Picture Book Writing: Navigating the Waters


My postcard for the SCBWI Winter Conference.

I just returned from three wonderful 40-degree days at the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC. Came home to sub-zero temperatures feeling inspired, overwhelmed, determined, discouraged, encouraged . . . you get the picture.

First, a brief update on the book dummy I started working on in June: I was hopelessly stuck after my critique with Lisa and Laura from Mentors for Rent (great resource–highly recommend!); their comments were insightful and valid but I just could not navigate the changes. I was stuck in a snow drift without that box of kitty litter in the trunk of my car–spinning my tires and getting absolutely, positively nowhere.

So I did the best thing I could do–I tucked that story away and started on a completely different one. This time, I chose to work on text only–no pictures until I had a solid draft. Still working on revisions to that manuscript, but it is moving along nicely.

I decided to use SCBWI conferences as my mileposts, determined to schedule both a manuscript review and / or a portfolio review whenever possible–providing me with two things I desperately need: 1) deadlines and 2) accountability.

At the SCBWI Minnesota Regional Conference in October, I signed up for a portfolio review, and totally lucked out with a review by the amazingly talented Dan Yaccarino.

When I mentioned my stalled book dummy to Dan, he suggested an assignment he gives his illustration students: sketch a wordless book. This was great advice, as I could concentrate on structure and the visual storytelling without tripping myself up on the language (for now). This was the box of kitty litter I needed to get out of that snowdrift. I pulled out the old sketches, omitted the text, dumped the items that complicated the message and came up with a simpler story. Nothing earth-shattering, but still a great exercise in character development, pacing, and composition. Best of all, after many hours of refinements, I could include it in my portfolio for the Portfolio Showcase at the SCBWI Winter Conference.

Two spreads from the dummy (my postcard was my color sample):

Wednesday-Nancy-Meyers-1 Wednesday-Nancy-Meyers-3

So did any art directors pause to page through all 32 pages of that little dummy tucked in the last sleeve of my portfolio, one of 200 portfolios lined up on dozens of tables? Honestly, I doubt it. But it was still a very necessary step for me, and I don’t regret all the effort. At past conferences, I would obsessively count my promotional postcards before I dropped off my book, then count them again at exactly 9 p.m., after the industry professionals cleared out and before fellow illustrators filed in, to see how many cards had been taken. I would set a number in my head, a made-up number that would somehow–to me–equate to success or failure.

But this year I didn’t count postcards. Whoever opened my portfolio wanted to look inside, and that’s ok by me. The Portfolio Showcase was a success for me because I created a slew of new images over that last two years and I finally had that dummy exercise under my belt.

Dory said it best: “Just keep swimming . . . .”

So I’m swimming on to my next milepost–the SCBWI New England Conference in May–committed to drawing every day–the most consistent piece of advice from multiple speakers at the NYC conference. I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

Side note: If anyone is planning a trip to NYC, be sure to check out the fantastic (and free!) exhibit on children’s books The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter at the New York Public Library.

3 responses to “Picture Book Writing: Navigating the Waters

  1. This is a book. Not a book dummy. Even if words fail you, the illustrations never do. Your talent champions every “deadline.” It’s all the “accountability” you need.

  2. Thanks so much…”keep swimming”!

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