Nancy's Books

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thinking in Pictures/Calls for Submissions

The sage words of poet Frank O’Hara: “If you think in pictures, write. If you think in words, paint.”

O’Hara’s words may seems strange, but if you’re writing picture books, thinking visually is critical. Picture books are composed of about 14-15 spreads. The scenes are pieces of action that are shown not only through words but pictures. Each written scene must have enough action to create an illustration.

Many of the visual details of a picture book are not in the text. Since the story is told in both words and pictures, elements that can be illustrated don’t belong in the words. The illustrations carry the story beyond the words. As a writer creates a story, consider the visual details of each spread. Each spread will become a page of the picture book. Picture books are 32 pages and 28 of those pages are devoted to the story. Approximately 28 pages or 14 spreads become the text and illustrations. [The other three pages are used for title and publication information.]

Limit the details. Illustrations will show the color of the dress or the furniture in the room so these details aren’t needed. Concise, sensory writing with loads of action is needed for 14-15 spreads.

Keep the amount of text equally spread among the pages.

When the text is finished, divide the manuscript into 14 spreads. Is there enough action in each spread for an illustration and to keep the reader interested? Is the amount of text per page about the same?

What must be told in words and what can be told through illustrations? Those are two questions I ask with every line I write. Think visually when writing picture books and see how your writing changes.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers

The Cincinnati Review
CURRENT NEEDS: "Really, all we'd like is your best work, a
brief cover letter, and a SASE so we can send you our
response." Pays $30/page for poetry, and for fiction(max of
40 pages)/expository prose (max of 40 pages) $25/page.

Call for Submissions for Student Writers

Young Voices
PO Box 2321
Olympia, WA 98507
Quarterly publication. stories, poems, art and essays.

Check out more contests on my blog:


  1. Great picture book post! Love the information.

  2. The Frank O'Hara quote makes a lot of sense. The collage of your picture books is great.
    And thanks for the submission links.
    Donna V.