Revision Strategies from Picture Book Summit

We’ve gathered the best revision advice from previous Picture Book Summit workshops and keynote speakers to help you polish your manuscript like a diamond in the rough. Be sure to join us at this year’s online Summit the first Saturday of October where you can get picture book education from the best in the industry without ever leaving home.

Revision Strategies

Jane Yolen – How to be Prolific

Make yourself a book dummy and start to see whether [your text is] going to be able to fill, or overfill, a 32-page book. You have to think in terms of each double-page spread. Is there something going on? It can’t just be two people talking at a table because three pages of two people talking at a table is not a picture book. Can you compress that to one double page or can you make it active? You’ve got to show something happening, so the illustrator has something to illustrate.

Emma Walton Hamilton – Is Your Manuscript Submission Ready?

Take a break from the manuscript—at least one week, preferably one month or more. Then print it out and work from the print version. Read it aloud—to kids the age of your target audience—and have someone else read it to you ten times! Listen for areas to be trimmed, for repetition or redundancy of words and phrases, and check the meter and rhyme (if verse). Make it reader-proof.

Carol Boston Weatherford – Picturing a Book

Try different tenses to see how tense affects narrative impact. No one tense works best all the time; it depends on the narrative. Regardless of the tense though, verbs draw readers into the action, create suspense, and advance the plot.

Matt de la Peña – Finding the Music in Your Storytelling Voice

Not only [does] every word count, but every sound…. You’re not going to make music with your words on the first try.

Laura Backes – Purpose without Preaching

Go through your manuscript and highlight all scenes where your book’s purpose, or theme, takes center stage. Notice how that theme is communicated to the reader in each scene. Revise scenes so the character’s actions and thought process gradually change because of the previous events in the story. Don’t fall into the trap of being the master puppeteer of your characters, forcing them to act in ways that aren’t a natural outcome of the life experience they gained in the story.

Steve Swinburne – STEAM power! Bringing Nonfiction Picture Books to Life

Put a clearer picture in the reader’s mind by using concrete information and replacing general words with specific words. Instead of writing, “Steve likes candy,” try “Steve likes M & M peanuts.” Or, better yet, go for a stronger verb: “Steve adores M&M peanuts.” Instead of writing, “The wolf looks angry,” which is a sentence that tells, write “The wolf’s lips curled, revealing sharp teeth,” which shows the reader what is happening and how angry the wolf is. Make interesting details and strong verbs your friend!

Julie Hedlund – The Verse Curse

Oftentimes when we’re writing in rhyme, we twist and contort words and sentences to make the rhyme work, which only makes it sound unnatural and not fun to read. What you want to do is read, read, read tons of rhyming picture books. Practice by scanning bestselling rhyming books. Then scan your own work. Revise, revise, revise.

Renée LaTulippe – From Drab to Fab: Ridding Your Writing of Ho-Hummery

[After you revise] check every draft to be sure that:

  • Repetitive words have been cut unless critical to the rhythm and story.
  • Qualifying words like really, nearly, seems, almost, quiet, etc. are kept to a minimum.
  • Sentences are concise and each one moves the story forward.

Katie Davis – The Power of Pacing

Humans are so visual that the pictures in picture books can often obscure the amazing craft in the text. To get around this, remember that the act of typing out great texts tends gives you insight into how and why the books work. Get a pile of mentor books [and] type out your very favorite (recent!) picture book texts.

Adam Rex – Dissecting the Frog: We’re Going to Try to Analyze Humor, God Help Us.

My goal when I write is for no sentence to do only one thing. A sentence will convey information, but it may also be structured so as to have a pleasant rhythm and that adds something too: rhythm within the sentence itself, or possibly [because it’s a long or very short sentence] to balance out the rhythm of the entire paragraph in which it appears.

Jane Yolen – How to be Prolific

If [an editor or agent] actually sends you a letter that says, “There’s so much I like about this book, would you be willing to revise it?” Your first answer should always be, “Yes, I can.”

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Shared from the website Picture Book Summit