The picture book marketplace is arguably the most competitive in publishing, and certainly a tough one to break into as a debut author, but it’s not impossible. Just ask Brendan Wenzel, whose debut, They All Saw a Cat, went to eight-way auction last year before Chronicle landed the world rights with a two-book, six-figure deal.
How did he do it? For one, by distilling an elegant, simple premise into a few repetitive phrases that carry a big message. The best picture books trace the core of an idea that can open up discussions between parents and children. They also play with language, using rhythm, rhyme, and repetition so that there’s an impulse to read the book again as soon as the last page is reached.
Wenzel is also an illustrator, landing him in that rarefied space with author/illustrator legends like Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, and Chris Riddell. Granted, you don’t have to draw your own pictures, but your writing should follow some basic rules. Write illustratively. Picture books are the only genre where the writer is potentially second to the illustrator, who often picks the story they want to recreate visually. Don’t include illustrator notes in brackets or in the margins; just fire up your writing with vivid imagery so there is a wealth of story from which to draw.
Your final word count should be under 1000 words, much of which may repeat itself. What’s important is the idea, which should be as simple and polished as a river stone.
—Dionne McCulloch, U.S. managing editor, Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. cornerstonesUS.com