Aleesah Darlison on Picture Books

Time flies when you’re chasing deadlines and cracking revisions – and it’s certainly flown for me. I can’t believe it’s been almost 6 weeks since I flew up to Brisbane to attend the CYA conference. But it’s true…

While there I attended several sessions – and one of those was entitled “Breaking Into Picture Books” with Aleesah Darlison who is defying odds with an amazing run of successes over a very short time. Here’s a point by point rundown on what she had to say. However just before diving in, I just want to remind everyone that Aleesah will be here being interviewed on Friday offering some insights into that success, as well as talking about her new series The Unicorn Riders – and also a reminder that I have some great prizes for October, so anyone who drops by to comment will go into the draw! For now though – enjoy Aleesah’s wisdom!

For someone who has only been published for sixteen months, Aleesah Darlinson is quite literally awesome. Not only has she sold three picture books, two chapter but she has also sold two series, for slightly older readers with a third on the way.

Some of those books are: The Totally Twins Series, The (aforementioned) Unicorn Riders Series, Puggle’s Problem (PB), Warambi (PB) and Bearly There (PB to be released).

 Her advice was specific, supported by lots of personal experience,  and on target for anyone wanting to break into the picture book market, which she described as competitive and hard to crack

Why competitive and hard to crack?

Because Picture Books (PBs)  are very expensive to produce. All publishers gamble on works that they hope to make money on; with picture books that risk is even higher simply because of that initial production outlay  – which is often around $40,000. 

Therefore, one of the first things you must consider when thinking about PB texts, is to ensure you have a strong commercial product to bring to the table.  A product, in other words, that the publishers feel will make them money.

The Puggle Experience: Why did it work?

  • She had something different on offer (At the time there were no other puggle books)
  • There was an issue or problem to be dealt with.
  • There was a subtle lesson woven through the story.
  • It fitted in with the Level One schools curriculum – studying Australian animals. 
  • It was originally entitled ‘Gertie Puggle’ and she doubled her readership by changing him to a boy puggle.

Some PB Facts:

  • Most PBs are 32 pages
  • Board books are 8-16 pages
  • Some PBs are wordless
  • Word count suggestion: 500 – for 5-7 year olds
  •                                        -200-300  for 3 year olds
  • Some are hardcover; some soft. Hardcover more expensive and less common
  • Usually smaller print runs as compared to novels, chapter books etc (1500-2000)
  • Text begins Page 3       
  • Title page  – page 1
  • Imprint page – page 2
  • 14 double page spreads

Advice in a nutshell:

  • Find your niche – hers is animals and nature
  • You do not have to be an illustrator to create the text for a PB
  • If you can link it also to the schools curriculum – even better.
  • Consider making your animal character a male so as not to halve your reading market. Little girls will read about boy animals – little boys not so keen to read about girl animals   
  • Whoever your character is, ensure he or she is unique
  • Characters can be human or animal
  • Animal characters are great as they cross all cultural borders and are all inclusive.
  • Character names are crucial – they tell a lot about the character; choose carefully
  • Every main character must have a problem or issue. It must be:

–          Real

–          Cause tension, drama or humour  

  • Study themes
  • Write something that’s quirky and different so as to attract the attention of the jaded editor.

Possible Themes/Issues  – 5-7 year old 

  • Friends
  • Family
  • School
  • Bullying 
  • Acceptance
  • Pets
  • Moving House
  • Facing Fears

Final Tips

  • Join relevant associations (SCWBI)
  • Attend conferences and festivals
  • Listen to experts
  • Submit works
  • Attend Pitching Sessions

Good information. It was a great session! Don’t forget to pop in and say hi to Aleesah who’s dropping by on her blog tour this Friday. And thank you for hanging around! Good luck with the prizes on offer to celebrate October! You don’t have to anything but leave a comment and you’re in the draw! There’s over $70 value!

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16 Responses to Aleesah Darlison on Picture Books

  1. Annie West says:

    Thanks, Kerri. The world of picture books is fascinating, having spent so many years helping out with reading in my kids’ schools as well as at home. Fascinating about little boys wanting to read about males while girls will read about anyone. Does that mean we’re going to have all children’s books about male characters?

    • Hi Annie

      There’s still plenty of room for books about girls. I’m a girl myself and a true champion for our gender.!But the reality is, that picture books are expensive to produce and expensive to buy. Publishers must have a commercial focus and sometimes that means making sure the WHOLE market wants to buy your book not just half of it. Whenever I take my (girl) books into schools to talk about them I’m made very aware of what boys like to read and what girls like to read. Present to a roomfull of boys and girls and you’ll see how the crowd splits right down the middle. We need books and themes that appeal to both and that engage both. I guess the issue of boys being super-reluctant readers adds to the need for more ‘boy books’ too…. Girls are avid readers across many genres, boys are much more highly selective. It’s just the way it is, unfortunately or otherwise.

      Best wishes

  2. Kerri/Kaz says:

    That’s a good point Annie! I think that question was raised at the end of a session and from memory Aleesah said that if the story is about girl, then it’s about a girl, but with particular regard to animals and in a story where it doesn’t matter, a male character can double your reading audience. I’m sure it’s not the way, we as girls, would like it to be (! LOL) but it might be one of those annoying realisms of our industry. Thank you so much for dropping by – Aleesah will be answering a lot of questions herself on Friday – especially how she’s managed that amazing success rate!

  3. Lorraine says:

    Great blog Kerri, I’ll certainly be reading Friday’s post- thanks for sharing .

    • Kerri/Kaz says:

      Thank you Lorraine – that was a really heartwarming comment. I’m so glad the blog was helpful. And thank you for planning to come back to share the interview. I look forward to seeing you! Thanks again!

  4. Kerri, Aleesah’s books look gorgeous! I always loved reading about animals when I was little, so I imagine kids are just devouring her books.

    And re: male versus female characters. We can always claim that girls are just better at empathising with all people (and that has to make them smarter, doesn’t it?). 🙂

    • Kerri/Kaz says:

      The books are amazing Michelle. Her Warambi book is divine as well. That one’s about little bentwing bat. The colour and illustrations just pop, and with the text it’s a fabulous creative work.

      And I’m definitely with you on the smarter girl thing! LOL!

      Thank you for dropping by! We really appeciate it – and if you have tie tomorrow or over the weekend, her interview is very interesting as well! Hugs!

    • Hi Michelle

      Thanks so much for your comments. I love animals and I love writing about them and sharing them with kids. We need to remember the world belongs to them too! It’s easy to forget when you live in the city and don’t have a lot of exposure to them. Hopefully my books help overcome this problem and bring kids a little closer to the natural world.

      Best wishes

  5. Emma says:

    I love Aleesah’s books. I can’t wait to read the Unicorn Riders. Emma aged 10.

    • Kerri/Kaz says:

      Hi Emma, Aleesah will be so delighted with your comment! It’s very generous of you to pop in to pass on that message! Happy reading and thank you! xx

    • Thanks Emma. Keep an eye out for the Unicorn Riders. Book 1, Quinn’s Riddles is at a special price ($6.50) until January. It’s a bargain and a great way to get into the series.

      Best wishes

  6. Emma says:

    i love your books isabelle

  7. Doz says:

    Great information Kerri! Will drop by at the weekend to read the interview.

  8. Kerri/Kaz says:

    Hi Doz! Very nice of you to drop in. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article/blog. I’ll look forward to seeing you again! Hugs!

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