Monday, April 23, 2012

Writing Without Pictures: Guest Author, Tracey M. Cox

I am thrilled to introduce a new series on my blog about Picture Book writers who DO NOT illustrate.

Recently, while struggling with a manuscript, I went to my own bookshelf for inspiration and discovered that almost all of my books were from Author/Illustrators. I didn't have any books that were written by one person and illustrated by another. I realized that I needed to seek out Picture Book writers who did not illustrate their own work as a way of discovering my own process and place in the Picture Book World. I needed to find my peeps!

On Mondays for the month of April, I will be spotlighting a Picture Book writer who will share their experiences with "writing without pictures".

I am honored today to be featuring Tracey M. Cox.  I love Tracey's story because she never seems to forget her audience, having started writing because one of her 3 sons commented on one of her bedtime stories one night, "Mom, that would make a great book!"  From then she started writing for children and even after many rejections, she kept pursuing.  Her first Picture Book was published in 2009 by Guardian Angel Publishing.  And she has gone on to much success and many more titles!

Perhaps a quote on her website best sums up why Tracey is such a gift to this industry:
"To capture a child's attention and hold it.  To be able to bring a smile to a child's lips.  To me, that is my greatest achievement."  Tracey M. Cox

Please welcome, Tracey!

Hi Marcie! Thanks for asking me to post.

I guess I will talk about the beginning of my writing journey. That is where I learned the most important point of NOT doing the illustrators job…

I started writing professionally in 2000. After getting a year under my belt I felt that I was ready to start submitting to publishers. *HaHa!* I submitted the one story I had labored over to a publisher and got a response… It was a rejection along with a note saying that when I learn not to do an illustrator’s job she thought that my underlying talent would shine.

Can you say OUCH? It stung, stung bad. After I had a good cry and a greater pity party, I stood back and took an objectionable look at my story. Did I really have too many details in there that didn’t need to be? Could I find things that could be *gulp* cut? Yes and yes. I pulled out a highlighter and begin going over my story. I marked everywhere I had details. The glare of the highlighted words was eye opening! I stood back again and began cutting most of the details that didn’t have to be in there, and what did I have? A tighter manuscript!

I think it is an important thing to do with picture books when every word must count. At one conference I attended, an editor told us that if your words are not bringing the story forward then you are moving the story backward. That struck home too.

Since then I have taken that heart wrenching advice to heart. I always try to look at a story from every angle. Does that character HAVE to have red hair or a missing tooth? If it doesn’t add an important element to the story then it’s cut.

I also have learned to story board. This has helped with my pacing and illustration projections. I have a 32 page template that I use that includes the front/back covers, title page, info page and then the rest is the layout of the book. I try to visually see the book in those blocks. By doing this I accomplish two things: 1) I make sure I have enough illustration possibilities & 2) I know that I have enough words on each page without an overload of text.

Even when I do all this I still have edits from an editor. In one magazine article, the illustrations changed the story’s main character completely. At first I was unhappy about it, but when I saw how it all tied in together with the illustrations I felt better about it. On my books I feel I have been blessed with the illustrators I have been paired up with. It seems as if they were inside my head and knew what I was thinking. I have only one of my books where I have had any input on what the illustrations would be. The only reason I had that control was because it was a concept book that dealt with shapes and the picture had to include that specific with that idea in it. But how the picture looked was up to her and she added a mouse to each page –her own little element- that wound up tying each page together nicely and gave the reader something extra to look for.

The main thing I have realized over the years with picture books and magazine articles is it is the combined work of the author and illustrator. You wind up with a married pair that comes together and makes a complete masterpiece.

Tracey M. Cox lives in Georgia with her high school sweetheart  (now her husband) and three sons.  She currently has had four Picture Books published by Guardian Angel Publishing, including "Just the Thing to Be" and "Liddil Gets Her Light".  She has two more Picture Books slated to come out soon, "Angels Do That" and "Arachnabet", both also with Guardian Angel Publishing.  You can learn more about Tracey at


  1. Great interview, ladies! I really liked what you said about the story-boarding, Tracy - I think that is key!

    1. It really does help you see your pacing.

  2. Great blog. Thanks Tracey. The storyboard is a good idea - might have to create one too!

    1. It's not that hard and there are examples on the internet too.

  3. Thanks, Tracey and Marcie. Very nice interview with a lot of food for thought!

  4. These are great tips, Tracey. I was just reading Ann Whitford Paul's book about the importance of storyboarding/creating a dummy. Did you create your own or use an online template?

    1. I created my own.
      Just get a few pbs off the shelf (or from your local library) and see how they are laid out.
      Then get a piece of paper and make boxes on it. (I like to do it horizonally)
      [] <-page 1 [][] <-page 2 & 3 and on. While studying the pbs, you'll begin to notice how the stories are laid out and then begin to incorporate them into your own work.

  5. Tracey, thanks for sharing your insight with us.

    1. You're welcome. I'm glad Marcie invited me! :0)

  6. Great ideas. Mind posting your template Tracey?

    1. [] <-page 1
      [] [] <-page 2 & 3
      [] [] <-page 4 & 5
      [] [] <-page 6 & 7
      [] [] <-page 8 & 9
      [] [] <-page 10 & 11
      [] [] <-page 12 & 13
      [] [] <-page 14 & 15
      [] [] <-page 16 & 17
      [] [] <-page 18 & 19
      [] [] <-page 20 & 21
      [] [] <-page 22 & 23
      [] [] <-page 24 & 25
      [] [] <-page 26 & 27
      [] [] <-page 28 & 29
      [] [] <-page 30 & 31
      [] <-page 32

      Page 1 is your title page.
      Page 2 is usally blank or will have an illustration on it.
      Page 3 is where your story will start
      Pages 4-31/32 is the spread of your story. some will be single page spread, which is where the illustration covers one page. Other will be double page spreads, which is where the illustration will cover both pages you are looking at. Some houses end the story on page 31, some on 32. This depends on the printer they use and how they are set up for the book information that has to go on your books for them to be able to be sold.

      Hope that makes sense and helps!

  7. I enjoyed reading your story, Tracey! Congrats on your picture books w/Guardian Angel!

  8. Loved the post but I am so confused now! I think at first I thought my mss were too boring, so I have been practicing adding fun phrases and details. Now I wonder have I gone too far. I think the lesson I am going to take away from your story is push too far and then reel it back if I need to.

  9. Thanks for sharing yourself with us, Tracy! I need to use the storyboard concept with my mss...I appreciate the reminder!