I’ve not yet met a writer who is not also a reader. Most writers developed the urge to write, at least in part, from their love of reading. But all too often when we’re wearing our writing hat we forget what we know as readers. We forget what we want and need as readers for a satisfying experience.
Before sending a picture book manuscript to an agent, editor or critique service, it is valuable to take a pause. Think of two of three picture books you love. What makes them so good? What makes them so satisfying to you as a reader. Then ask yourself if you have made sure you are offering that kind of satisfaction to your future readers.
Our favorite picture books are always a source of energy, ideas and expertise. Whenever I am stuck on a new manuscript I go back to the picture books I love. What do those books have that my manuscript is still lacking? At the least, this process offers me vitamins to keep working and do my best. Often, it reveals what is missing in my manuscript.
A specific example occurred as I worked on HEART TO HEART. I had the ending. I had some of the tension needed for the middle section. But I was still lacking the jolt of a clear conflict at the beginning. One of my favorite books from childhood is Don Freeman’s DANDELION. As I reread it, I realized what my manuscript was missing: the intensity of a time crunch.
The tension of DANDELION is established when Dandelion finds a letter in his mailbox that sets a very short time frame. He’s only got a few hours to prepare for the party. As a result, I had Squirrel find a valentine in his mailbox ON Valentine’s Day that established the time crunch. He’s forgotten to make a valentine and his best friend would be arriving in a few minutes. To up the anti, I also had him unable to find his scissors.
We can always learn from the books we love to read.