I recently won a Picture Book critique from Sharlee Glenn, Author of Keeping Up With Roo, Just What Mama Needs, and One in a Billion. I was excited and a little nervous having an amazing published author look over my book. I picked a manuscript that I put together over two years ago and haven’t looked since. I liked the basic concept, but it didn’t quite have the punch I wanted it to pack. Sharlee gave me a few line comments, like, “I really like this alliteration sequence” or “Woa, wait, who is this?” But there were two comments that struck me the most.
The first statement was: Don’t write anything that can be shown in a picture.
At first I cut everything--and I mean everything--that was visual, but after showing it to my critique group they weren’t happy. They wanted to feel the scenes. They wanted emotion, action, and description. When I looked at back at what Sharlee said, I realized it was an overarching critique to help me with word count, but I still needed to write out the actions along with the story and feelings of my young protagonist. However, that statement alone helped me focus my story better.
The second statement was: Picture books for young readers have 200-500 words. I know that as a parent I like reading shorter books to my kids, so I took the advice to heart. My manuscript was almost 1,100 words. So if I cut it down by more than half, I would have something closer to submission ready. Seems easy enough, right? However, it took me over a week to take the word count down to just under 500. Making every word count is something critical in the Picture Book process. I’d heard that phrase hundreds of times, but after picking my manuscript apart, I have come to truly understand. The scenes flow better, the action is more powerful, and the themes are easier to find. Overall, I have a more engaging story with half the word count.
To be honest, I’m still working on improving it. My writer’s group has seen it many times. I’m just about ready to send it to my Beta Readers, but I really feel like it’s almost to the point where I’d feel comfortable submitting it to an agent. I want to thank Sharlee for taking the time to look at the book for me and for offering such a great critique. Any time you have a chance to get advice from a professional, take it! I’m sure glad I did!
What are some words of advice you’ve received that changed the way you look at writing?