Picture Books: Writing in a range of styles

Picture Book writer is residence Rashmi Sirdeshpande

July 2022

On the picture book side, I write a mixed bag and somehow manage to get away with it. I know I’m not alone in loving range and people ask me about it a lot, so I wanted to share some thoughts on it. 

What do I mean by ‘range’?

I mean writing in different styles. For example, I write uplifting non-fiction picture books, funny commercial fiction, and heartfelt lyrical books like Dadaji’s Paintbrush, illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane. I’ve even retold a classic (The Wind in the Willows). 

How do you develop range as a picture book writer? 

Read lots, write lots. I talk a lot about following in the footsteps of the greats. Find your favourites and get a feel for what works and why. And write fearlessly. Step into the unknown and learn to get comfortable with some properly terrible drafting. I’m right there with you by the way. I’m working on a comicsy picture book idea and I actually have nooooo idea how to do it but I’ll figure it out as I go. It’s how I learn and you can too. 

Try it. Face your fears and feel those synapses firing. Best bit about terrible drafting is that no one needs to know.

Should I sub a range of books to an agent? 

Yes, but all the usual rules apply re subbing your best work and books that are a good fit for an agent. Versatility is a great thing to have. And if there are two styles you really adore and they mean a lot to you, you want to make sure you find an agent who gets that and loves you for ALL of it (like mine – hello Lydia!).  

Can I really get away with having ‘range’ in my career as a PB author? 

YES. Next question. No, seriously! If you get an agent, they’ll know how to place your books so that they have the perfect publishing home. Ideally, you’ll have homes for different styles of book. You’ll be paired with different illustrators too and their individual styles mean your books can inhabit totally different worlds – funny, lyrical etc. But here’s the thing. For me at least, something ties the whole portfolio together. And that’s YOU – your unique, clear, strong, sparkling author brand. If you get an agent, your agent will get it, your editors will get it, and when your books are out, people who love your writing will get it too. Your brand tells people what to expect from your work. Make that super solid and you can write in all kinds of directions. Your brand will tie it together. 

Think about it. What’s your brand? Where do you want to take your writing? When you figure that out, take a step into the unknown with me. We’ll make a mess of it but we’ll learn a lot and we’ll figure it all out along the way. 

Want to learn more from Rashmi?

Rashmi is 2022 Picture Book Writer-in-Residence for the Hub, WriteMentor’s community learning platform that connects like-minded storytellers and provides all the tools they need for writing success.

Find out how you can access member-exclusive content delivered by industry experts like Rashmi.

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