Great critique groups are priceless! I can’t imagine being a writer without having at least one or two amazing, supportive groups.
I'm the Critique Group Coordinator for SCBWI FL and have had requests for some kind of checklist/info to help new groups share helpful feedback. I put this together fairly quickly and would LOVE additional resources and tips so this can help as many picture book critique groups as possible--we need more amazing PBs in the world!
If you’re able to read a manuscript in advance, it helps to give feedback on the first read through, then read the manuscript at least one more time paying closer attention to details before making additional notes.
Give overall notes up top once you’re finished making line comments. The sandwich method works great:
- List one or more positives (yay!)
- Here is the meat of your critique—areas your feedback can help strengthen.
- Finish with another positive (we pour our hearts into our work, so a little verbal hug at the end of a critique goes a long way).
The beginning of a picture book needs to entice readers to take the journey.
Saggy middles can cause readers to stop mid-way through.
Endings need to dazzle enough to entice parents, teachers, etc. to pay $17ish instead of reading a book once and moving on to the next.
- Does the beginning immediately draw you into the book? Is it unique?
- Does the middle sag?
- Does the ending have an unexpected twist, surprise, or that extra something special that will make people want to read the book again and again?
- Is the overall concept unique enough for the current market? What could make it stand out more?
- Is the story relatable to children—typically between ages 4 – 8 (unless it’s a board book or shorter book aimed at younger children)?
Important things to keep an eye out for:
- Mark areas that are awkward, unclear, or don’t sparkle as much as they should.
- Show where text can be streamlined or the pace drags.
- Is there enough unique illustration bait for an entire PB (typically 32 pages, but some are 40, etc.) The text should inspire unique illustrations, not say exactly what is in them.
- In a PB with a typical arc, do you know who the MC is, what he/she wants, and what gets in the way? Do we see several trials/failures to achieve this goal? (The magic number for PB is often 3, sometimes 7 works well.)
- Is the text fun and easy to read out loud? Every
- For a fiction PB, is it 500 words or less? Can more be shaved off without losing the heart and voice of the book? (If you can tell your story without losing the fun re-readability factor in 400 or even 300 or less words, go for it—sparse text is appreciated by busy parents who will read favorite books a zillion times).
Positives help a lot, too! They not only give writers much-needed encouragement but help them recognize their strengths and areas they might not want to change as much as others.
- Mark areas that make you laugh! Use your own style. LOL. 😊 Ha.
- Show spots that make you tear up or feel the emotion. (Yay, these are golden.)
- Which text sings the most? What’s the most fun to say out loud?
- Is there a line you love so much, the author might want to use it as a refrain throughout the book? Kids love fun refrains!
- Do you love the characters? Is there anything they say/do you’d like to see more of?
- Do parts of the book pop into your mind long after you read it?
* The balance of illustrations and text isn’t easy to accomplish—you need to make sure editors/agents can understand your text yet leave enough room for an illustrator to add amazing pictures that will take your book to another level and do more than just mirror the text. Some examples of things you typically don’t need to tell in text (unless it’s extremely important to the story and not just your vision of it):
- Descriptions of your character’s appearance
- Step by step descriptions: He walked down the stairs, into the kitchen, reached out his right hand to open the fridge and took out…
12x12PB--This is an incredible community of writers and illustrators with the goal to write and revise a picture book each month (it's okay if you don't do both...but great motivation to at least revise). I'm thrilled that it pushed me to write 12 new PBs in 2019 and I hope I'll write 12 new ones this year. You never know when you'll strike gold! It has an active forum and supportive Facebook group where you can ask questions 24/7. It also has an extremely active critique section on the forum (and the opportunity to receive at least one Ninja critique each year from a professional author). One of my favorite parts of 12x12 are the incredibly monthly webinars with speakers like Mac Barnett and Heidi Stemple. I love how members support each other and celebrate good news.
*Registration for 12x12PB closes in January...so if you miss it, mark your calendar for next year.
#PBChat – I look forward to this Twitter chat with Justin Colon every other Wednesday starting at 9pm EST (if you can’t make it live, you can participate when you have time). It’s such a supportive, helpful community with writers and illustrators at all stages of their careers participating. Sometimes, he has authors/illustrators/agents/editors as special guests!
- Hop onto the #PBChat feed-make sure you’re viewing Latest, not Top Tweets: https://twitter.com/hashtag/pbchat?f=tweets&vertical=default&src=hash
- Justin posts graphic cards to generate the discussions, so it helps to keep an eye on his feed, too. You can look at Tweets & Replies or Media: https://twitter.com/JustinRColon/with_replies
- To join in the fun, make sure your tweet has #PBChat in it so others will see it in the feed.
Josh Funk's Guide to Writing Picture Books
Picture Book Dummy, Picture Book Construction: Know Your Layout – Tara Lazar
Free Picture Book Thumbnail Templates for Writers and Illustrators – Debbie Ohi
Every Picture Book Author Should Make a Storyboard
Picture Book Resources from Kidlit 411
Resources listed by Justin Colon, founder of #PBChat—the ones with an asterisk specifically apply to picture books.
Picture Book Workshops
Joyce Sweeney has helped over 61 writers become traditionally published and has an amazing On Demand 10 week PB workshop called Picture Book Essentials covering all aspects of writing a picture book.
Favorite PB Writing Books
WRITING PICTURE BOOKS By Ann Whitford Paul is one of my favorite craft books! Critique groups can read it and work on the amazing exercises together.
Please share more amazing resources in the comments. :)