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How Many Versions Does it Take to Write a Picture Book?

That sounds like the opening of a very corny joke, only this one features writers and words, not a group of people and a light bulb. But it’s a fair question to ask, especially if you’re just beginning to write in this genre.

The answer really depends on you and how you work. If you’re a chronic self-editor like me, it isn’t out the realm of possibility to have 20 or 30 versions of the same picture book before you ever type FINAL on the file. If you don’t tend to save a new version after each major or minor change (which I highly recommend) you’ll have far less. So how do you determine the best plan for your writing style? Use these suggestions to help you decide:

  • Determine what you want to do with your sloppy copies or first drafts. I use my first drafts to get all the words out that I think I want to say. Before I cut or change anything in that draft I save it. You may want to write your first draft and make some changes to it before hitting save, and that’s OK too.
  • Decide the value of each draft. I’ll admit it, I save everything! But if I’ve simply changed one or two words and I know those changes are permanent (at least for now), then I don’t necessary create a new version file. But if I start changing more than that, the draft gets resaved with the next version number.
  • Use a simple system. If your system is simple, you’re more likely to stick to it. Here’s what I do: I open the last saved draft of my manuscript to work. After the first few changes, I click on FILE and choose the SAVE AS option (in Word). I put the title and the number in the file-name space…SCRATCH AND SNIFF 27, and then I hit SAVE. Quick and easy. I’ll do this several times in one working session if I’ve made several major changes along the way. Once I’ve gotten past major overhauls, the file changes and saves are less frequent.

No matter what system you use…BACK IT UP!!! I can’t say that enough. I use an external hard drive and back up at least once every seven days. More than that if I’ve been putting in lots of time on new material. And I always send at least one or two drafts to my writing partner. That way I know that if something awful happens to my computer or my external hard drive, she has a copy saved for me in her system. There are also many online backup tools you can use. The point is, choose one and use it!

“Ask Mr. Owl!” Tootsie Roll Corporation

So, how many versions does it take to write a picture book? Like the silly owl in the Tootsie Pop commercial says, “The world may never know!”

Happy Writing!


Sensibility- Writing in any genre has everything to do with your own personality and writing habits. Take time to think about what your best writing style might be.

Sense- Determine a process that helps you be the most productive and stick to it. It may not be the way other writers do things, but if it works for you, it’s just right.


What is your style when it comes to writing, revising and saving your MS drafts?

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