So you want to write a children’s picture book?

Industry Insights is a new GSP blog series. Each week, we hope to bring some publishing knowledge to our avid readers. This could include anything from writing tips and how to get noticed by publishers, to designing your own e-book cover. A new industry insight will be posted every Monday evening – so stay tuned for more over the semester!


This week’s Industry Insight was written by Katherine Day.

Katherine Day has been working in the publishing industry for over fifteen years. She was an editor at Penguin Group Australia for eight years before freelancing for Penguin Random House, Allen and Unwin, University of Queensland Press (UQP), Rockpool Publishing, and Thames and Hudson. She is a sessional course co-ordinator and lecturer in the School of Culture and Communications (University of Melbourne), and is also currently completing a PhD on the publishing contract (RMIT). Her areas of interest are the business of publishing and the impact of copyright law on the author/publisher relationship.


This year at Grattan Street Press we are broadening our list to include a picture-book text. This is an exciting development that we hope will pave the way for more opportunities for emerging picture-book writers, as well as creating diversity to the publishing program. As a freelance editor (formerly in commercial children’s fiction), who is often approached to assess children’s picture-book texts, I thought it might be helpful to impart some of my thoughts about this difficult market, as well as a few tips for emerging picture-book writers. How do you get your work noticed?

Picture-book publishing is a tough market. Pic books cost around $24.95, which not every consumer is willing to spend (especially on an unknown author). There are, however, some things you can do to help you on the path to success (providing you have something fabulous to offer, of course!).

Many publishers are being very creative and finding new and exciting ways to sell books into overseas markets, as well as reaching a broader market in Australia. And they are really keen to find their own fantastic list of authors. They are not usually the biggest publishers, however. So here are my top tips for getting your picture book noticed (as well as some things to avoid):


  1. Give smaller publishers a go. These publishers will be keen to exploit your book and are more likely to find niche markets for your text. Smaller publishers have to find niche markets as an alternative to the saturated Big W/Target DDS retail avenues, which will only stock picture books from established authors. These publishers might be just starting out, too, and need to develop a list – a list with your book on it, perhaps.


  1. Go to your local bookstore and look at the picture books. What’s out there? What do you see in terms of new illustration styles and ways of writing? Ask the sales assistants which book is selling most and try to get them to sum up why they think that book is hot right now. Look at the publishers (they will have their logo somewhere on the spine, front of the book or one of the opening pages) and see if there is a consistent style or trend: Do they make a particular type of picture book? Does it have an educational feel? Is it mainly Australian content? Or does it have a European flavor? This will determine, for your submission, which publisher will respond. The bookshop visit is also a good chance to look at the average number of pages in a pic book, as well as pic-book production in general. You’d be surprised how many people submit half a page of writing, thinking it’s enough for a standard 32-page picture book.


  1. Rhyming text is fun, but it isn’t always great. Even the most experienced writers struggle with rhyme. Any mention of rhyme puts your manuscript, at least initially, in the ‘reject’ category. Anybody can find words that rhyme; hardly anybody can write rhyming text that’s astounding. Try to avoid it.


  1. The in-house editor is not a cranky gate-keeper, who just wants to throw their weight around and reject stuff because they can. The editor, in fact, is desperate to forge their own list of authors to work with, who will offer something exciting and with potential sales. Editors want to turn up at the weekly editorial meeting flashing the new ‘bestseller’ they have found. The in-house editor is your hero and will champion your manuscript and do the groundwork to get it noticed. They will see your potential more than anybody else. So listen to them and accept it when they don’t like what you have to offer. The editor understands the company they work for and the books it seeks for the list. Telling an editor your family and friends love the text is also mostly ignored. Unless your friends and family work in publishing, they won’t understand what that particular publishing company thinks is a winner. (Remember – not all publishers, however, have the same needs, and they don’t all pitch to the same markets.)


  1. Align yourself only with artists who have illustrated a picture book. Illustrating picture books is a practiced skill. You can suggest an illustrator you admire, or somebody you think would be perfect for your text, but don’t submit your own illustrations (unless you are actually a picture-book illustrator) or your kids’ illustrations (as sweet as they may be).


If you feel that this list is a little overwhelming, take heart in the fact that a lot of successful picture-book writers were found in the unsolicited manuscript pile. A magical text will always resonate: whether you are a well-known author is irrelevant when the text is stunning. I wish all of you talented and passionate writers the best of luck. Keep going! ••

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