Picture Book Checklist

First of all, I need to announce the winner of last weeks giveaway! Congratulations to Ruth Shiffmann! I'll be contacting you Ruth for your address information. I hope you enjoy the book!

Something happened to me the other day that has happened one too many times over the last few years… I got ANOTHER rejection for one of my manuscripts. I try not to get upset but it really never gets any easier. About all you can do is move on, send to another publisher, or investigate your manuscript to see if you can figure out what you may have done wrong.

And I must admit, I saw problems with it in the very first paragraph! But what gets me is I had revised, revised, revised and thought I’d sent this story off completely perfect. However, I do remember having a feeling in the pit of my stomach that maybe I should have changed a certain something. One day, I need to remember to go with my first gut instinct! If I think there may be a problem, I need to listen to my doubt and change before sending to a publisher.
The other day, I ran across a check list article by Dianne Ochiltree that really is perfect and contains all the steps necessary for anyone who is writing a children’s picture book. It's a pretty long list, however very accurate. I intend on keeping it close to me at all times because let's face it, if we want to be a successful picture book writer, we have to follow the rules!
Below is a copy of that list for your reference.
By Dianne Ochiltree, children's author,

If you can check off the following, you've got a winner that is ready for submission:

The title is catchy. It tells just enough about the story between the book covers without 'tipping your hand' by revealing any surprise plot twists or the ending itself.

The story 'hits the ground running'. It has a beginning that makes the reader care about the characters and want to read on. It sets up the story's central premise so the plot can flow naturally from it.

The plot makes sense. There are no character inconsistencies or internal logic lapses.

There are no mistakes in the punctuation, grammar, or spelling. When a new person talks, it starts on a new line.

The five senses are somewhere in the manuscript at least once: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell.

The basic who, when, what, how, where, and why of the story is answered in the manuscript, either in text or illustration notes.

The story is the correct word/page length for its intended age level. The word count is on the first page of the manuscript, along with my complete contact information, and there are identifying page numbers/author name/story title on all subsequent pages.

I've read this aloud numerous times to be certain that the sentences read smoothly.

I've removed all 'flabby' verbs, ambiguous nouns, and unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. All I see on the pages now are active, precise, and fun words!

My characters are the types that my target audience can identify with, and are basically likeable. My main character is not perfect. My villain is not all bad. Even if my characters are talking animals, they are REALLY just kids in fur!

There's a good balance of dialogue, action, and narration in my text.

My story has a beginning, middle and end.

There's a little humor at appropriate moments in my manuscript. If my story is a funny one, there's a lot of humor! Whatever the amount used, it's humor appropriate to the age of the targeted reader.

I've put a personal imprint on the manuscript either in my approach to the subject, or with my writing style. I've written a story that only I could tell. My passion for the subject and my characters shine through.

My story doesn't preach or teach a lesson. The message is waiting in the story for the reader to discover.

My main character solves his/her problem on his/her own. My character grows in some way as a result of meeting this central challenge.

My book has focus. I can reduce my story to a one-sentence explanation.

My manuscript has built-in 'page turns'. Each single page or double page spread is like a mini-chapter with a cliffhanger or other compelling reason for the reader to turn the page.

I've used the best words in the best order. I've organized each sentence for clarity and 'read-aloud' ability.

My story ending is emotionally satisfying. It's a surprise in some manner.

I've used repetition or refrain or chanting rhythmic lines to encourage listener participation when the book is read aloud.

My words can provide the illustrator with plenty of picture potential.

The story takes place in at least a dozen different scenes.

The pacing of my story is lively. Each scene moves into the next in logical order.

The story is told from a child's point of view.

Each character has his/her own distinctive voice and personality.

My manuscript adheres to the 'show, don't tell' principle.

The story will be one that children, and adults, will want to read again and again.

If you can say yes to all of these... you're good to go. If not, you may need to revise again.

So, after reading this extensive and detailed list, is your manuscript ready to go?


  1. Great check list! I just put you in my favorites!

  2. An amazing list, Allyn. Sorry to hear about the rejection, and you're right: go with your gut instincts. Wishing you all the best of luck with the next submission!

    (And congrats to Ruth for the win. How fun!:))

    1. Thanks, Claudine. Hope the list comes in handy for you!

  3. Great list, Allyn. Thanks for sharing it! And thanks for the contest. I'll email you soon.

    1. Thanks and congrats for winning. Hope you enjoy the book!

  4. I love this list, Allyn. I'll have to copy it down. I'll also vist Dianne Ochiltree's blog. It sounds like it's one worth checking out! I'm sorry to hear about your rejection slip. Unfortunately, this is part of the writing game.

    1. Yep, rejection is a MAJOR part of this writing game. Boo hoo!

  5. Excellent! Just what was needed!

  6. Excellent! Just what was needed!

  7. That was a great list. Thank you for sharing.