Friday 14 March 2008

Little Tiger, Pressed: What Picture Book Publishers Want

I was hoping to embed a Lookybook to illustrate this post about Little Tiger Press but, searching the Lookybook database, I couldn’t find a Little Tiger Press title. So here’s a random tiger picture instead:
little tiger, pressed
Jude Evans, Associate Publisher, of Little Tiger Press, came along to rub shoulders with us British SCBWI wannabes last week. She came to tell us about what goes into picture books. We came to charm her with our winning smiles and get her to publish our picture books.

Just around the corner, there was a rival Children’s Book Circle event attractively titled The Death Of The Picture Book - My Arse! featuring now-former Waterstone bookseller Wayne Winstone. Since we couldn’t be in two places at the same time, we sent author and puppet Sue Eves to spy on the other event. Read Sue's report on her blog.

Jude started her talk by giving us hope:
Each publisher has a slightly different approach to their list ... Every picture book publisher is looking for a new author, a new voice. So don’t lose heart.
She made us Wannabes very happy.

She gave us hope

Having given us hope, Jude gave us some pointers. Living up to my reputation as an exceedingly helpful blogger, I list them here neatly, with bullet points.

  • Not Easy. “Picture Books are not short stories and they are not an easy option. I have worked with a number of authors who have written huge works of fiction who are stunned at how technical it is”.
  • There are 12 double page spreads and “you want your story to progress with each spread”. Most PB are 32 pages (“of course there are exceptions”). Included are the cover, backcover, the endpapers which are the first and last spreads, title page, page-of-copyright-information.
  • Word Count. PBs are up to 750 words. “We usually edit that down to 650 words. Some stories need to be short and snappy. Others have to be longer.”
  • Breadth of Appeal. “We sell to the international market so a book must work in the UK, Germany, France, the United States ... Would this text appeal to somebody in China? In Greece?”.
  • Animals vs people characters. “75 per cent of our books feature animal characters ... with animals, we can tackle things that might be too raw to a sensitive child. There is no barrier of race or culture. Every child can see themselves as a little bear or hippopotamus.”
  • Tone and pitch. “Content must be something a child can relate to ... In general, go for something that speaks directly to a child.”
  • Keep them gripped. “Use book page turn to surprise.”
  • Voice. “This is a biggy: get your character to be very strong and very individual.””It should be a real person, not a generalised voice ... that’s why it’s so important to read it aloud.”
  • Language. “Don’t make it dense or difficult. Make it interesting.”
What makes a book work and sell?
  • Universal appeal
  • Emotional pull
  • Pivotal moments
  • Humour
  • Story with depth and spark
  • Ending that makes you smile – “A PB is like a joke almost ... the ending is paramount”.
  • Unique Author voice
Jude’s talk was so full of meat it might need a couple of blogs to report all. The upshot for all of us I suppose is: so if you get the technique right, if you have a good story, will your picture book get published?


My obsessive-compulsive attendance of writer’s events has taught me one thing.

There are a lot of us wannabe writers out there.

There are a lot of really, really GOOD wannabe writers out there.

There are too many of us.

My friend M reported the other day that the creative writing workshop she’s been teaching is chock-full of good writers. My response?
Tell them they’re crap. Tell them to stop writing. That should make it easier for us to get a foot on the ladder.
Oh by the way. Happy 21st birthday, Little Tiger Press! Here’s a Panda and a cake!


  1. >every child can see themselves as a little hippopotamus

    i just had to add - so do most adult women!

  2. Fancy wishing to keep out your fellow writers! shame on you ;-). I'd love to get to one of the series but work and distance etc. hohum

  3. This is my fave panda video. It is very short.

  4. oh i love that panda video too! i will post it.

  5. Interesting that Jude says picture books are not short stories, I'd have said they were - they're just not complete without the pictures!

    'Tell them to stop writing'

    Tell them to start writing picture books - according to agent, Rosemary Canter, publishers are 'desperate' for good picture book texts!


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