12 Common Picture Book Mistakes

I don't often give out writing advice at dulemba.com, but as I've judged writing contests & grants for the SCBWI, taught "Creating Picture Books" at the John C. Campbell Folk School, and done manuscript critiques at conferences, I've slowly gathered a list of common errors almost all writers tend to fall into. Thank goodness I rarely read a manuscript that makes all these mistakes, but most writers will usually make at least one or two. They are...

12 Common Picture Book Mistakes...

1) The author hasn’t actually written a picture book. Perhaps it’s an article, a chapter book, or even the start of a mid-grade novel. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely not a picture book.

2) Writing an incident, a moment, or a circumstance rather than a story. Nothing really happens, giving the illustrator little to work with.

3) Great story, poor writing. Great writing, no story.

4) Didactic, preachy, talking down to the child or trying to impart a moral lesson - with a heavy hand that will beat the reader about the head. Who wants to read that?

5) Not appropriate for the age group. You really want to share that with a child? Who is the book intended for, really? And are there enough of them to support sales?

6) Hanging out in the protagonist’s head, telling not showing, giving the illustrator nothing to work with. And *yawn* offering few scene changes.

7) Writing to a trend so blatantly, it’s obvious which book the author was using as a template. It’s been done - come up with something new.

8) Wise guys - somebody/something from stage left swoops in to save the day, often a parent or critter, giving the child/protagonist no power to control their world or destiny. (They feel helpless enough as it is.)

9) Using antiquated language or ideas, often a memory from the author’s childhood, that has little relevance to today’s children (or marketplace). This also often occurs with #2.

10) Writing an animation - a scene that would work well in motion but won’t translate well to print. This also often occurs with #2.

11) Too much text - oh, you do go on! Keep it under 1,000 words, preferably less than that - in the 200 to 600 range. And don’t be thinking a series yet, you have to sell book ONE first.

12) Bad rhyme. Good rhyme is hard to do, which is why many publishers don’t want to see rhyme...because bad rhyme is easy to do, and for some reason they all end up sounding alike - using inverted or forced language, keeping rhymes that might work even though they don’t move the story forward, near rhymes that don’t work, an entire story where everything rhymes with “cat" (we had a Seuss - you are not him), lots of rhyme - no story.

Yup. See them all the time. Have you ever committed one of these errors? I know I have! (Nobody is immune. *ahem*)

If you share this, please include: © Elizabeth O. Dulemba, www.dulemba.com


Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Yikes, I see myself in some of these. No wonder I haven't been able to sell a picture book!

Unknown said...

Great and fantastic!!!! Thank you so much fir sharing this list!!!

Anonymous said...

You said it so well. Thanks Elizabeth! (I'm tweeting this for #pblitchat followers.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your insights. They make a lot of sense.

Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

I'm so glad y'all find this valuable! :) e

Megan K. Bickel said...

Found this through Kat's tweet. Great advice! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Elizabeth, thank you!

Ishta Mercurio said...

Excellent post! Thank you for sharing this. You raised some excellent points: numbers 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12. All things that I don't hear as often as i think people should.

I've done 1, 3, 5, 7... Oh, I've been bad. But I hope I'm getting to good!

Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

I've done 'em too Ishta!