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Becoming a Picture Book Author

Pamela Butchart

Pamela Butchart is a children's picture book author for Bloomsbury, and a young fiction author for Nosy Crow. Here, she tells us her route to getting published, what it's like being published by two different publishing houses at the same time and why she thinks writers' conferences are a great way to get your work out there. 

I’d always loved picture books and often bought them for myself, as well as receiving them as gifts from my family and friends. I used to think about how brilliant it would be to be able to write my own picture book, but alas, I was definitely not an illustrator (my stick people = injured sausages). 

It wasn’t until my fiancé gave me How to Write for Children by Louise Jordan for my birthday three years ago that I realised I possibly COULD write picture books. As soon as I reached page 16 and read that lots of picture books have a separate writer and illustrator, my life would never be the same again! I started writing the very next day, and haven’t stopped since.

After about four months of intense research, reading and writing, I knew that I needed some professional feedback.  It was now time to approach someone in the industry to gain feedback and improve.

Whilst researching how best to do this, I came across the Winchester Writer’s Conference. I found out that (for a small fee) you could submit your writing for competition, and that each piece of writing entered would be returned with detailed editorial comments.  This was exactly what I was looking for.  There was also the option of submitting further pieces of writing to your choice of industry professionals, such as literary agents, editors, and publishers, and to attend the conference and have a one-on-one meeting with them to discuss your work – perfect!  So (after a bit of scrimping) I booked my place at the conference and took a train down to Winchester.

My very first meeting was with a literary agent called Becky Bagnell.  I was terrified. Thankfully, Becky liked my work, and seemed to enjoy my quirky sense of humour (phew).  Afterwards, I met with lots of wonderful people in the industry – all of whom were very friendly and gave me lots of great advice.

On the second day of the conference, I discovered that one of my picture book texts had been placed 1st in the picture book competition, and that another of my texts had been commended. After that, everything just took off from there!

I returned from the buzz and excitement of Winchester, and within a couple of days, Becky offered to represent me as my agent, and we got to work preparing my texts for submission.  When Becky got in touch to let me know that Bloomsbury wanted to publish my first picture book, I was over the moon.

While preparing my picture book texts for submission, I also started to write my first young fiction novel, following a suggestion from Barry Cunningham, Publisher and Managing Director of Chicken House, at the conference. Although my first young fiction book wasn’t quite right for my own publisher, Bloomsbury, at the time, my agent sent it out to Nosy Crow, who happened to be looking for something exactly like ‘Baby Aliens Got My Teacher’ and Kate Wilson made me a 3-book offer right away – fantastic!

I have continued to have a brilliant time working with both my editor at Bloomsbury, and at Nosy Crow, and now have further 6 pictures books under contract with Bloomsbury and a further 4 fiction titles with Nosy Crow (which is a little bit too exciting, and sometimes causes me to spontaneously squeal). 

It’s worked out really well for me having my pictures books with one publisher and my fiction with another.  It’s also been really interesting to experience working with both a large and smaller publisher.  

Bizarrely, both books ended up being published on the same day – 9th Jan 2014! 

Hopefully, my experience will help to show aspiring authors that just because something isn’t quite right for one publisher, doesn’t necessarily mean that it that it won’t be right for another.  A publisher may already have something similar on their list, be looking for something quite different at that point in time, or it may just be a case of finding the right person who loves your book as much as you do.

Luck definitely played a part in my becoming published - however, hard work, determination and having the confidence to put myself out there are the things that led me to being noticed at Winchester.  

My advice to anyone aiming to be published is to read and write as much as possible and to do your research. I suggest that you know what children are actually reading and what’s working well. My advice would be to read as many books as possible written for children, specifically within the age range you are interested in (it’s the best fun ever!). This will help you to understand what works and why, and to make your own texts stronger.

In terms of gaining feedback and approaching industry professionals, I would recommend reading the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook for further advice.  This was the very next book I purchased shortly after finishing the book my fiancé gave me which started everything off.  The Yearbook proved to be an invaluable resource, packed full of practical information and advice.  It really helped me understand what to do next, and is still a book I use today.

I’m also (obviously) a firm advocate of attending conferences and other such events that give you the opportunity to connect with writers and industry experts.    

Finally, it may sound obvious (and maybe even a bit cheesy) but I believe that you should write for yourself. I often read this, but I didn’t fully understand what it meant until I burst out laughing while writing my first young fiction book.  Basically, if you find what you’re writing funny, exciting, or scary, I think that’s a good sign. It means you’re enjoying it. And if you enjoy it, then there’s a good chance others will too.

If you found this useful, take a look at:

Writing for Children: Tips & Advice

How to Create a Fantastic Picture Book

Picture Books: Pictures vs Words

Follow Pamela on Twitter here.

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