So, you want to write a picture book? The good news: they are short. The typical word count of a modern picture book is about 500 words. It's quite rare to go above 1000. And some picture books are wordless, or if not wordless, rely on very few words.
Here's a book called Hug. My family loves this book. It's about a monkey named Bobo who wants a hug from his mama. The only three words used are "hug," "Bobo" and "Mama."
If you are a professional quality artist then it might be possible for you to become both the author and illustrator (just like Jez Alborough). However, if you can draw only stick figures using RoseArt Crayons then you'll need to write a really clever and/or heartwarming and/or original picture book manuscript if you want to gain the interest of agents and editors.
So, if the end goal is to write a brilliant manuscript, how do we accomplish that task. Well, one way is to just sit down and write something and maybe it will be awesome. If that doesn't work, here are some tips to consider....
1) Explore the Past
Become at least a little bit familiar with the history of Children's Literature. This will not only reveal what's been done before, but also what's been overdone. More importantly, you'll notice shifts throughout the centuries, revealing society's expectations of children.
This illustration is from the earliest known children's book. That kid looks terrified of the adult.
(Hey, do you know who gets the royalties to Goodnight Moon?)
2) Explore new titles at your local book store....
...or visit your local library...
3) Write stories with characters you care about. If you love your characters, there's a good chance your reader will fall in love with them too.
4) Your characters shouldn't be perfect. They should have flaws. In fact, some of the best characters make mistakes.
"Excuse me, monkey, would you help me deliver these newspapers?"
"Yeah, I'll get right on that."
4a) If you are writing non-fiction... your book should still have a sense of fun and imagination, and it might also have character. Use elements of fiction to make the non-fiction come to life.
This is a book about the life and work of Jane Goodall.
5) Don't talk down to your reader. Respect the imagination and intelligence of your audience.
6) Don't rhyme unless you are skilled with rhythm and meter. Don't let rhymes dictate the story. That's why many editors say they don't want to read anymore rhyming picture books.
Here's a terrific article that gets into more detail about the curse of verse and the crime of rhyme. (See what I did there?)
7) Write scenes that illustrators crave.
"Billy Twitters and the Whale"
"Mr. Tiger Goes Wild"
"Children Make Terrible Pets"
8) Learn about Picture Book Formats... This blog which provides a "dummy template" will prove useful.
Most picture books have text on 31 pages. Learning how to create stories that fit perfectly into this format, as well as creating narratives with potential surprises ("page-turnability") is essential to success.
9) Don't be Dr. Seuss. We already have a Dr. Seuss. Be you.
10) Read your work out loud. Read it aloud too. Picture books are meant to be seen and heard.
Here's a video by author Mem Fox, discussing her passion for writing children's books and the importance of reading to children.