Thursday, June 6, 2024

Five Reasons To Type Up Other Writers' Books

A common piece of advice for aspiring writers is to read lots of recent books in their genre, advice I agree with 100%. But I’ll add a twist—not only should aspiring picture book authors READ a lot of recent picture books, they should also TYPE up picture books they love.

Some writers are initially confused by this advice. Shouldn’t they be focusing on their own stories, not other people’s stories? I believe writers can become better writers by typing other authors’ words. Here are my reasons why:

  • It’s a hands-on study of what a picture book IS. I type up books using page spreads, i.e: pg 4-5, pg. 6-7. After typing up hundreds of picture books over several years, my first drafts are now much more polished than when I first started writing since I now have an innate sense of wording, sentence length, pacing, page turns, etc.
  • If you are an author (not an author/illustrator), it’s a black-and-white “snapshot” of what catches an agent’s or editor’s eye. Since the illustrator is hired by the publisher, typing up the text of a picture book that has both an author and an illustrator, shows you how the manuscript looked when it was acquired. Yes, there may have been a few art notes. And, yes, there were likely some edits done after acquisition, but you will get a general idea of what the author submitted. After you type it up, print it out. Then study it. By removing the words from the art, can you see how much room the author left for the illustrator? And when looking back at the art, can you see how much the illustrator added their “story” to the book independent of the words? You can glean so much about the collaboration of words and art!
  • It can be helpful when tackling revisions. When working on a new project, I type up comps of the style/genre of the book I’m working on. When I get stuck on revisions, I compare my text side by side with the text I typed up. Then I dissect it. How did the author write scenes or explain difficult concepts so a young reader can understand them? How did the author use page turns to increase tension in the story? What literary techniques—metaphor, simile, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc—did the author use? Can some of their techniques help my story? (Obviously, I don’t copy what they did. I just use their examples as inspiration.)
  • You can be a better critique partner. By typing up lots of picture books, as noted above, you get a better feel for what a successful picture book looks like on the page. Which helps you provide a better critique. And you’ll have a “library” of picture books to suggest as comp titles or to use as samples in techniques for your critique partner to consider. I frequently email typed-up stories to critique partners to save them a trip to the library and so they can see the words without the art.
  • It’s “helpful” procrastination. On days when the words aren’t flowing for me or I don’t feel like writing, I pick up a picture book from my library stack to type up. I may not be getting actual writing done, but I’m practicing what good writing is. And often that process helps me find a way out of my brain block. 

I’ve been typing up picture books since 2015 and have over 300 of them typed up. I continue to type up favorites. I know, without a doubt, I am a better writer because I do so.

Debra Kempf Shumaker started reading at the age of four and hasn't stopped since. She grew up on a small dairy farm in Wisconsin but now writes picture books from her home in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. She is the author of FREAKY, FUNKY FISH (2021), TELL SOMEONE (2021), PECULIAR PRIMATES (2022), and the upcoming WIND IS A DANCE (October 1, 2024). 

Debra is a member of SCBWI, several critique groups, and also a co-host of #PBPitch, a Twitter pitch party for picture books. Debra reviews picture books on Instagram every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, firmly believing there is a picture book for every reason, every season, and every age. Visit her online at, on Twitter or X at @ShumakerDebra, on Instragram at @debrakshumaker, and Bluesky at @debrakshumaker.

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