Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 13, 2010

Thoughts From An Aspiring Picture Book Author

Lelise Zampetti e-mailed me with what she had to say about the New York Times article and the picture market, which was the topic of yesterday’s post.  I thought you would enjoy reading it. 

Leslie is a former corporate librarian turned children’s librarian who now writes picture books and volunteers at her daughter’s school library.  She has a blog, which she uses as a way to get writing when she doesn’t have any story ideas or is bogged down in a revision.  

She says, “It’s a way to get my butt in the seat and writing (thus the title- Rear in Gear).  I use it for work in progress and random musings about literature, books, writing, and reading.” 

Here is Leslie’s article:

The New York Times claims the picture book is dead.  Depressing as the news is for those of us writing picture books, I’m taking it with a large grain of salt.  My take on the subject?

1)  It’s the economy, stupid. Picture books are quite expensive.  Most run $18- $25 in bookstores, and few are released in a paperback edition unless they’ve become a “book club” book from Scholastic, et al. or are related to a movie, cartoon character , or other tie-in.  When the economy recovers, so will picture book sales.  What goes down must come up!

2)  It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Pundits have been predicting the death of print for several years now.  Funny – still plenty of books, magazines, and newspapers in print.  While the numbers of folks buying and using e-readers of all stripes is increasing, there are still many people who prefer print or can’t afford an e-reader.   Which brings me to:

3)  A library is a storehouse of medicine for the mind. While libraries have been testing e-books as a library resource both with and without the e-reader itself, they haven’t come close to replacing books as the main resource.  And as long as libraries keep buying hardcopy books, even if they reduce the number of copies or titles, well, publishers will keep publishing ‘em in print.

4) One picture is worth 1,000 words. A picture book is literally a work of art.  A portable, affordable piece of original art.  Various pressures may push children away from picture books, as claimed by the Times, but children – and adults – love to look at picture books.  If the illustrations making up many of these books were created as individual pieces, many would  be hanging in museums.

6) Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  If the main reason children are avoiding picture books is the impression that “they’re for babies,” perhaps the time has come to return to ‘picture storybooks.’  Picture books with plenty of words and rich language and a complex story that can’t be told primarily through the art.  You know, the ones that authors are told now “won’t sell.”  What’s next?  Graphic novels get the boot, too?  Hmm, seems they’re gaining in popularity.  Guess what?  Graphic novels are picture books all grown up!

My (Leslie’s) final comment?  Stop pushing children into chapter books.  You want to know why Johnny can’t read?  You didn’t give him the time and space to learn. The belief that picture books are easier is erroneous; many popular picture books are actually written at a third-grade reading level.  Picture books help a child gain critical thinking skills, which in turn helps them become more confident readers.  Just because a child can read the words doesn’t mean they understand them.  What’s wrong with a little artistic help?  A little color?  A little more nonverbal humor?

So, me, I’m still plugging away at my picture book manuscripts.  And I hope my colleagues, published and unpublished, do the same.

I think we all should keep plugging away.  Many of the writers I know have been successful selling their picture books this past year.  Will picture books change, while publishers are trying to figure out this new digitsl age?  Yes, but that doesn’t mean writers should abandon their passion to write those beautiful picture books.  I don’t even have a child that age, but I buy picture books all the time.  Surely the publishers will want to keep all the people like me and the rest of us out there who love picture books.

Also, thank you to everyone who commented on yesterday’s post.  Everyone made great points. 

Leslie sent me something she wrote to remind her to keep writing.  I thought I would share it with you.

Here it is:

Never say never.  It’s true, you know.  

I said I’d never write again.  Nothing to say!  No time!  Not creative enough! 

Now I’m writing again – three picture book manuscripts completed, two in revision, and starting to submit for publication.

I said I’d never work as a public librarian.

After my daughter was born, I went back to work part-time at my local library as a reference librarian.  I loved it.

I said I’d never move to New York.  Too many people!  Too expensive!  Not enough green space.

Now I’m living in New York City next door to Central Park and enjoying it.


I’m never going to be published.  Too many good writers out there!  Too hard to break in!  Not enough persistence!

Wait a minute.  I have plenty of persistence. 

I decided I’d go to Wake Forest University for college – and I did.  I decided to become a librarian – and I did.  I decided to become a radio DJ, write a novella, live in Italy, buy a house on my own, get married, go to Hawaii, have a child, and buy many, many, many pairs of shoes along the way.  And I did all of those things sometime in the past 25 years.

I’m going to be published.  Someday.  It may take another 25 years, but I’m working on it.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. People used to spout PB publication statistics at me all the time. You know what I said? “I’m really bad at math AND I’m not listening to you. LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!” You go, Leslie!


  2. What a WONderful blog, Kathy! I just signed up for Leslie’s too 🙂 so thank you.

    She made some great, informed comments, and I agree with her. It was very comforting to hear what she had to say. So many things are changing in the publishing industry, seemingly for the worse (at least in my opinion), that isn’t related to the economy, but the “times”. Parents’ attitudes, if they are pushing their kids too quickly, they are at fault and the kids will lose out.

    One point Leslie made that I TOTALLY agree with and will second with a mountain-top voice, is that the skimpy word counts that are pushed on us has gotten out of hand over the years. I’d love to read and write more meaty stories 🙂 As I’ve said before: kids have an attention span as long as they’re engaged!


  3. Wondeful blog and I read it at the most opportune time for me. You made me run down the list of things
    I’ve accomplished and made me realize that I can
    write and will write again.


  4. What a great response from Leslie – I’m with her! And I hope children’s book publishers are, too.


  5. Amen, Leslie! Thanks for sharing your persistence in meeting your goals. I have no doubt you’ll soon be published!


  6. I made my first picture book when I was 14. I published my first picture book when I was 50. It can happen (but I don’t want to wait another 36 years!).


  7. Great article! Thanks, Leslie and Kathy.
    I just want to add that we should all go out and buy a picture book — show them that we are not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. Lynne Marie


  8. Wonderful, Kathy and Leslie! I couldn’t agree more.

    As an aside, I buy picture books for my kids AND for adults all the time. When I graduated from college, somebody bought me “Oh! The Places You Will Go”. Picture books resonate with people of all ages.


  9. absolutely wonderful and true! it is all about making the magic happen, inspiring kids, each other making dreams accessible, and picture books do that, good ones enable the reader to follow the story and also use it and the pictures as departure points for encouraging imagination in kids and ourselves….bravo Leslie!


  10. Leslie makes wonderful points and Picture Books are works of art, actually many works of art. I was at a mainstream bookseller this week and was disappointed to see all the super hero, disney, etc. in the main display and the (other) Picture Books over to the side. Guess where the people actually picking them up and looking were? Yep, not looking at Superman (although I like him myself).

    Our Nevada SCBWI conference is this weekend and I’m curious to feel the atmosphere after the NYT article.


  11. I never thought I would meet Sheryl Crow before…but I did! I did many things that I did not believe would ever happen but they did! You are so right…I wonder why I stopped thinking that anything I set my mind to would be possible…

    Thank you for the nice reminder!


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