Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Five Tips for a More Marketable Children’s Picture Book Manuscript by Mayra Calvani

The world of children’s picture book publishing is extremely competitive. If you’re an aspiring children’s author, you need to make sure your manuscript is in excellent shape and has all the elements editors and agents look for before you begin the submission process.

Here are five tips to make your picture book manuscript more marketable:

Start right with the problem. 

Many times beginner writers begin a picture book with back-story. It’s okay to have this back-story in the first draft, but be sure to get rid of it when you edit. Back-story is unnecessary 90% of the time and it only serves to slow down the beginning of a story, making it weaker. You want to grab the reader right from the start. So don’t be afraid to begin your story at the heart of the problem. It’s okay to set the stage with a sentence or two—but no more!

Have a protagonist readers can relate to.

Generally, children like to listen to stories about other children or animals with children’s characteristics. They don’t want to hear about a grandma or grandpa looking back to the time when they were young. Create characters kids can identify with. When readers can identify with the protagonist, they are drawn into the story and become emotionally involved with it.

Make sure the problem fits the age group.

Be sure your protagonist is facing a problem young readers can relate to. If they can’t relate to it, they won’t care. Losing a toy or losing mommy, being lost, having a tooth pulled out, going to the hairdresser for the first time, having too many freckles, planning a first party... these are all problems kids can identify with. Sure, these subjects have been done a million times. But so what? By creating a new angle about a familia topic, you can give the topic your own fresh and original slant.

Add rising action.

Rising action creates tension—the good stuff that keeps readers glued to the story, turning those pages. After you have created the first big problem for the protagonist, and as he tries to solve it, toss a couple more obstacles into his path to make readers wonder what’s going to happen next. The more readers care about the character’s predicament, the more compelling they’ll find the story.

Leave them with a punch. 

Endings are always important, no matter what the genre. But they’re especially important in picture books. Once the protagonist solves the problem and everything falls into place, you must find a way to make the ending memorable. This can be achieved by adding an unexpected twist or by having the character say or do something witty. At the same time, it must feel natural, a perfect and logical progression that has evolved organically with the story. This can be hard to achieve. Try different possibilities until you get that “Aha!” feeling. Don’t be afraid to come up with crazy, over-the-top ideas while you brainstorm. 

Keeping these tips in mind when creating your children’s stories will help you make them more marketable and appealing to editors and agents. Like with any craft, writing for children is a never ending learning process. I hope you’ll keep at it and enjoy the journey.

Bio: Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults.  Her nonfiction work, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, co-authored with Anne K. Edwards, was a ForeWord Best Book of the Year Award winner. She’s had over 300 stories, articles, interviews and reviews published. She reviews for The New York Journal of Books and Visit her website at For her children’s books, visit

You can learn more about Mayra Calvani's World of Ink Virtual Tour at
Mayra Calvani's next stop is February 3rd at The Maggie Project 
Don't miss out on the Book Review/Giveaway of Humberto the Bookworm Hamster


  1. Great tips, Mayra. Good luck with your tour.

  2. Thanks, Renee! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Great advice!

    Michelle V

  4. these are all great tips. Certain books (as a mom) just really draw me in and it is usually those same books that my children ask me to read over and over!

  5. As a writer of picture books, this is great advice! All best wishes for your tour.

  6. Great and wise advice! Thanks!

    Nicole Weaver

  7. Excellent article, Mayra. I can't tell you how often I've seen first drafts with an older person looking back or even where the protagonist is introduced after a mother or father.

    Thanks for sharing these tips. It's wonderful advice.


  8. Hi, Mayra. Great tips and a terrific blog to share them. Tip of the writer's cap to both you and Virginia. These five tips could well be the foundation of an entire "How To" book on story development and writing.

    I was particularly taken by the point about back-story. In fact, I'm worndering if getting wrapped up in the back-story might be a key reason behind the problem I sometimes have with not getting a story to gel or come together. That is, what feels like a slump or being stuck may be a misdirected focus in what I'm trying to write. You've given me something to think about and to recognize when it happens.

  9. Mayra & Virginia,

    That's all very useful advice! I'm always trying to learn more about writing for my audience! Thank you!


  10. great information here, thank you
    Kit Grady

  11. Interesting post, Mayra and Virginia. You're right in that kids want to read about kids.

    Great advice.

  12. Thank you so much for posting this as it offers some wonderful advice!

  13. Great tips! I especially appreciate the no-back-story idea--it's so very tempting to explain everything.


  14. Hey, Mayra,

    Great article. If only picture book writers who never manage to sell their manuscripts to a publisher would read this and follow your tips, they'd be much more likely to end up with manuscripts that would sell!

  15. Good solid advice for those writing for children. Thanks for sharing.

  16. This seems like great advice for writers of any genre.

  17. This is such a great guest post and I want to thank you Mayra for being my guest today. I'm glad everyone has enjoyed the information you have shared as well. This is a post I will be adding the link to my 'Top 10 Blog Post' in SFC Newsletter for Writers.

  18. Great tips! Funny how much children's books have in common with adult books.

  19. An excellent and informative post with great tips! Thanks, Mayra!

  20. Thank you so much for all your wonderful comments!

    What a great start to my tour. I really appreciate it!

  21. Thanks, Virginia, for adding my article link to your 'Top 10 Blog Post' in SFC Newsletter for Writers. Cool! :-)

  22. Bill,
    I'm glad I have given you something to think about! Back-story is often the culprit of a lot of things in a story or novel.
    I took a course recently on how to use back-story effectively and since then I'm always aware of it.

  23. Great tips, Mayra! Thanks for sharing.