Picture book and middle grades novel writer Robyn Campbell joins us today to talk about the tough business of picture books:

By Robyn Campbell

Stacy, thank you for this opportunity and a huge thanks for your month of PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) posts.

Writing Picture Books is Not for Wimps!

            “Writing a picture book is like writing ‘War and Peace’ in Haiku.” Mem Fox (Isn’t that cool?)

As I talked on the phone with a man (who is in publishing and shall remain nameless), he mentioned that anyone could write a ten page picture book. (He doesn’t understand that ten pages makes for a long picture book.) This man thinks it is the novel writers who flex their muscles daily. To say I was not amused is a definite understatement. I mean, I write novels too. But. I know that not everyone can write a picture book. Over these last few years I’ve met a lot of folks who think they can though. Have you ever told someone you write picture books and heard them answer with, “I’ve been meaning to sit down one afternoon and write one?”  *cringe*

Let’s face it. The majority of the population will never write a picture book. Never. And of those who do, most will not be published. I saved this onto my computer to look at every so often about a year ago. It reminds me of why I write and who I write for. If I didn’t love doing it, I definitely wouldn’t. It’s from the site of Elizabeth O. Dulemba:
  •  81% of the population feels they have a book inside them . . .
  •  20% would do a picture book, cookbook, etc.
  •  6 million have written a manuscript.
  •  6 million manuscripts are making the rounds.
  •  Out of every 10,000 children’s books, 3 get published.”
  •   – Jerrold Jenkins. 15 May 99.

 More tough news. A common misconception is that all published authors must be rich. So, is there money in it? The stats are as follows. In all the arts:
  • 3% make the ‘big bucks’ (these are the creators most people have heard of).
  • 12% make enough to live on (and boy is that relative).
  • 85% make under $10,000 to $12,000 a year.

This should show us that we are not in this to make gobs of money. *sob* We’re doing it because we love the little kiddies of the world and because we love to write. That’s it, period.

Yet most people feel they have a picture book inside them. Go ahead. Ask some folks you see at the grocery store or doctor’s office. You will soon discover that a lot of folks think our job is easy peasy.

So it’s PiBoIdMo! We’re reading all these excellent posts about ideas and coming up with about fifty new ones every day. *wink* We’re dreaming about our $50,000.00 advance on our next picture book that we’re going to write and how Nickelodeon will turn our book into the next big preschool cartoon.  And that’s more money. *slaps face* Sorry. I have this dream every day.  

I am going to ask you a very important question in a moment. But first, think back to the man I talked about at the beginning of this post. He said that everything you work for, every story you write, can be easily written by someone else. Not just someone else, anyone else. I don’t think he had the right to say this. If I told you who he was we could always go all ninja on him. *evil smile* But I won’t. What I will tell you is this. Never let anybody dis what you do. Just politely remind them that if they think they can write a picture book then that is what they should do. Do suggest they be prepared for a lot of criticism and a lot of rewrites. Tell them that writing picture books is not for wimps.

And now for that question: What are you going to do with all those ideas?


Robyn Campbell writes picture books and middle grade novels. She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her family and assorted farm creatures. When she is not writing down at the barn, she is sure to be found on one of her horses or taking an early morning run. Robyn believes boys need more books and has several of them stirring and whirling in her computer and in her head. You can find her blogging at Putting Pen To Paper.

Stacy here — So glad Robyn joined us today. You can also find her on Twitter @authorswrite.