How to write a picture book – touring with ‘Samuel’s Kisses’

My guest blogger is Australian author, Karen Collum who, this week, celebrates the launch of her first picture book, Samuel’s Kisses. Mother to three beautiful boys, with a baby girl about to join the family this month, Karen is passionate about developing optimism in children and empowering them to make a difference in the world.

Samuel’s Kisses is aimed at the pre-school age group. It’s a warm-hearted story of optimism and hope – as little Samuel blows kisses to people he meets, they are transformed  from impatient to happy, tired to playful, run-down to energetic. Filled with love and warmth, and with beautiful illustrations by the amazing Serena Geddes, Samuel’s Kisses makes the perfect bedtime story.

Now, I’ll hand over to Karen Collum…..

Picture books are my very favourite books to read and therefore it’s probably no surprise they are also my very favourite books to write. Perhaps what draws me to them is the exquisite marrying of text and illustrations, each of which becomes more in the presence of the other. I also like a good challenge and there’s nothing more challenging that writing a ripper of a tale in under 700 words. Samuel’s Kisses is my first picture book to be published and I thought I’d share with you my writing processes.

1.    Thinking time

Never underestimate the power of thinking time. I came up with the idea for Samuel’s Kisses many, many months before I wrote a single word. I watched my then-toddler son blow kisses to complete strangers in the shops and saw how each person was transformed on the spot. He had no idea how powerful that simple act of kindness was. I spent a long time thinking about what a beautiful book that would make and mulled over how to approach the story in my mind. Eventually, it was time for step 2. 2.    Choose an angle

A child blowing kisses to strangers is a cute concept but it isn’t exactly a story so I had to choose an angle to approach the story. I decided to focus on the journey of the blown kiss was Samuel to the recipient, and thus the pattern for my picture book was born. Readers will notice that the kisses travel through, around, under, over, behind. This was a deliberate choice on my behalf as I felt that it created a teaching opportunity for parents and children and also added to the tension of where the kiss was going to go. I also wanted to highlight exactly how each person’s behaviour changed upon receiving the kiss. Once these elements were in place, the book almost wrote itself. Almost 🙂

3.    Storyboard

Now that I had an angle and a story, I used a template I’ve developed to map the story into pages. I also leave room for illustration notes that are purely for personal use. I like to jot down how I imagine the illustrations will be as I write; it helps me to visualise each page of the story. Although storyboarding isn’t necessary when submitting to publishers, it also helps me get an overall picture of how the words might fit on the page. Standard picture books have 32-pages however not all of those pages are for use by the author; some of them are taken up by front and back cover pages, as well as half-title etc. By storyboarding my manuscript I get a feel for whether I need to add words or to chop some out. I also get a sense of where the all-important page turns might be. Page turns are crucial in a picture book as the young readers need to be compelled to turn the page to find out what happens next.

4.    Rewrite and walk away. Repeat as often as necessary.

Samuel’s Kisses was one of those stories that came to me almost complete. Although there was some minor editing that happened throughout the publishing process, the very first draft and the published version aren’t all that different. This is not usually the case for me, however, and I still make it a habit of rewriting multiple times. I read my work aloud (this is essential for picture book writers) and make small or large changes that I feel will enhance the rhythm, the readability or the flow of the text. Then I have to walk away. I’m best to leave the manuscript for a few days – a week or a month is even better – before returning and doing the same thing again. It’s not until I feel that each word has earned its place am I happy to submit it to a publisher.

5.    Submit

I research publishers thoroughly before I submit and try and match what I’ve written to the feel of that publisher’s list. This means I read a lot of picture books and try to keep track of all the new releases and award-winning books. When I feel like I’ve found the perfect home for my manuscript, I write a compelling cover letter (that’s a whole other art form in itself!) and send my beloved book off on a wing and a prayer. It worked for Samuel’s Kisses and I’m hoping it will work again soon.

To find out how to purchase your copy of Samuel’s Kisses and to read more about Karen’s work visit her website at http://www.karencollum.com.au

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Thank you, Karen for these interesting and useful insights into how you wrote Samuel’s Kisseswould-be authors of picture books will get some useful pointers! I might even be tempted to write a picture book myself – nah, just kidding, I’d better stick to junior fiction 🙂

Wishing you all the best for Samuel’s Kisses!

Samuel’s Kisses Blog tour:

Dec 1: Kathryn Apel – author
Dec 2: Dee White – author
Dec 3: Sheryl Gwyther – author
Dec 4: New Frontier – publishing house &  Serena Geddes – illustrator of Samuel’s Kisses
Dec 5: Rebecca Newman – editor of the Soup Blog magazine
Dec 6: Susan Stephenson – editor of The Book Chook blog
Dec 7: Katrina Germein – author

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