmaW1: Unless a red coat is important to the story somehow.

VerlaKay: That you would never have thought of.

VerlaKay: Right, Karma. IF the color of the coat is important because granny is color-blind, then you will need to make sure the illustrator sees that, too.


GAndre: How much guidance do you give to the illustrator...especially when your book is a historical story?

VerlaKay: NONE, GAndre.


GAndre: So you really have to be willing to let go of your vision for the book...and let the illustrator make your story his/hers.

VerlaKay: Yes, GAndre. And that can be VERY hard

Holly: Very hard. I want to explain it all

VerlaKay: You have a very definite picture in your mind of what that story will look like.

VerlaKay: Otherwise, you wouldn't be able to write a true picture book.


VerlaKay: So make sure you market your book ONLY to houses that have illustrated books that YOU like.

VerlaKay: For instance, I wouldn't send my manuscripts to Chronicle books.

VerlaKay: Because I didn't think the kinds of illustrations that I saw in the majority of the books in their catalog would work for me for my books.


Holly: You really have to know the houses?

VerlaKay: Yes, Holly!

VerlaKay: Send for their catalogs.

wing: I have gotten references from my authors

Holly: more work. You're so tough

VerlaKay: It's pennies in postage and you will gain SO much from it.

GAndre: But, can you "edit"? What if they get the period wrong? Do you get to check it out before it goes to press?

VerlaKay: Check your children's room at the library. Sometimes they have the catalogs there and will let you sit in a corner of the library and look at them.


KarmaW1: Check CBC...

KarmaW1: The children's book council sight lists all the houses with online sites..

KarmaW1: And they have catalogues often.

VerlaKay: Good suggestion, Karma. Thank you.


VerlaKay: You will see the galleys (the typeset words, GAndre) and can make typo corrections


wing: GAndre, the art director is very good about keeping the illustrator in period

zap1: get to know your specialty children's bookstore owner; you can sometimes look at her catalogues too

VerlaKay: Check out Amazon books on line, too. And each of the publishers that has an on-line site.

VerlaKay: Another great suggestion. Thanks, zap

Holly: This is sounding easier

VerlaKay: It's not HARD, Holly, but it does take some time.


VerlaKay: One of the writers at a conference I just attended told us the most wonderful thing...

VerlaKay: She said to take an ordinary story and then TWIST and SHOUT with it.

adnil: how do you "twist and shout" with a story?

VerlaKay: You take the story and twist it and turn it until it's different...until it shouts at you to be published.


VerlaKay: Take a boy who hits a ball into a window.

VerlaKay: That's a situation.

VerlaKay: But if the ball was his father's signed Babe Ruth ball...

VerlaKay: Now there is a "twist" to the story.

VerlaKay: And if he goes to get the ball, but finds that the empty house where the ball landed (through the window) had a cellar...and the ball fell into a hole in the cellar and is now in the ground UNDER the have a bigger complication...

VerlaKay: Make that story so compelling, that the editor can't put it down without finishing it...

VerlaKay: Make your characters full of life....

VerlaKay: Make the words simply "flow" from your lips when read aloud. Make them fun and lyrical to say.

Holly: and do it in as few words as possible, right

VerlaKay: And do it in as few words as possible.


VerlaKay: Remember the AGE you are writing for.

VerlaKay: How long does the average two year old sit still?

VerlaKay: Three year old?

VerlaKay: Five?

VerlaKay: Think of THAT child when you are writing and your story will be much better.

VerlaKay: Don't try to write for ALL children, write for just ONE.

Katej: and the ages of the characters need to be two years older than the age of the child the book is for


VerlaKay: Eeeep. We are out of time!

adnil: very interesting workshop! Nicely done!

Holly: Lots of great stuff. Thanks Verla

Lyra_: very good, Verla!

Abbey: yes, thanks Verla

VerlaKay: In the picture book area, your main character will usually be at the top of the age range, yes, Kate.

VerlaKay: I hope you all got something from it.

Dawn1: The hour has flown by, thanks Verla

Holly: I did

zap1: clap clap clap

VerlaKay: And that I didn't bore you to death!

GAndre: Thank you, Verla!

Dawn1: I did

MissSassy3: Yes, I got quite a bit...thank you

Dawn1: standing ovation

wing: THanks, Verla!

VerlaKay: I will post a transcript of this workshop on my if you missed anything, you can go back to it later.

Holly: Verla, you are wonderful!!!

*** Signoff: wing (wing has left the room)

VerlaKay: Thank you SO much for all your input, everyone. It helped us all.

Suzy-Q hands out caramel apples to everyone... Giving Verla an extra big one for a job well done!

VerlaKay bows....

zap1: crunCH!

VerlaKay: And this workshop is now complete...

VerlaKay: ouch!

zap1: yum

Katej: thank you, Verla!

Lyra_: zap--I have a suggestion for you

VerlaKay: SHARE that Nestle's crunch bar, zap!

Katej: I learned some things.

Holly: Why did you do that, I was trying to diet today

Dawn1: My teeth are sticking together

Suzy-Q: What candy bar VErla?

Suzy-Q: those are caramel apples

VerlaKay: OH! It was a CARMEL APPLE!

VerlaKay: Thanks, sq!

VerlaKay: Yummy!

Suzy-Q: I made them special!

Suzy-Q: your welcome

VerlaKay: Bye all. Be sure to come next week to hear Adrianne's workshop on Breaking Writer's Block or Where Do Ideas Come From!

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