Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Writing Picture Books is Not for Wimps!

Picture book and middle grades novel writer Robyn Campbell joins us today to talk about the tough business of picture books:

By Robyn Campbell

Stacy, thank you for this opportunity and a huge thanks for your month of PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) posts.

           
Writing Picture Books is Not for Wimps!

            "Writing a picture book is like writing 'War and Peace' in Haiku." Mem Fox (Isn’t that cool?)

As I talked on the phone with a man (who is in publishing and shall remain nameless), he mentioned that anyone could write a ten page picture book. (He doesn’t understand that ten pages makes for a long picture book.) This man thinks it is the novel writers who flex their muscles daily. To say I was not amused is a definite understatement. I mean, I write novels too. But. I know that not everyone can write a picture book. Over these last few years I’ve met a lot of folks who think they can though. Have you ever told someone you write picture books and heard them answer with, “I’ve been meaning to sit down one afternoon and write one?”  *cringe*

Let’s face it. The majority of the population will never write a picture book. Never. And of those who do, most will not be published. I saved this onto my computer to look at every so often about a year ago. It reminds me of why I write and who I write for. If I didn’t love doing it, I definitely wouldn’t. It’s from the site of Elizabeth O. Dulemba:
  •  81% of the population feels they have a book inside them . . .
  •  20% would do a picture book, cookbook, etc.
  •  6 million have written a manuscript.
  •  6 million manuscripts are making the rounds.
  •  Out of every 10,000 children's books, 3 get published."
  •   - Jerrold Jenkins. 15 May 99.


 More tough news. A common misconception is that all published authors must be rich. So, is there money in it? The stats are as follows. In all the arts:
  • 3% make the 'big bucks' (these are the creators most people have heard of).
  • 12% make enough to live on (and boy is that relative).
  • 85% make under $10,000 to $12,000 a year.


This should show us that we are not in this to make gobs of money. *sob* We’re doing it because we love the little kiddies of the world and because we love to write. That’s it, period.

Yet most people feel they have a picture book inside them. Go ahead. Ask some folks you see at the grocery store or doctor’s office. You will soon discover that a lot of folks think our job is easy peasy.

So it’s PiBoIdMo! We’re reading all these excellent posts about ideas and coming up with about fifty new ones every day. *wink* We’re dreaming about our $50,000.00 advance on our next picture book that we’re going to write and how Nickelodeon will turn our book into the next big preschool cartoon.  And that’s more money. *slaps face* Sorry. I have this dream every day.  

I am going to ask you a very important question in a moment. But first, think back to the man I talked about at the beginning of this post. He said that everything you work for, every story you write, can be easily written by someone else. Not just someone else, anyone else. I don’t think he had the right to say this. If I told you who he was we could always go all ninja on him. *evil smile* But I won’t. What I will tell you is this. Never let anybody dis what you do. Just politely remind them that if they think they can write a picture book then that is what they should do. Do suggest they be prepared for a lot of criticism and a lot of rewrites. Tell them that writing picture books is not for wimps.

And now for that question: What are you going to do with all those ideas? 


Robyn Campbell writes picture books and middle grade novels. She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her family and assorted farm creatures. When she is not writing down at the barn, she is sure to be found on one of her horses or taking an early morning run. Robyn believes boys need more books and has several of them stirring and whirling in her computer and in her head. You can find her blogging at Putting Pen To Paper.

Stacy here — So glad Robyn joined us today. You can also find her on Twitter @authorswrite.

70 comments:

  1. 3 out of 10,000 yikes! Still here.
    Awesome post Robyn, I'm posting this to Facebook, you never know that guy might see it!

    Thanks Stacy *waves*

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  2. The statistics are sobering. But it's not impossible. I wrote a children's story (imagined as a picture book) about a year ago, and I struggled over that just as much as any story. And I certainly didn't get it done in an afternoon! No, it's not for wimps.

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  3. Eeek! I bet you were just grinding your jaw. I KNOW I couldn't write a picture book. Hat off to those who can!

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  4. Thanls,Cath. That's a great idea about FB. And he visits my blog often. I was hoping he would come here and read this. I didn't think of facebook. *waving*

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  5. Catherine, I meant thanks. Thanls would make no sense, like me. :-)

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  6. Karen, thanks for reading, and you are exactly right! It is hard work that takes many a day, many a week, many a month to get it right. He made me get my mad on!

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  7. Hey Jess! Glad you came by. Yep. Jaw was grinding, nose was twitching, and hands were wringing. It's a good thing it was on the telephone. A face to face and he might have had a sore nose. :-)

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  8. There are people out there who think they can write children's books, and every other kind. That's another writers' curse...we KNOW how hard it is, while the non-writers all assume what we do is easy. I think your response is perfect. "Try it. Then tell me how easy it is." :)

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  9. Hey Liza! That makes my blood boil. I wouldn't tell them how easy their job is. Unless they test mattresses or something. :-)

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  10. Great post! If we focus on the numbers alone, it can seem daunting; but if we focus on writing the best possible manuscript we can ... then it is within our control!!!
    :)

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  11. I admire those who can write picture books. I really do. I know I couldn't do it. Great post!

