How to Decide What Details to Include In Your Picture Book Manuscript

If you haven’t read We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, you might want to take a moment to watch my review. I’ll include it below.

This is Carole’s book about the Dakota Access Pipeline. But nowhere in the book does the call it by name. It is the black snake. It poisons the land and the water. The people stand against it because they are water protectors.

I haven’t discussed this with Carole but there are a variety of reasons that she might have avoided naming the pipeline.

Narrowing the audience

If Carole had named the pipeline, it could be argued that she had narrowed the audience for the book and the period of time during which it would be relevant. Yes, we who are into social justice are still discussing this but haven’t you noticed it in the media lately? No? That’s because it is no longer of interest. To name the pipeline ties the book securely to the pipeline. But not naming it, you broaden the topic from the pipeline to environmentalism by first nation peoples.

Reader comprehension

If you put the pipeline front and center, the readers have to have a solid understanding of the pipeline. Which means they have to understand the oil industry and the politics. That’s an awful lot for that audience. By not naming the pipeline, the focus remains on the water protectors. Clearly there is a serious girl-power vibe but what kid doesn’t love the idea of protecting something/someone?

More literary

Not naming the pipeline also made the story more literary. How? The black snake clearly represented the pipeline without calling it by name. You also had people acting as water protectors vs being simple protestors. This created a greater level of symbolism and the story became more abstract and literary.

A piece written about the pipeline and protestors may have sold but this? The audience has expanded beyond the original story borders.


different types of fiction

Fiction Category InfographicWhen an agent or editor says that they want literary work vs commercial work, do you know what they mean?  I have to admit that I’ve had a much better idea what is commercial than what is literary.

This infographic from PS Literary offers a great explanation of Literary, Upmarket, and Commercial Fiction.  I just wish the examples included some juvenile work.  Just in case you’re wishing the same thing, I’ve done my best to match some recent juvenile titles to these definitions.

Literary Fiction is award-winning.  Language for the sake of language is also a key element.  This is art for art’s sake and the story may be open-ended. Don’t expect these books to solidly fit into one genre.  Examples:

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zuzac
  • The Fault in Their Stars by John Green
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry

Upmarket fiction is character driven with universal themes. The writing is accessible and these are good books for book club discussion. Isn’t quite literary or commercial.  Examples:

  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
  • A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Commercial fiction is fast-paced and plot driven. The writing is accessible and aims to appeal to a large audience. The plot tends to be neatly tied up unless something need to be extended because this is a series book.

  • Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan
  • There’s a Hair in my Dirt by Gary Larson
  • Convergence by Stan Lee


You could probably make an argument about which books should be in which categories.  I know that I moved a few of them back and forth several times, but I hope this infographic helps you better understand the categories.

This oh so helpful infographic first appeared on Carly Waters, Literary Agent, but I saw it on Xina Marie Uhl’s Journey Taker.