Nancy's Books

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Picture Book Revision, part 2

            Tips on revision, continued:

My thought processes rely heavily on verbs that don’t show action: is, are, was, were…. In revision, I eliminate many of the non-action verbs and replace them with other verbs that paint a specific picture (pedaled, skipped, barked). Action verbs don’t need modifiers, so fewer words are needed to describe the scene.
Add rhythm. Alliteration (fog floated) makes the prose livelier. Onamonapia (bumpty-bump) adds a beat that sounds like poetry when read aloud. Rhythm is how the words connect, a rise and fall of the phrases and sentences.
Less dialog. Picture books don’t rely heavily on dialog. Usually, dialog is no more than 1/3 of the text, often much less. Rather than conversations, use action scenes that can be illustrated with the narrator relating the action. The targeted audience is young children who prefer fast action to character conversation, which often slows the action. Of course, this is a general rule. Some books have no dialog, and some are all dialog.
Let the illustrations tell part of the story. Picture book writers have to think visually. When I write a first draft, I include scenes that describe illustrations. In revision, I study each word, phrase, and sentence; then, delete everything down to the bare action. Sometimes I cut so much, I have to add it again to make the story understandable. Picture books are short and the stories are to the point.
Every page in the book must show action and the pace is usually fast. After writing the first draft, I divide the manuscript into 13 scenes. Each scene must show action. If not, more revision is required.
Next week, I’ll add more tips.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Narrative is strongly committed to supporting our authors’ work. Our current rates for work are as follows:—$150 for a Story of the Week, with $400 each for the annual Top Five Stories of the Week.
—$150 to $350 for 500 to 2,000 word manuscripts.
—$350 to $1,000 for 2,000 to 15,000 word manuscripts.
—Rates for book-length works vary, depending on the length and nature of the work.
—$50 minimum for each accepted poem and audio piece. ($25 for poetry reprints.)
—$200 each for the annual Top Five Poems of the Week.FIRESIDE
Submission guidelines at

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Picture Book Revision, part 1

           Whew! The first draft is finished looks more like a lump of coal than a polished gem, but coal is good. The revision process starts now. Here are some “coal” hard facts:

The manuscript needs structure with a tight arc that clearly defines the beginning, middle, and ending. Many picture books suffer from an ending that’s too short or a beginning that’s too long. Writers accomplish this with a setup of three obstacles the character must face, each obstacle increasing in difficulty and leading toward a climax. Ideally, the beginning is about 20% of the manuscript, the middle is 60%, and the ending is 20%.
Here’s a burning question I always ask myself: Does the character accomplish what s/he sets out to do and without intervention by an adult? If not, rethink the plot.
Condensed writing. Keep the story less than 600 words, under 500 words is preferable with many publishers. The key to tight writing is to cut, cut, cut words. If the words don’t promote the plot or develop the character, axe them. Every word must help tell the story. Chop words that don’t paint pictures: it, there, just, that.
Allow illustrations to work for you. Since I’m not a writer, I have to constantly think about what can be shown with art. Facial expressions, color of clothes, etc. Think visually.
Burning question number 2: Have I communicated a particular idea? If so, it doesn’t need to be repeated, unless I’m using a repetition phrase intentionally for the purpose of rhythm and storytelling.
In my next blog, I’ll continue with more tips on how to polish that lump into a gem.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
HIGHLIGHTS MAGAZINE. Highlights for Children is a general-interest, advertising-free magazine for children up to age 12. Stories for younger readers (ages 3 to 7) should have 500 words or fewer and should not seem babyish to older readers. Stories for older readers (ages 8 to 12) should have 800 words or fewer and should be appealing to younger readers if read aloud. Frequent needs include humor, mystery, sports, holiday and adventure stories; retellings of traditional tales; stories with urban settings; and stories that feature world cultures. Payment $150 and up. Rebuses should have 120 words or fewer. Pays $100 and up. Nonfiction pays $150 and up.

Submission guidelines at

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at