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  12. Thanks Robyn again for writing this post. As Picture Book Idea Month ends tonight, it's great "food for thought" as well as the great comments.

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  13. Wow, fantastic post!

    I dream of the day that I sneak into a classroom and see a teacher reading one of my stories to a group of kiddos sitting on the floor. (ahhh)

    I'm going to take my NaPbIdMo ideas and make them into a list and start writing and crossing off the list as I finish each story. It looks like I have my work cut out for me in 2012.

    Great Post, Robyn!

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  14. THANK YOU! I'm a mid-grade writer who doesn't have the guts yet to take a swing at a picture book. Maybe some day I'll be brave enough. :)

    h

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  15. Dude, as someone who would quiver in her boots if she had to write a picture book, I think picture book writers are courageous souls. It's got to be one of the harest things you can do. No wimpage what-so-ever. Great post Robyn :)

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  16. Great post, Robyn! Hi, Stacy. Nice to meet you.

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  17. Jessica, picture books are a different beast. That's for sure. Hugging you.

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  18. Hey CP. You do have your work cut out for you. Writing books from all your ideas. Great thought about making a list and checking it twice. I'm gonna do that too. :-)

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  19. H. Pinski, just get back into your little kid pants. Crawl around on the floor, check out bugs and all the stuff there is to see outside. Before you know it, you'll have a picture book and I want to read it! :-)

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  20. Melissa, my friend. You speaketh the truth. No wimpage factor at all. But this person made me so steamed. I was nice over the phone, but when I hung up, the hubby heard what I really wanted to say to him. Hugging you tight. :-)

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  21. Sus, Stacy is sooooo cooool! Love you, girlfriend.

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  22. Great post, Robyn. Those stats are quite something and could get you discouraged,but I just keep thinking of all those authors who never gave up for the love of what they did! So this should be the inspiration to us all!

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  23. hi miss stacy and miss robyn! wow cool post. yikes! i could tell its gotta be way hard to write a picture book. i didnt ever try doing one. for sure you gotta love writing them.
    ...smiles and hugs from lenny

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  24. Interesting stuff Robyn.
    I'm one of the 19% of people who doesn't feel they've got a book in them, so I really admire you guys, both for your work ethic and for the way you all support each other.
    Thanks for the insight into your world Robyn and thank you Stacy for having Robyn as your guest.

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  25. Awesome interview, you two! I couldn't imagine writing a picture book. It would be helpful if I could illustrate. I have a couple good ideas for one, but that's all I've got. Thanks for hosting Robyn, Stacy! :)

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  26. Hey Anne! The statistics are sobering. But we know we just keep our eye on the story and all the other stuff will work out! :-)

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  27. Lenny, you need to do one. I know you have one inside you. A boy picture book. Love you Lenny!!!!

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  28. Paul, you know I think you DO have a book inside you. An interesting story. Someday I'll convince you to write it! :-)

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  29. David, all it takes is one idea and you have a couple good ones. And you don't need to illustrate. Maybe for your eyes only. Making a dummy is fun. But the words are just as much a part of the story as the pictures. I think you should write them. :-)

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  30. I admire picture book writers. I rarely get any story I write under 60,000 words, but to inspire and entertain in just a few sentences? Ah man! if only I could do that!

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  31. I don't like those stats, but just maybe someday we can write one of those 3 that get published. I've already made one of my ideas into my column for January's issue of Two-Lane Livin' where I write Fun Facts for Kids. I'm going to go back and pick out my best and see what I can do with those ideas. I agree with you, not just anyone can write picture books, but I'm trying!

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  32. Well done, Robyn! Lots of great information! The stats are scary, but who does this for the money? : )

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  33. Cassie, you never know until you try. And try you should. It's a writing great exercise too. :-)

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  34. Wow. Great post. And love the statistics! Didn't know there were probably 6 million manuscripts being passed around out there. Yikes! A lot of what you said resonated with me. It took me a few years to admit to people that I am trying to break into the picture book business, but now that I am "out of the closet" per se, post like these keep me going. Thanks!

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  35. Janet, you're sure to be one of THE three. You have a great attitude. I'd love to read the Fun Facts For Kids. Let's develop these ideas!!!!!!! :-)

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  36. E.R., the stats are scary. True! But as you say, who does it for the money. (Well there is my Nickelodeon dream.) *wink*

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  37. Kerry, Fantastic! Keep on keepin' on. We all hold all of us together. Like glue. Isn't is wonderful? :-)

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  38. Loved this post Robyn and Stacy! So true. You've got to write because you love it, and try not to get defensive or irritated when people act like it's easy! And speaking from my own experience... don't quit your day job :) We're not in this for the money!

