Posted by: nancyisanders | March 24, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book: The Finished First Draft

hummingbird mama HPIM0739
Photo: Mama hummingbird sitting on her nest.

I’ve finished the first draft of my nonfiction picture book.

By this point, if you’ve been following along, you did too. Or like my writing friends, you’re almost there.

So what’s next?

The next phase of our nonfiction picture books is to edit it and polish it and get it ready for publication.

I have a picture book rubric I like to refer to when I enter this phase of my manuscript draft. If you want to use it to evaluate your own manuscript, you can find it at the site of my writing buddies, Writing According to Humphrey and Friends.

Just scroll down to the PICTURE BOOK RUBRIC. Click on it and print it out and use it to help polish your manuscript.

I wanted to let you know about my plans, however.

Now that the first draft of my picture book is finished from beginning to end, these are my thoughts:

Thought #1: I don’t think this is a breakthrough manuscript. Meaning that it doesn’t have the kid appeal and over-the-top pizzazz that is needed to catch an editor’s eye. This is more of a third or fourth-time manuscript. Meaning that if I’ve already done 3 or 4 published nonfiction picture books with a specific editor, I could perhaps convince her of its worth to get published in today’s market. But I don’t have a nonfiction picture book editor in the trade market at this level of a relationship yet. I’m looking for a breakthrough manuscript so I can get a nonfiction picture book published and work on establishing this kind of a relationship with an editor.

Thought #2: It has several weaknesses that I can spot that at this point in my career I’m not quite sure how to fix them. I’ve learned over the course of my career that there are some “trouble spots” in manuscripts I haven’t yet acquired the tools to fix. But if I’ve tucked those manuscripts away in my file cabinet for say 3 or 5 years, when I pull them out I quickly spot the weaknesses, know how to fix them, and submit them for publication because I’ve matured as a writer and learned how to deal with those issues.

Because of these two major issues with my manuscript, I have two choices that I could make:

Choice #1: Take this first draft through the process of editing it and getting it critiqued and working on it to make it polished to the best I know how, even learning some techniques along the way. This could take several months more of work.

Choice #2: Tuck this first draft away, count it as a tremendous learning experience (which it was) and a manuscript which I can show to a future editor who might be willing to help me get it up to snuff (which it is), and move on to my next project.

After thinking about this and taking my current writing schedule into consideration (I’m in the middle of working on a book deadline that’s under contract and due in April plus I have several “must-get-out-the-door” commitments for my agent and other books in various stages of publication) I have decided to go with Choice #2.

I frequently do this with manuscripts. That’s because I’ve learned not to value manuscripts necessarily just for the end result. As writers, there are many manuscripts we need to write to help us improve as writers even if they never reach the publication stage.

This doesn’t mean I put these in a graveyard. On the contrary! I’m waiting…sort of how a hummingbird waits patiently on its nest for its eggs to hatch. For example, last year I tried to write one picture book a month for awhile. I had no plans for publication for any of them, really. I just wanted to learn various picture book techniques. So I wrote manuscript after picture book manuscript and then tucked them away.

And just recently, I was on a phone conversation with my agent…and we were chatting about something when one of those manuscripts came to mind…I told her about one of the picture books I wrote last year but had never shown her. She asked to see it. So I got it out, dusted it off, cleaned it up a bit, and sent it to her. She loves it. Now we’re looking for a home for it.

So I’m going to put this nonfiction manuscript in my “nest.”

I’m going to tuck this first draft away and start working on a different project. This will be the nonfiction picture book manuscript in 3 weeks and then the one in 1 week. As I mentioned earlier, we’ll follow along together on all these projects here on my blog.

So if you like to write nonfiction picture books, whether you wrote one or not during all these last months and followed along on my blog, now is a great time to regroup.

Get ready to join in some new fun as I show you the real steps I take to really write the first draft of a nonfiction picture book in just three weeks.

And let me know if you plan on doing this too. We can cheer each other on!

hummingbird twins HPIM0960
Photo: Two baby hummingbirds that hatched!


  1. Great photos! Sorry to hear about your draft. But good news about your agent liking your previous story!

    • Thanks, Tina! And glad you like the photos. I took them on a walk awhile back…first the mama sat on her nest for awhile and then one day there were two little ones! It was a joy to capture in pictures.

  2. Oh, Nancy, I know that feeling. I have many that sat in the drawer for a year or maybe more before I could give them a complete overhaul. I love continuing to take classes and learn because every time I learn something new, I find I can go back and apply it to those manuscripts sitting in the drawer.

    • Yes, Kirsten, isn’t is wonderful to acquire new writing skills and learn new things as we advance along our writing journey? Thanks for sharing!

  3. Nancy I am so glad to hear about your process of leaving some manuscripts in the “nest”. In my limited experience so far, I have found that leaving stories to incubate is very helpful. I have a nonfiction picture book manuscript pretty close to finished. I am looking forward to continuing to the next step in your journey, writing a manuscript in three weeks. Thank you for all the encouragement.

    • Thanks, Angela. I’m trying to be transparent and show you the process I really go through when I write a nonfiction picture book. And yes! This includes times when I finish it up and evaluate what I’ve done and realize it needs more time in the nest. I’m glad you can relate!!!! And yay for you that your manuscript is getting near the finish line.

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