What in your opinion are the key ingredients to making a great picture book?
For me, the key ingredients are the following:
- Re-readability: A book shouldn’t just be a good read aloud. It should be a book that a child falls in love with, and wants to hear over and over and over.
- A catchy title: The title is the first thing to catch your reader’s attention. I feel it’s important that you make your title memorable.
- A new or interesting concept: It’s so difficult to make one’s work stand out. If you’re unpublished, it’s even harder so it’s that much more important to come up with something an agent or editor hasn’t seen before.
- Great writing: This is a given! However, it’s easy to say but not always easy to accomplish.
How did you manage to find an agent, and do you have any tips for budding writers wishing to do the same?
One of my critique partners found my agent. She shared a tweet with me from an agent looking for PBs with witch characters. I had two in my portfolio and immediately emailed the agent.
Prior to this experience, I didn’t spend much time on Twitter, but I do find it’s a great way to connect with people in the publishing industry—or at least find out what they’re looking for. There are regular PB Pitch events on Twitter that have helped other writers find agents. I’d definitely recommend looking into these.
If you had written a picture book and found out later something similar was out there already, would you chuck your story and start again?
I don’t chuck anything. Everything can be recycled. Certainly, a book came out this year that was a bit similar to something I’ve written, but I hope to still send it out in a few years time when the similar book, is out of print.
On a further note, I would advise against ever getting too attached to an idea. Ideas are a dime a dozen. The best thing to do in a situation like this is to move on, and come up with another idea.
Are you happy to get illustrations notes?
I’m not an illustrator. If I was, I would only want to see necessary illustration notes. And as an author, I like to think that the only illustration notes I supply are necessary.
How did you start out, what was your breakthrough?
I wrote for 7 years before I had my breakthrough. I was training to be a teacher and didn’t have spare time to write or submit anymore, but one of my critique partners saw a Twitter post (as mentioned in previous answer above), and forwarded it to me. I sent out two of my stories to an agent based on that tweet. Within two days, the agent offered me representation and within one week, she’d sold my first book. But it was a long apprenticeship before that breakthrough, with over 140 rejection letters.
Do you have to have, a sort of Peter Pan complex to be a children’s writer, in the sense of voice?
Probably not every children’s author would agree with me, but from my perspective, I do think it has helped to retain a strong relationship with my inner child. I don’t think I matured much mentally after age 7, and that has certainly helped me as a writer. You don’t have to be immature like myself, but you do have to have that sense of wonder, and the ability to think like a child.
How do you stay relevant?
I visit my local library frequently and read as many picture books as I can. The more you read, the more you understand picture book format, as well as what publishers are buying.
How do you market to kids in this digital age of I-pads, phones, apps?
It’s tricky. Because picture books are one of the few books not purchased by the intended audience (in other words, they’re generally purchased by the parents, or grandparents, of the children their written for, rather than the children themselves), then I don’t have to worry about it. Most adults would much rather their children read a book then spend too much time on technology. Or at least, that’s been my experience with the adults I’ve spoken with.
But the biggest way I get around this is by going to schools, and conducting author visits to get children enthused about reading. I don’t generally try to sell my books at author visits, but I always ensure that I’ve brought enough bookmarks for everyone at the school. This ensures that each child has a free gift to take away from the event. Even if they don’t buy my book, hopefully they’ll take that bookmark away and put it in another book at home…and READ that book. For me, it’s just as much about marketing a general love of reading, rather than my specific books.
Rodney [Father, of beautiful 2 yr old]
How do you come up with ideas for your books?
I have idea radar that I turn on and off. As soon as I switch it on, I pick up ideas. They might come from something someone has said, something I’ve read, something I’ve watched on TV—anywhere really, just as long as my radar is switched on. I find it also helps to take a walk. I get some of my best ideas when I’m out walking. Again, something I see on my walk might stimulate an idea.
Kairo [10 yrs old budding writer]
How does Delia change the rain?
Delia is a witch. Like most witches she waves her magic wand and chants a spell. In her first spell, she changes the rain to cats and dogs, then hats and clogs and later bats and frogs. What I can’t tell you, however, is what she eventually changes the rain to in order to save the parade. You’ll need to read the book for that answer. 😉
Summer Rose [5 yrs old, talking in reference to Rebecca’s book ‘It’s raining bats and frogs’ I think she was hoping to get the actual spell Lol!]
And last but not least…
You’re not only a children’s writer but a screenwriter too, what’s next for you?
I’m in the process of starting to write another picture book and have just sold a further book. However, because it’s not been officially announced, I’m not yet at liberty to discuss the forthcoming book.
Alongside writing, I also work as a retreat manager at screenwriting retreats. This has helped me to gain more experience in this area and meet industry professionals from Hollywood. My next goal is to adapt one of my picture books into a short children’s TV programme, or possibly even into a full-length feature film.
Where can I buy your new book?
My latest book is out with Albert Whitman & Co in America, so if you’re Stateside, you should be able to find it at most larger book shops like Barnes and Noble. If you’re in the UK like myself, then it can be purchased on Amazon at this link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Captain-Blings-Christmas-Plunder-Rebecca/dp/0807510637
Oh before I forget, can I get a drum roll please!
You are our amazing giveaway winner, please forward your address to firstname.lastname@example.org, and let me know if you would like Rebecca to sign it for you :-]
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I’d like to say a very special thank you to Rebecca Colby, for taking the time to answer all of these brilliant questions!