Sunday, December 12, 2010

When is Your Picture Book Manuscript Ready?

We all struggle with the answer to this question, whether it's a picture book, or not. In fact, Quinn of seeing, dreaming...writing, started a great little debate on the topic, titled Writers Revise. He mentions how we all revise differently, as we all write differently. Some of us only revise three times, while others of us revise thirty-three times. It depends on how you define revision, too. Some may see changing four or five words in a PB ms as a revision at its final stages. Others may see it as simply a polish up. No matter how you look at it, PB writers know that every word counts. Maybe that's why some of us revise more often than several YA writers. Or maybe it's all in the personal style. Yet, it really doesn't matter.

Shrunken Picture Books, Photo by Rita Crayon Huang
Shrunken Picture Books,
Photo by Rita Crayon Huang
As I was pondering this topic, I did a Google search for "revision for picture book manuscripts." I discovered a great site: Fict!on Notes, Believe in Your Story. This picture is from the article "How I Shrunk My Picture Book Manuscript - And Why I'll Do It Again" by Lee Wind. It seems like a similar technique that Ann Whitford Paul describes in her Writing Picture Books. Even this clever info I stumbled upon was just not the answer I'm looking for.

So what is the question?

When I think a ms is ready, and I send it to my critique group, and they STILL say, "It's close," should I just go with my gut and send it out anyway? I would LOVE for someone to say, "It's ready! Send that baby out!" The bad thing is, the suggestions they give me for revision actually make sense. And the ones that I agree with, I DO go ahead and make those changes. I don't make any changes just because someone suggests it; I'll only make a change if I actually agree with their suggestions. Honestly, I don't know when a ms is ready to send out. If I could just get ONE person to tell me to go for it, then I would feel confident in my feeling of it being ready. I have a PB ms that has gone through nearly 20 tweaks. What then?

It's not so much that I'm afraid to send it out; I'm not. But PB mss are uniquely special. They have to be more "perfect" than any other genre. They're short. They have to speak. Every time I think it's perfect, I'll get ideas from others to make it better. And it truly does get better, like exciting-better! But it keeps happening! At what point do I finally say, "Enough is enough. It's as good as I can make it. Who cares what anyone else says about it! I'm sending it out!"

How to Analyze a Picture Book with a Story Board


So, if you're loving your ms, but not so much that it's hard to make ANY changes, and you feel like you're staying true to the story you are trying to tell, and everyone's suggestions are minor, then perhaps it is time. Like Quinn pointed out, even the editor will have you revising again and again. But is it really that easy? How do YOU know when your ms is ready despite others still staying "it's close"?


  1. I sure wish I could tell you. Especially since I had one I thought was done, started subbing, and then was told by two different agents that it was good but not really done (if done means that it would sell).

    My gut told me, after a rejection and two non-responses, that it wasn't done, which is why I asked for more feedback. But I'm still glad I started sending it out. Sometimes that's the only way to know. That and you keep learning and growing as a writer. So one person's "done" is another's "getting close."

    Oh if only there were a no-fail answer to this question. I'll be checking back on the comments to see if anyone has one! LOL

  2. Also, for the record, I don't think the number of revisions counts much for whether a piece is done or not. Because it depends so much on where it (and you as the writer) started from, what format is being used (rhyme, prose, combo), etc. I'm sure I've done 100 on one of my pieces and it's still a work in progress. Others will (I hope) require far fewer revisions. As I learn more about writing, I won't always make the same newbie mistakes I did on the first few manuscripts out of the gate.

    Also, sometimes it takes many drafts just to figure out what story it is you are trying to tell.

  3. Great topic. I think it's like you said. Go with your gut, then listen to the feedback (like Julie said) that you get from the agents/editors you send it to (assuming you get some---if you don't, that might be an answer, too).

    I read an article on editing novels, and at the end she said something to the effect of 'you'll get other ideas as you go through the editing process. Write them down, but resist the urge to put them in the current work. Writer's write a book, then write another book, then another. If you can't let go of the first one, you'll never hit that second step (writing ANOTHER book).'

    Obviously, if you get feedback that would make your pb stunningly better, that's different that changing a whole novel, but you have to let go some time. Even of a picture book.

    Good luck to you!

  4. Oh this is such a struggle! I think my current stance is that I'm done when I LOVE the manuscript all the way through, my lovely critique partners are down to just suggesting "polishing" notes, and I can write a great log line for it and feel confident in that as well. I'm still a baby writer though, so I'm sure my criteria will change as I go along!

  5. Oh, that's a really good question. I don't think there's a simple answer. I have a MG that I thought was "done", (even though the nagging voice in the back of my head said maybe not.) When I started getting rejections, I realized it still needed work. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities that I would never have realied if I hadn't submitted it and been rejected.

  6. VERY good question! I agree with Megan - probably when it comes down to "polishing" notes. There will always be crit partners who aren't into your style or voice, we have to learn to take that into account.

    But you are so right - it seems that often their suggestions make sense. I think that deep down we know. We may really like a passage, but visualize it as a gray spot, it seems to be reaching out for help of some sort. My problem is that revising one spot means a complete re-write, and then I get another good idea and BLAH, I need to do what Janet suggested and take notes for other projects. :)

  7. Thanks for all your encouraging comments. May we all continue to grow as writers, and especially to know when our "babies" are ready to soar!

  8. I also agree with Megan. When I absolutely adore one of my stories and feel that I would actually buy it,that's when I'll send it out.

    The problem with waiting for it to be done in a crit group is that writers will ALWAYS suggest ways to make a story better. That's what we do. I can always think of ways that I'd change one of my buddy's stories, even if I think it's fantastic. I even read books that are pubbed and think about how I'd make it better. If you gals think about it, I bet you do too. So I wouldn't necessarily wait for my crit buddies' approval. You have to go with your gut. And, also, when I'm looking at a story that I feel my fellow crit buddy should send out, I just tell them. I hope that's good buddy etiquette!?!

    P.S. Sorry for all the deletes. I'm a deleter. And a comma splicer:)

  9. I'm all for the good buddy etiquette. We can all polish until the sun shines, we need to know when it is almost there. Such a hard one to know by yourself. It's so great we are all getting to similar stages at the same time :)
    And I have decreased number of drafts I do now that I know more about writing.

  10. Jessica, that is good that you tell your crit buddies to send out their mss when you think it's good enough, even though you could still suggest an improvement!
    Catherine, it is a good feeling to know that we are all improving.


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