Writing Irresistible Picture Books

How to craft compelling stories for young readers and their grown-ups


Mary Kole


Live on Jan. 7, 2022, or watch recording


Beginner picture book writers


Closed captions by Otter; transcript provided with recording

The children’s book market presents a thriving opportunity for writers, but it can be exceedingly difficult to break into. The strict and intimidating guidelines and categories, especially for picture books, stop a lot of hopefuls.

Savvy writers know that children’s book publishing is segmented by category, age, and reading level. This class will help you understand the various brackets in the picture book age group, what word counts are appropriate for each, and what distinguishes a picture book from an illustrated storybook.

By far the most common error aspiring picture book writers make is to overtly teach their audience. You might have a theme you’re writing about and you want everyone to know it, which is understandable. But a didactic picture book manuscript will die a quick death in the submissions pile. This class will help you avoid this common pitfall, empower your protagonist, and avoid having the wise adult swoop in at the end to deliver the message. We all love Granny, but the final moment of discovery in a picture book belongs to the child-age main character.

In addition to needing a really strong grasp of the form, writers should have a variety of salable ideas if they want to attract an editor or agent. Most agents will not sign up a picture book creator unless they have at least three truly stellar projects. This session will help understand what constitutes a stellar idea and hone your thinking about writing for this very specific audience.

This Jan. 7 class will cover:

  • What kinds of stories work well for picture book readers
  • How to give young readers the respect and dignity they deserve by digging deep into your own childhood experiences
  • How most picture books in today’s market are heavily character-driven—which means that your story should focus on your picture book character first
  • How to craft a story with organic theme, something that comes out of the characters’ experiences
  • How to present your work and whether to engage an illustrator (or illustrate yourself!)
  • How the picture book market works, from agents to publishers to self-publishing
  • The challenge presented by rhyming picture books

Before you can share the fun, heartwarming, and interesting adventure that’s in your picture book imagination, learn the market and craft fundamentals to give yourself the strongest shot at success.

Who should take this class

  • Writers who have always been curious about writing for preschool-age readers
  • Writers who have a few manuscripts kicking around that would be great as picture books
  • Writers who have submitted some picture book projects in the past but haven’t gotten anywhere

How do I know if this class is worth the cost?

This is an important question, and it’s a tough one to answer—especially since so much online education is available free of charge. Furthermore, every student is different, and a valuable webinar for one person can end up being a disappointment to another. For this reason, we offer full refunds if you register, attend or watch the class, and fail to get the information you were looking for.

Do I have to attend the live classes?

No. Everyone who registers will get access to the recording. However, if you’d like to attend live, keep reading.

How do I attend the live class?

This class uses Zoom webinar technology. You will join through your Internet-connected computer or mobile device. When you register, you will receive information via email on how to join the class. If you don’t receive it within 1 hour of registering, please contact us.

  • When: Friday, Jan. 7, 2022
  • Time: 1–2 p.m. Eastern / 10:00 a.m. Pacific
  • Fee: $25

The webinar is broadcasted via the internet with live audio delivered through your computer or mobile device speakers. The visual presentation is displayed directly from the presenter’s computer to your computer screen. The Q&A is managed through a chat-style submission system with questions read and answered by the presenter for the entire class to hear.

Closed captions are provided during the live class. We use Zoom’s automated closed caption service (powered by Otter), which is about 80%+ accurate. We also use Otter AI to generate an unedited transcript, provided with the recording.

About the instructor

Former literary agent Mary Kole founded Mary Kole Editorial in 2013 and provides consulting and developmental editing services to writers of all categories and genres, working on children’s book projects from picture book to young adult, and all kinds of trade market literature. She founded Good Story Company in 2019 with the aim of providing valuable content—like the Good Story Podcast, Story Mastermind, and Good Story Learning—to writers of all categories and ability levels. In 2020, she partnered with literary agent John Cusick to create Upswell Media, an intellectual property company which develops compelling modern middle grade and young adult properties for today’s diverse and dynamic publishing marketplace. She also provides select ghostwriting and done-for-you revision services at Manuscript Studio.

She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and has worked at Chronicle Books, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Movable Type Management. She has been blogging at since 2009. Her book, Writing Irresistible Kidlit, a writing reference guide for middle grade and young adult writers, is available from Writer’s Digest Books/Penguin Random House.

Mary’s always had a keen eye, a sixth sense for finding the sticking points in a story, and a deep knowledge of what does and what does not work in picture book publishing today.

Keri B.


This is my first webinar with Mary and I’ll be signing up for more. I’ve been following Mary’s blog, website, book for years and appreciate how she offers a ton of information in a format that is easy to digest and I can begin to apply it in my writing.

Jodie B.


Mary packs a lot in a one-hour webinar. The content and guidance are spot-on and well supported. Mary’s delivery is energetic and engaging. An hour well spent.

Carol D.


All students receive the following

  • Access to the live class. After roughly 45 minutes, Mary will take questions during class using in-class chat/text. The class will end after roughly 60 minutes.
  • A recording of the class—audio and video. This is especially helpful if you have a conflict with the class time or something comes up and you can’t make the session. Each registration comes with access to the archived version of the program and the materials for 30 days. You do not have to attend the live event to access the recordings.
  • Presentation slides. All participants receive a copy of the slide presentation in PDF form.
  • Rough transcript. We use Otter to create an automated transcript of the entire webinar, which we’ll share with you in addition to the audio and video recording.

Event Attendance & Anti-Harassment Policy

We strive to provide an environment where all present—whether attendee, presenter, or staff—can feel supported. In order to ensure a welcoming event, here is what we expect from all who participate.

  • That the presenter and the presenter’s work be treated with respect by attendees and that all attendees treat each other with respect and a generosity of spirit.
  • That attendees will refrain from harassment of any sort including (but not limited to) comments or questions of a racist, homophobic, sexist/sexual, or threatening nature. This includes actions that disrupt or interfere with anyone’s ability to participate. Offenders will be disconnected from the live event.

System Requirements to Join the Webinar

We will be using Zoom webinar technology.

You’ll need:

  • An internet connection: broadband wired or wireless (3G or 4G/LTE)
  • Speakers: built-in, USB plug-in or wireless Bluetooth

Recommended bandwidth:

  • 600kbps (down) for high-quality video and 1.2 Mbps (down) for HD video
  • If you connect through audio only: 60-80kbps (down)

Supported operating systems:

Supported tablet and mobile devices:

  • Surface PRO 2 running Win 8.1
  • iOS and Android devices
  • Blackberry devices

Supported browsers:

  • Windows: IE 11+,  Edge 12+, Firefox 27+,  Chrome 30+
  • Mac: Safari 7+, Firefox 27+,  Chrome 30+
  • Linux: Firefox 27+,  Chrome 30+

For a detailed listing of system requirements, check Zoom’s site.