The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) have just announced their shortlist for the 2016 Book of the Year and we were so excited to see AWC Writing Picture Books presenter Danny Parker among the list of amazing authors. Danny’s acclaimed picture book Perfect, with illustrations by Freya Blackwood, has been shortlisted in the Early Childhood category. This is his fourth published picture book and third to be recognised by the CBCA. There’s no doubt Danny knows his stuff, and we couldn’t think of a more perfect person to give us three top tips for writing picture books.
1. Do your research
No matter what genre of writing you focus on, it’s important to understand the market that you’re entering into. And in this case, that means surrounding yourself with books for little ones.
As Danny suggests, “Get into bookshops – into children’s bookshops. Libraries are also a fantastic resource. But have a look at what’s actually on the shop shelves, look at the subjects and what things are hot. Find out what almost every third book is about, and don’t write that story.
“In a sense, look for something that isn’t there, because although it might be on its way, it’s the gap in the market that you need to be thinking about.”
2. Kill your darlings
It’s a phrase that many writers are familiar with, especially during the editing process, and it’s something that Danny wholeheartedly believes in.
“Be really, really brutal with your own edits. Don’t hold onto your words like they’re your children.”
You may be worried that when writing a picture book with such a limited word count, too much editing will deplete you of all of your words. Danny initially had the same concerns with his first book and having to handle the daunting edit requests from his editor.
“It felt like, ‘well hang on a second, if I cut back and cut back and cut back and cut back, there isn’t anything left, is there’? But, try not to be so caught up personally in the story, although of course it is a personal thing. I say to my kids sometimes, if three flamingos burst through the window now and flew around the room and then flew off singing Happy Birthday, we’d all go home and tell that story. It would be the same story, but we’d all tell it differently.
“You’ve just got to be prepared sometimes to tell the story in another way if you want someone to read it.”
3. Be persistent
Like any dream worth pursuing, it takes a lot of determination and commitment to the cause before you reap the rewards. Also, rejection and criticism are part of the territory. It’s important to develop a thick skin and focus on the goal.
As Danny says, “Just keep going. Don’t let the amount of people who don’t realise how brilliant you are, tell you that you’re no good. You’ve just got to keep going.
“You’ve just got to find the one who thinks you are brilliant. And there is someone out there. That feeling that it’s an impossible mountain to climb comes at you in waves sometimes. But if it was easy, it wouldn’t have any value.
“The point is you’ve got to keep going and you’ve got to be prepared to change it and change it and change it again. Persistence and resilience are very important.”
For the complete 2016 Book of the Year shortlist, check out the CBCA website.