Within the picture book genre, there are certain sub-genres and I’ll cover some of these in the next few days. First, the ABC books.
How to Write a Good ABC Book
Story Oriented Alphabet Books.
If you want to write an ABC book, you should first read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, a rollicking story with the alphabet chasing around and having fun. It’s a great example of what you can do with those staid letters if you want.
TOPICAL ALPHABET PICTURE BOOKS
But usually, people think of an ABC book about a certain topic, like Dori Butler’s F is for Firefighting book. This type ABC book uses the alphabet as a way to discuss different aspects of a topic, almost as a way to organize a non-fiction topic. Remember that your audience is pre-school up to maybe second grade, or ages 3-7. Look for topics that will interest them, or can be used in classrooms to introduce a topic. To write a topical book like this, you should first apply the QXZ test. Usually, Q, X and Z are difficult letters to fill for your topic. No fair sticking X in the middle of a word: eXciting. No fair using Queen for every single topic. The words should be natural, not forced, and should be totally on-topic.
Actually, it’s not just the QXZ test. For any given topic, those may be the easy letters, but there will be some letter that is difficult to find an appropriate key word. Before you get into the exact wording too far, think of the key words for each letter. If you do find a topic and have great keywords for each letter, then it’s time to play around with the language. Again – look at Chicka Chicka Boom Boom for an example of just how far you can push it.
ALPHABET PICTURE BOOKS MARKET
ABC books are hard. The market is glutted with them and in order to stand out in “today’s crowded market” your manuscript must really shine. It’s a bit easier for illustrators, who use the ABCs as a vehicle for their artwork. But for everyone, the competition is stiff — but not impossible. Most publishers will have one or two ABC picture books a year; Sleeping Bear Press and Pelican Books both have series of ABC books that you could research and see if you can write something to fit. (Be sure to check current submission guidelines of a publisher before you write something targeted specifically for them. 2011 update: Sleeping Bear Press says they’ve done just about every topic, so they are acquiring very few ABC books now.)
Read a selection of ABC picture books, both topical and story kinds.
Locate information on several publisher who might publish an ABC picture book.
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