And here's Lisa, with her recipe for picture book success!
~ Christy Mihaly
We’ve probably all had a recipe that flopped at some point. Burnt cookies, salty soup, bread that didn’t rise…. On one memorable occasion, my husband forgot the noodles in a tuna noodle casserole! It happens to even the best cooks. But following a recipe carefully will maximize your chances of an edible result.
The same could be said of writing a picture book. There is no guaranteed recipe for success—after all, even picture book greats like Jane Yolen still get rejections! However, an editor is more likely to find your picture book "delectable" if you follow these steps.
|Fresh, sweet apples|
|Washed and ready for the chopping block|
3. Find some mentors. Check out works by "master chefs." Look through recently published picture books to locate luscious mentor texts for your story. These do not need to be about a topic similar to yours, but rather should have the tone, structure, or style that you have in mind for your book. Do you want it to be lyrical? Funny? Rhyming? Straightforward? Circular? Don’t plagiarize, obviously, but use your mentor texts as inspiration.
|The family works together in Applesauce Day|
4. Add some “heart.” This is the "secret sauce." A successful picture book usually takes the main character, or the reader, on an emotional journey, or evokes a universal theme such as friendship, love, or family. This can be an important selling point for your story. When writing Applesauce Day, I started with a family making applesauce. But my story didn't find its heart until I added the special applesauce-making pot into the story: it symbolizes the handing down of this family's applesauce-making tradition from one generation to the next, and highlights the book's family-togetherness theme.
5. Be smart: make a dummy. I resisted this step for years. When I finally started doing it, my stories improved significantly. You don’t have to be an artist to make a dummy; just break your story into page spreads and draw some stick figures. Make sure you have enough content for 12–14 spreads and that there is enough, but not too much, for the illustrator to work with on each spread. Putting together a dummy makes my stories tighter and more visual. It also helps in creating page turns. You won’t submit your story this way unless you’re an author/illustrator. But if you’re serious about selling a picture book, don’t skip this step.
|Is it applesauce yet?|
6. Revise, revise, revise. Don’t submit your story “half-baked.” I have 40 versions of my current work-in-progress in my computer, and it’s not done yet. Find some good critique partners who will give honest feedback on your work. “Stir” your story well to smooth out any lumps in the storyline. Then sprinkle on some simile/metaphor, rhythm, alliteration, etc. to make your text really delicious.There you have it – my not-so-secret recipe for picture book success. Good luck—and bon appétit!