Ask an ALAA Agent: Advice for Aspiring Picture Book Authors


This article was first published in the May 2015 edition of The Victorian Writer .

For the May edition of Ask an ALAA Agent Jacinta di Mase, Director of Jacinta di Mase Management, has collated some of the ALAA agents’ top tips for emerging picture book authors.

‘Writing a picture book is like writing “War and Peace” in Haiku.’ – Mem Fox.

Mem also offers tips for writers on her website such as:

Remember that a picture book is 32 pages. In printing, the pages are folded in half, then in 4, then in 8, then in 16, then in 32 which is why the 32-page format still exists. Half of those pages are pictures, so try to keep the word-count under 500 and don’t explain anything that will be made obvious in the artwork. When you’re drafting a picture book it’s useful to make your own 32-page mock-book, called ‘a dummy’, by copying all the features of a real picture book like endpapers, the title page, dedication and publishing information page and so on. It also helps to put the text on each page to see how the page-turns pan out. The page-turns are crucial to success.

Here are top tips from ALAA Agents:

Brian Cook -The Authors’ Agent:
Read Australian books as widely as possible. You are most likely to get a publishing opportunity in your home market first so read, read and read some more.

• Visit children’s bookshops and look at what is on the shelves. How are the sections broken down and presented? Try to obtain a sense of which Australian publishers are doing what sort of books and how they do them.

• Visit your local library and get to know the Children’s Librarian. Ask them to guide you through Australian lists of the past few years. Make sure you know if you are looking at Australian original publications or those from elsewhere. (There is a difference.)

Jacinta di Mase – Jacinta di Mase Management

Think about the number of pages in a picture book and space the text accordingly. Use the page breaks to create suspense, drama, and emphasis. Read it aloud over and over again before submitting it to agents or publishers to ensure that the story flows and that you’re not trying to “shoe-horn” words into the story’s natural rhythm.

Fiona Inglis – Curtis Brown Australia

Contrary to what most unpublished writers think, picture book texts are MUCH harder to write than almost anything else. With a novel of 100,000 words it doesn’t matter if a few of them are not perfect. In a book of 500 words every single word has to be the right one, and in the right place. I believe the most important word in THE GRUFFALO’S CHILD, for instance, is ‘she’. Look it up.

Clare Forster – Curtis Brown Australia

‘Picture-book publishers like to be very involved in the crucial creative pairing of author and illustrator. In many cases, picture books begin with a text only.

If you are writing a text, but don’t intend to illustrate it yourself, it’s most likely the case that the publisher would want to make their own choices about who might illustrate it, and in what style. Naturally these are choices which, if a book is taken on, the publisher talks through with the author (and agent). It’s important not to start out with set ideas or arrangements as to who might illustrate the text.

Some illustrators work with texts by other authors, some are author-illustrators, and some do both kinds of work. We represent many wonderful, award-winning author-illustrators including David Cornish and Lucinda Gifford; in the course of their careers and having different projects on the go, they like to illustrate texts by others, too.’

Debbie Golvan – Golvan Arts Management

Read your text out loud and make it sing.
Note that publishers are mostly NOT interested in work that rhymes.

Writers Victoria publishes 10 issues per year of The Victorian Writer magazine per year. It’s definitely worth subscribing.
See more at:

Writers Victoria

Ask an ALAA Agent: Advice for Aspiring Picture Book Authors