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  39. Thank you Susanna. We're not in it for the moolah. Except maybe Nickelodeon?? Ha! :-)

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  40. Super posy Robyn and Stacey. LOVE the Mem Fox quote. She is one of my real PB heroes. Harold Underdown has a great post about "the odds" on his Purple Crayon site.

    I do write for me, but I think we all believe we will have that publishing breakthrough too! and that's OK!

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  41. 6 million manuscripts is a lot of manuscripts and anyone who thinks they can write a picture book in one day is totally delusional.

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  42. There's no way to talk to a writing snob.

    The truth is, only you can write your story your way. And not everyone is born to write the same kind of story.

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  43. I absolutely KNOW I could not write a picture book! I can't even write a poem, and to me they're a kind of poetry. I used to love reading them aloud to my children. They're so often beautifully written, and the illustrations are so often works of art, yet wrapped up in a package for small children. Long live the picture book!

    Enjoyed this post, Robyn, and Stacy I'm a new follower.

    KarenG

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  44. Robyn, I enjoyed your comments very much. I worked for many years as a journalist and in PR. Now, I' writing PB. I was telling my husband the other day, I'm happier than I have ever been with any job/adventure and I'm not making money! I am having a ball! I know what I do is important for children. Although it would be nice to make money, sometimes we find that our life work isn't about a paycheck. If I do finally make money, it will be more of a gift. Hope no one throws oranges at me! I'm also a tad older than many of your readers.

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  45. Wow! Unfortunately that kind of thinking is all too common. But to cheer us up, here are two other stories.

    First, I was at a parent meeting yesterday at my kids' school and a parent asked me what I do. Cringing, I told her. Her response? "Wow, I'm impressed. I think it must be so difficult to write a picture book."

    I wanted to hug her!

    Second, at the regional SCBWI conference, an editor told us to put Top 3% in the subject line of our queries to her, because she said that people like us? Who take the craft and the business seriously? We ARE the 3%

    Can I get a round of FIST PUMPS??? Oh yeah!!!

    Thanks for a great post Robyn.

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  46. I write YA novels, and people have no idea how tough that is, either. They don't understand why I'm not published yet. I feel like I'm constantly having to explain how dismal the statistics are. I guess it's what we have to put up with to do something we love. :)

    Great post, Robyn!

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  47. Awesome thoughts and I love my some Robyn. Hugs to you both! :O)

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  48. Joanna, I love Mem too. I believe everyone does. She is the coolest! I think we all have the most fantastic jobs in the world. :-)

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  49. Patti, delusional! That's why I heart you so much. You know what you're talkin' about! :-)

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  50. Mary Anne, everyone wasn't born to write the same kind of story, you're right about that. But this guy works in publishing. Sheesh! :-)

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  51. Hey Karen, my pal. Picture books are a kind of poetry. You're right. That is why so many picture book writers often do write poetry. But I bet if you set your mind to it there is a picture book story in your head. :-)

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  52. Patricia, no oranges. I truly feel like you do. It is so rewarding. Such a happy way to make a living. I hope your stories are going well. :-) I hope you have loads of ideas too.

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  53. Julie, *fist pump* I loved reading your stories. My hope in folks has been restored. Thanks for sharing it with us. *waving*

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  54. Susan, you will be published! That is for sure. But you're right. The statistics are so depressing. *sob*

    But keep our chins up. It will happen if we keep on moving toward the prize.

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  55. I love me some Diane! Always and forever. :-)

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  56. Awesome...love this post!

    Here's a ***fist pump*** for Julie - I love the top 3% concept!

    Thanks Stacy and Robyn!

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  57. Wow, those are some scary odds!
    I wouldn't think a picture book would be any less difficult than a novel. I can't even write Haiku!

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  58. Stacy, thank you so much for bringing Robyn over to share today. What an amazing article! Robyn - I think I needed this. You are right... writing picture books is NOT for wimps!

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  59. What a fun day. Thank you all, especially Robyn. Lots of fist pumping today. A fitting end to a month of challenges for so many of us.

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  60. Robyn, I could just hear you saying these things :) I don't write but I sure like promoting good writers and I will promote you ANY DAY!!! You go, girl ;) ♥ you & miss you!

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  61. Thanks Stacy...for enabling us to hear what Robyn has to say!

    I smiled when I read the part about everyone saying they have been planning to write a book when you tell them that you wrote one.

    It's really amazing...because you don't get that response when someone says they are an electrician or a doctor or anything else...just a writer. For some reason, everyone thinks it is so easy...and not very hard work.

    Thank you for sharing your journey.

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  62. Alex, Those are frightening odds. Egad!

    I bet you could do some Haiku!(^_^)!

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  63. Leigh, you're welcome. Wimps we are not! *waving*

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  64. Elizabethanne, Write on and on and on! *waving*

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  65. Anne, you know me so well!!!! I'd promote you anytime too. For anything. (((hugs)))

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  66. Vivian, I loved your comment. It made my heart smile. *waving*

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  67. So very true Vivian. Thanks again everyone.

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