How a Novelist Learned to Write Picture Books by Anna Staniszewski

My friend and agency mate, Anna Staniszewski‘s publishing success sounds a little like a fairy tale — hugely popular novels, sequels, prequels. WOW! Then, just like Jenny, the main character in her latest novel My Epic Fairy Tale Fail, Anna took on what seemed an impossible task … she wrote a picture book.

So how did she make the transition? Brilliantly … with a few lessons she learned from novel writing … that all picture book writers need to know.

Now, take it away, Anna!

How a Novelist Learned to Write Picture Books
by Anna Staniszewsk

For years, I considered myself to be strictly a novel writer. I thought I was far too wordy to write picture books, and besides, I never had any good picture book ideas. I mean I had ideas, but they were TERRIBLE.

But over the years, something strange happened. In writing novels, I learned to:

-Focus focus focus and cut cut cut!
-Choose active verbs and interesting nouns. (My thesaurus and I are now best friends.)
-Make each scene active and give the story forward momentum.
-Make the ending tie into the beginning.

Why look at that. In my efforts to improve my novels, I’d trained myself to do many of the things that are required when writing picture books.

Okay, so now I knew how to write a picture book, but I still didn’t have any good ideas. Then one day, as I was getting ready to walk the dog and she was squeaking her furry head off to try to hurry me along, I said: “Calm down, dogosaurus. We’re going.” And there it was. An idea.

Of course, an idea is not a story. It took me about a year and many revisions (with help from my agent and my critique partners) to get the manuscript to where it needed to be. And amazingly, Dogosaurus Rex found a home at Henry Holt and is scheduled to be published in 2014. Finally, my years of inadvertently training myself as a picture book writer had paid off!

These days, while I still think myself primarily as a novelist, I’m getting more comfortable with my picture book identity. And I have to say, I love working on picture books. They’re a challenge that I really enjoy. Who knew there was hope for a former rambling writer with terrible ideas?

About Anna:
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their adopted black Labrador, Emma.

When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. Her first novel, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, was released by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in November 2011. The sequel, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail, is coming on March 1, 2013. Visit her at

About her latest book:  
Jenny has finally accepted her life of magic and mayhem as savior of fairy tale kingdoms, but that doesn’t mean the job’s any easier. Her new mission is to travel to the Land of Tales to defeat an evil witch and complete three Impossible Tasks. Throw in some school friends, a bumbling knight, a rhyming troll, and a giant bird, and happily ever after starts looking far far away. But with her parents’ fate on the line, this is one happy ending Jenny is determined to deliver.

Watch the book trailer for more FAIL fun! 

Now it’s your turn to chime in. What lessons have you learned from one genre of your writing that inform or inspire your others?

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