So You Want to Write a Proper Picturebook at Baboró 2018

This week at CBI, we have a guest blog courtesy of Shona Leahy! Shona attended #ProperBookGalway at Baboró International Arts Festival for Children last weekend and has some tips for people looking to write or illustrate picturebooks!


At a recent event hosted by Baboró and Children’s Books Ireland, authors, illustrators, publishers and booksellers gave advice for those hoping to publish their own picturebooks. The day long event was called ‘So, You Want to Write a Proper Picturebook?’ and featured four panels dedicated to giving aspiring authors and illustrators advice on how to write, illustrate and publish their own picture book. Here’s some of the main advice from the day!

Getting Started as an Author or Illustrator
When you are getting started it is important to attend events and meet other people involved in the business. They can give you advice and help you get familiar with the process of writing and publishing your own picturebooks. Niamh Sharkey (below) advised people to keep reading books about how to write and illustrate picturebooks should be considered before you start to write. This is an alternative means of understanding how to create a picturebook. If you want a better understanding of what it takes to make a book, you could follow the example of Tarsila Krüse, and write and publish your own book.

Niamh Sharkey CBI


Where Do Ideas Come From?
It can be difficult to come up with ideas. For Patrica Forde, Lucinda Jacobs, and Sadhbh Devlin (below), inspiration comes from their encounters with people and their childhood memories. Ideas like these create an emotional tug for the reader. It is important to change and adapt the story. You have to give the character a problem to overcome. This will make an enjoyable story. Sometimes you will need to go through a lot of story ideas before you find a good one.

CBI Baboro panel discussion

Show Don’t Tell
It is important to use both pictures and words to tell a story when writing a picturebook. Picturebooks are usually around 500 words. It is difficult to keep a story short. Drawing rough pictures can help to keep when it comes to editing the story as you can see where the picture might tell the story which will help you cut extraneous text. It has helped Sadhbh Devlin when she edits her books. Don’t be ashamed of your drawing skills, this is a tool to help you imagine your book. You should only send the picturebook text to publishers however. 

Rhyme and Rhythm
Rhyming picturebooks have become more popular in recent times, but they are not easy to do right. When writing a rhyming book, it must be a perfect rhyme. The rhyme must not depend on the way that people pronounce the word. Don’t compromise the story for the sake of a rhyme. If the word doesn’t fit or disrupts the rhythm don’t use it. Rhythm is important for the story regardless of whether the story rhymes or not.

Writing and Trends
Connor Hackett recommends that when you are writing you shouldn’t be writing for trends. There is no point writing for trends. By the time a trend is identified it is too late and is already passing.

Submitting to Publishers
It is important to read and follow the submission guidelines. In order to save time, you should submit to more than one publisher at once. However, don’t submit to them all at once as you won’t get a second chance. Michaela McDermot passed on some advice she had heard at the CBI Conference from author M.G. Leonard. She said to identify your top twenty publishers. Submit to your top three and if you get any feedback, edit before trying the next three.

Benefits of Dummy Books
Peter Donnelly and P.J. Lynch discussed the benefits of dummy books for illustrators. Dummy books are impressive and can’t be ignored by publishers unlike digital copies. When submitting a proposal, it is wise to include one coloured spread to give the publisher an idea of what the book will look like. Only doing one detailed, coloured page makes it easier to abandon the work if it is going nowhere and to make changes if necessary. Submitting a dummy book as an author isn’t necessary, and may be unwelcome if you aren’t following the publishers submission guidelines. As an illustrator, submitting your portfolio is also perfectly acceptable, don’t feel you need to create a dummy book to submit as this could be expensive! 

Promoting Books is Really Important
It is important to meet with children to promote your book and is a necessary part of selling your books. When meeting children and reading to them, it is important to plan your performance. You need to keep their attention so having props can be good. Performing the book can teach you about the flow of the book and you will be able to tell whether or not the book will work. You need to keep in mind that promoting will take up a lot of time and you need to make time for creating.

Books as Gaeilge
Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin is a publisher at Futa Fata. He spoke about writing and illustrating Irish language books. It is important for those who are writing books in Irish to be fluent in Irish. This will allow them to participate in Irish based events. Having Irish is not as big of a requirement for illustrators as the manuscripts can be sent to them in English. If you are considering writing a book in Irish don’t use Google Translate to help you as it is not always accurate.