I’d always loved picture books and often bought them for myself, as well as receiving them as gifts from my family and friends. I used to think about how brilliant it would be to be able to write my own, but alas, I could not draw (my stick people resemble sausages).
It wasn’t until my boyfriend bought me ‘How to Write for Children’ by Louise Jordan for my birthday two years ago that I realised I COULD write picture books. I was reading the book one morning, and I couldn’t believe it when I reached page 16 and read that many picture books have a separate writer and illustrator! How did I not know this?! I felt a bit silly for not realising this all these years, but mostly, I felt mega excited! I started writing the very next day, and haven’t stopped since.
After about four months of intense writing, reading, and research, I knew that I needed some professional feedback. I’d read a lot of self-help books about writing and searched the web heavily for information and advice, and now it was time to approach someone in the industry in order to gain feedback and improve.
Whilst researching how best to do this, I came across the Winchester Writer’s Conference, held annually in Winchester by the wonderful Barbara Large. I found out that, for a small fee, you could submit your writing for competition, and that each piece of writing entered was returned with written feedback. There was also the option of submitting further pieces of writing to your choice of industry professionals such as literary agents, editors, and publishers prior to the conference and the opportunity to sit down with them at the conference and discuss your work – it was perfect! I couldn’t believe what a wonderful opportunity this was. So, a few car-boots sales later, I paid for my place at the conference and took a train down to Winchester.
My very first meeting was with a literary agent and I was terrified. A real-life literary agent was about to comment on my work (to my face!). Thankfully, she liked my work (and seemed to appreciate my quirky sense of humour – yay!). Next I met with some wonderful people including editors, publishers, published and unpublished writers who all gave me great advice and support.
Later I discovered that one of my picture book texts had won 1st place in the picture book competition, and that another one of my texts had been commended. This, along with all the feedback, made me feel positive that what I was writing had potential. And everything just took off from there!
My advice to anyone aiming to be published is to read and write as much as possible and to do your research. I suggest that you know what children are actually reading and what’s working well. If, like me, you love children’s books then you are probably reading them all the time anyway. If not, my advice would be to read as many books as possible written for children in the age group you are interested in.
This will help you to understand what works and why. This research helped me to make my own texts stronger. In terms of gaining feedback and approaching industry professionals, I would recommend reading the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook for further advice (which was the next book I bought shortly after I finished reading the book my boyfriend bought me which started everything off). This book is full of practical advice including information on conferences such as the one I attended, as well as information about contacting literary agencies and publishers.
Finally, it may sound obvious (and maybe even a bit cheesy) but write for yourself. I often read this, but I didn’t fully understand what it meant until I burst out laughing at my own book while I was writing it. I thought it was hilarious! (My boyfriend said I had a big head). But basically, if you find it funny, or exciting, and scary, I think that’s a good sign. It means you’re enjoying it. And if you enjoy it, then there’s a good chance others will too!
Pamela Butchart now has three picture books under contract with Bloomsbury and three works of children’s fiction with Nosy Crow. Her first book, Baby Aliens got my Teacher will be published by Nosy Crow in August 2013.