The Picture Book Idea Syndrome

Guest Post by Rob Broder — President and Founder of Ripple Grove Press

Rob Broder’s guest post, “You Can Judge a Book by Its Title, and Other Wisdom from the Submission Pile” has been our most popular to date. Writers’ Rumpus is thrilled to welcome Rob back for a second post with more good advice for picture book submissions.

“I have a great idea for a picture book story.”

Here at Ripple Grove Press, I hear this all the time. I may hear an idea about a girl who travels the world, meets dragons, and learns how to shape clouds. I may hear an idea about a walrus peeling potatoes, or one about a polar bear who wishes he lived in a warmer climate. We’ve even received submissions where people send multiple ideas and ask if any of them sound interesting to us, as if to say, “pick one.”

George takes a look at the RGP idea pile. George and her twin sister, Martha, are named for James Marshall’s famous picture-book hippos.

Okay, but now what? I need to see the story. I want to turn the page and see what happens. The girl who travels the world and meets dragons sounds exciting, but the cute and cuddly walrus peeling potatoes can be interesting, too. It’s all in how it’s written. I want to read your writing style, to know how you tell this story. If your polar bear wishes he was in a warmer climate, and when he reaches the warmer climate he misses his ice floes, there may be a lot of interesting and unique experiences in his journey there and back again (I sure hope so!). But you need to write the story to show me that; I can’t see it if you only send me your idea.

Your idea has been sitting with you for days or years, you’ve shared your idea with others, and they love your idea. Your idea is good and clever and unique, and yet—your idea isn’t a story. You haven’t reached for a pen to starting writing. Why is that? Maybe it’s because writing a good children’s picture book is difficult!

grand-canyon-david17_Pixabay
An idea for a picture book is like an idea for a trip: you have to work to make it happen.

An idea for a story is like an idea for a trip. If you want to visit the Grand Canyon, it takes a lot of thought and action to make that happen. When will I be going? How am I going to get there? How much will it cost? Where will I stay? What clothes should I pack? What will the weather be like? Should I hike to the bottom of the canyon? Planning all of this takes time, but you have to do it if you want to turn your idea into a trip. It’s the same with writing a children’s picture book. You have this amazing, so funny, so sweet, so creative idea—now you need to turn the idea into a story.

How do you do that?

Let’s start with the question, “I have five ideas, which one do you like?” Well, which idea do you like? Write for yourself. I want to read the story from the idea you like the best. Coming up with a good idea and writing a story are two separate creative writing ventures, but one can feed into the other. Try writing each idea and see what happens. Go with the idea that you like best once you start writing. Your story needs a strong beginning, an interesting middle, and a solid ending. On average a children’s picture book is 32 pages with a few words or a few sentences on each page. Every single word has to contribute to the story in some way.

How do you make sure the amazing idea you choose turns into a good story? I can’t say this enough—read picture books! Reading good mentor texts will help hone your idea. It will guide you to where you want your idea to go.

A couple of side notes:

  • If your picture book rhymes, make sure you know what you’re doing. It’s challenging to write in rhyme, and do it well. I feel like some adults think children want to hear words that rhyme, when all children really want to hear is a good story—rhyming or not.
  • Don’t get caught up in word count. If your idea becomes a story using one word and it’s unique and fun and has universal appeal, then that’s great. If it has a thousand words, then I want to read that too. We are not publishing ideas, we are publishing stories.
  • Good writing takes practice. Be open to getting advice from others. Join a good, honest critique group and rework your story before sharing it with Ripple Grove Press or any children’s publisher.

I had an idea for this article, so I wrote it. You have an idea for a children’s picture book. Now write me the story!

RGPkey_with_highlightsRob Broder is the president and founder of Ripple Grove Press. RGP has two picture books coming out this September: The Peddler’s Bed, written by Lauri Fortino and illustrated by Bong Redila, and Mae and the Moon, written and illustrated by Jami Gigot. Go to www.RippleGrovePress.com and check out their submission guidelines. Sign up for their newsletter and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

ThePeddlersBed_coverMaeandtheMoon_Cover

Related Posts:
You Can Judge a Book by Its Title, and Other Wisdom from the Submission Pile by Rob Broder
How to Read a Wordless Picture Book by Rob Broder and Piotr Parda
What’s So Great About ReFoReMo? by Carrie Charley Brown (Reading mentor texts for research)
Advice from a Book Fair…Write Your Story! by Paul Czajak

11 comments

  1. I reread Rob’s first post before reading this one. I’m amazed at the things people send. Writers shouldn’t have to be told to write the story. And yet… Eek! 🙂

    Like

  2. Well said, Rob! Whether it’s 20 drafts or 5 or 100, writing takes hard work! And I am a huge believer in reading and mentor texts…so much that I started the ReFoReMo challenge for picture book writers. Keep reading, everyone! Thanks for uniting us in this cause, Rob!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great advice! I am surprised people send you ideas vs manuscripts! As you said, how can you judge an idea if you don’t know how this person WRITES?! Too many people think writing for children is easy. Once you’ve got an idea, the challenge has just begun!
    Thanks for sharing!

    Michele Katz/Creations By Mit

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re so right, Rob. People say “it’s all about the story,” but this is only partly true. It’s all about the “telling of a good story.” I have countless ideas, half written, stuck in a “drawer” on my computer, because they simply didn’t pan out into good stories once I started to set them down in words. The good news is, sometimes when a story stews on the back burner for a while, the flavors develop. Thanks for a good post from a publisher’s perspective!

    Liked by 2 people

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