Genre tips / writers tips

10 Tips for Picture Book Writers

I have a wonderful efriend–Kath Unsworth–who writes and draws children’s books. She blogs at Miniscule Moments, her take on life and writing, with lots of her original drawings. I had the honor of being a beta reader on one of her children’s books and was blown away. The voice is excellent, the plot perfect for youngers, but what really made the book was the pictures. They were fresh, original, and communicated the written word perfectly.

Which is why I asked Kath to write a post in my Genre series on tips for writing picture books. You’re going to enjoy this article:

picture booksYou Are Never too Old to Learn Something New

I want to thank Jacqui for inviting me over. I am working on my first picture book and it has been an amazing journey of learning. You are never to old to learn. I should know, I am turning fifty this year. I have never been more happy, its the passion of creating that keeps me on the picture book path. Whilst I cannot share original illustrations and a manuscript of the story. I will share an illustration draft idea and the things I have learnt thus far.

Ten Tips for writing and Illustrating a picture book.

  1. Great stories come from real life, even in picture books there are elements of real life. I imagine new stories all the time and usually they come from something that happened on the farm. I write them in an ideas journal. I have a story coming up after this one about a praying Mantis who lives on a quad bike (true tale).
  2. Write your manuscript first. Begin with the story, the illustrations come later, after you know what images you actually need.
  3. Share your manuscript to make it sing. Choose gifted beta readers. Jacqui was one of mine for the manuscript Sugar and Spice. Be brave and hand it to someone you know will be honest and helpful.
  4. Borrow five picture books a week from the library to see how others create and also which layouts you prefer. I have a collection of my favourite picture books, the ones that inspire me and delight the inner child in me.
  5. Tell it to the world. The best way to be accountable, I am amazed at the support I receive through my blog and monthly newsletters. 
  6. Find reference images (photographs that inspire you to draw your characters.) I am lucky that my characters are already on the farm where I live. I take lots of photos and when I need obscure images (dancing cat holding a cupie doll) I google or surf pinterest for inspiration.
  7. Draw, paint and create and then do it over and over AGAIN. This is the biggest challenge for me, understanding I am not done with the first picture. I need to refine each illustration until they shine.
  8. Ask a Child  The best critics in the world if you are writing a picture book are children. They don’t lie and will give you an honest opinion straight up.
  9. Illustrate the cover last you will be an expert by then on your characters.
  10. Read many books on how to write a picture book, my favourite book so far is Child Writes by Emma Mactaggart. A step-by-step guide to writing and illustrating a children’s picture book.

Most of all because I have not started the journey of searching for a publisher, NEVER GIVE UP.

Grab Those Pencils

My process for illustrating you can see below, I keep it pretty simple. All work is freehand, that’s just me. Maybe one day I will get back into using design programs again but for this book I thought it needed that natural edge.

I Pencil it in, then use a fine point illustrator pen. 

Grab my Derwent coloursoft pencils and colour like crazy. Remember to leave white areas for highlights and think of your image as blocks of colour rather than looking at the whole picture.

Lastly touch up with illustrator pen I add a scratchy edge to my characters in this book but you could add a fine line to bring it all together.

my process (copy)


Most of all enjoy the process. 

Kath Unsworth lives in a beautiful part of the far south coast of Australia with her husband and two children. Her dream is to create, illustrate and write happy, hopeful stories for children. Kath is working on Sugar and Spice. A story about an orange calf and a cute black kitten. They meet at a fair and set about trying to win a ribbon in the big arena, meeting some wonderful animals along the way.

More on genre writing:

19 Tips for Children’s Writers

14 Tips for Young Adult Writers

Can You Mix Genres in Your Writing?

67 thoughts on “10 Tips for Picture Book Writers

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  10. Ah, Kate! How I have missed your posts! Hopefully I’ll be able to spend more time in WP land and keep up to date! You are such an inspiration to me and many others. As you know, I am also a late bloomer but am having the time of my life!

    Great post and good luck with the book!


  11. PS Luanne if I worried about my book ever being published the dream would never get off the ground. I am learning by doing and that is the only way for me. I hope all this encourages you to keep going with your dreams too.


  12. Your illustration process is so interesting. I have a love for picture books and children’s literature–and a collection of picture books that is fairly large. In the past I took a couple of writing children’s books courses online. My goal was young adult, but the course was geared to all levels. What I kept hearing from the instructors was that picture book writers should only write the words and that the publisher would match the writer with the artist–that they don’t like getting fully formed manuscripts. I am wondering if you have found advice like that or if that was just the “institution” where I was taken the classes from.


      • Luanne I hear and read that all the time but it does not faze me, I see a pattern for illustrators, where they may do other people’s books for a time and then they get their own ideas and go from there. I like to think outside that square where if I am told YOU CAN’T I will try and find a way, just like my Hero in the story. Nothing is set in stone. I have been researching publishers and most don’t even accept unsolicited manuscripts let alone an illustrator with a story to tell. BUT I have noticed many publishers accept illustrator portfolio’s and some ask for picture book mock-up’s if you have them. So I believe if you want it bad enough you will find a way….and then there is the self-publishing road as well. Thanks for stopping by.


  13. Wonderful insightful interview Jacqui, lovely to meet you Kath. I love it when I read words that inspire others to follow a dream.
    As an artist, and writer of Romance Novels, another passion on the burner are the 3 Children’s Books MS’s begun 20yrs ago – that are waiting in the bleaches for me to give them a go and send them out there.
    Always wanted to write and illustrate my own works. Maybe it’s time to put more thought into the publishing process. It’s a long road at times. 🙂 Thanks ladies


  14. Hi, Jacqui! Kath has been an internet friend for over a year now, and it was so great to see her work in your blog. I’ve watched her dreams get bigger and her work get better and better just over the little time I’ve know her. She’s a real inspiration!


  15. Wonderful post, Kath! I actually have a picture book idea I’ve been working on (and off, ha) for years now, inspired by the early morning walks I used to take with my daughter as an early rising infant. It rhymes, which wasn’t planned but happened naturally. Does your text rhyme? If so, do you have any tips or resources for those new to wiring this way? I wonder if I’m doing it right or not🙂


    • Dana look forward in reading it. My text does not rhyme and many will say don’t do it. BUT Dana I adore books that rhyme and loved reading them out to my children. A great place to start is to share it with a friend.( i.e. me) If you look below Susan has a site where she writes many beautiful poems she may be able to help. Also google posts on the subject too, you will be amazed what you find. goof luck and keep in touch we can help each other.


      • Interesting question Dana, and answer Kath, as one of my MS’s just happened to be a rhyming story too🙂
        And if I may add an uneducated opinion, working as a Teacher Aid for over 20 years in K – 6 & assistant in the school library, I found the younger children like rhyming books. They also enjoy the ones that have the repetitive prose. Eg: “…and then Henry said….” (not too sure what that is called?) Even the older children have been known to like those books🙂


  16. This last month, we took our 7 and 8 year old grandsons on vacation with us. Time and time, again, I observed with such intent; and, I laughed: oh, how I laughed. All I could think of was what great stories their activities would make. Thank you for these suggestions, especially the ideas journal. I’m going to do just that.


    • I am stunningly horrid at art. I did a few good items in Photoshop (because I had to teach it), but when I try to draw in some of the iPad art programs, to show my students how it goes, it’s abysmal. Here’s an example: art


  17. A writing ambition I have is to create a picture-book. Despite my drawing and illustration skills. Will get to it at some point. This was a useful post and connection. Thanks.


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