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  • Writer's pictureManju Howard

How Many Versions Does It Take to Make a Picture Book?

Guest Post by Gayle C. Krause

Kidlit Creatives Members: Gayle is giving away a signed copy of Zadie and the Witch’s Tea and some Zadie swag. Enter for this special prize by following the directions below this post.

How Many Versions Does It Take to Make a Picture Book?

Of course, the answer varies, but it most certainly is more than one. Take my first picture book, ROCK STAR SANTA, I wrote that the morning after attending a Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas Concert. It took me about twenty minutes, but it was complete, and the rhymes came easily. When I met my prospective editor at The Rutgers One-on-One Conference ten months later, she asked me to submit the manuscript to Scholastic. She loved the idea. Upon hearing back from her, she wanted me to add more verses. It was too short. That was at a time when picture books were longer than they are now. So, I added more verses, and it was sold. YAY!

The hook: Santa being a Rock Star at a Christmas Concert. A Rock Concert!

With ZADIE AND THE WITCH’S TEA, the process was a lot longer, and the manuscript went through many reversions.

The first version that I wrote in 2016 simply followed the Cinderella tale, where Zadie, like Cinderella, cleaned the hearth, and picked up after her sisters’ messes. But one of my critique partners tagged the cleaning aspect. We want our girls to aspire to be more than a cleaner.


I peeked over their shoulders. “May I please go too?”

“What?” cackled Zale. “This invitation’s not for you.”

“Absurd,” Zabella hooted. “Not one bone in you is mean.

And you do not have magic spells. All you can do is clean.”

So, the next version got rid of the cleaning, but Zadie still was not treated well by her mean sisters. Also, it changed POV.

Peeking at the parchment, Zadie asked, “May I go too?”

“What?” cackled Zale. “This invitation’s not for you!

She swirled her cape and snorted. “Now we must prepare!

Our spooky-spangled ghoulish gowns are hidden here somewhere.

In this version we start to see the alliterative words related to Halloween.

An agent requested this version, but when she read the whole thing, she thought it followed the Cinderella tale too closely, and asked if I could have Zadie change the tea or the outcome of the story.

So, in the next version, Zadie changed the whole tea into a Witch’s Carnival. But the problem with this version is that Zadie still didn’t have her own magic and it was the Fairy Hairy Spider’s magic that made the changes. It didn’t work.

Jump ahead a few years and my then agent sent it out to the big publishing houses. Some editors we didn’t hear from, some rejected it, but two were interested and asked for it to be rewritten in prose.


I write picture books in rhyme. It took me a while to accept the request and a few months later I rewrote Zadie’s story in prose. The problem was it was now close to 700 words, and the editors now wanted the stories closer to 500 words.

The beginning of this version:

Little Zadie couldn’t wait for the Grand Witch’s Tea.

She wore her big sister’s glittery hat,

Twirled across the floor with her broom, and sang:

“Fab-boo-lous frocks and ghoulish gowns.

Witches from castles, forests, and towns!”

Sister Zilda snarled, “Less dancing, more sweeping.”

“Stop singing, ordered her eldest sister, Zale. “And take my hat off.”

“Oo-oo!” cried Zadie. “The mailbat is coming.”

So, here I added the mailbat, and more alliterative wording, though the refrain remained in rhyme.

And from there, I went back to my first love, rhyme…

I reread all the versions, of which there are more than I’ve shared here, and the current Zadie and the Witch’s Tea was born.

The hook: Kindness is stronger than magic!

This is evident in the second spread:

She fed woodland creatures with small, tasty treats.

They ate from her hand and slept at her feet.


She offered her tea to a witch in a chair,

Whose cane was as white as her long, flowing hair.

The witch smiled at Zadie. “Thank you, my dear.

You’re a helpful young witch and the kindest one here.”

So, the moral of my story is to not give up on your dream. You rarely get your manuscript right the first time, if ever.

Things to remember if you want to be a picture book writer.

1. Write what your heart tells you to write.

2. Leave room for the illustrator to create the world you’ve established with your words.

3. Persistence! Persistence! Persistence!

4. Create a strong HOOK!

Hope this little tour of Zadie’s path to publication inspires you to follow your own path.

Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog, Manju.

Gayle Krause is a published children’s author. She writes rhyming picture books and short poems for children, as well as MG and YA fantasy and contemporary novels with a darker focus for older children. Gayle is a former teacher educator, who has trained well over 1,000 elementary and pre-school teachers in the past thirty years and has served as Director of a laboratory Pre-K in conjunction with my Early Childhood/Elementary team leader position. She also possess an editing certificate from Sussex Community College and am seeking freelance writing and/or editing assignments for children’s stories. She lives with her husband in Matamoras, Pennsylvania.

Visit her at:

Prize offer: Gayle is giving away a signed copy of Zadie and the Witch’s Tea and some Zadie swag. For your chance to win, leave a comment on our Kidlit Creatives page (must be a member) and share this interview on your social media.

Deadline to enter is Thursday, October 12th.

All posts on Manju's blog promote members of Kidlit Creatives: Create, Query & Support

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