7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by You Byun

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by You Byun, author of DREAM FRIENDS) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

GIVEAWAY: Y.B. is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Sylliu won.)


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You Byun is the author and illustrator of her debut picture book
DREAM FRIENDS (Feb. 2013), of which The New York Times
Book Review said: “[Reminiscent] of the classic Goodnight Moon.”
Additionally the book was selected for NYT Editor’s Choice,
and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, noting,
“Byun has created a diminutive paradise, a bedtime destination
that children will want to visit again and again.” She continues to
write full time and give lectures. Find her on Twitter.


1. You must ask yourself, “What kind of story am I allowed to write?” It’s obvious that I shouldn’t write about a child who becomes a heavy smoker. However, a story about a bear eating a rabbit for stealing his hat didn’t exist 10 years ago, but does now. Things that are okay to write about and not okay to write about in picture book, thankfully, changes. You cannot predict it, but it is your choice to stay the guideline that implicitly exists. You don’t need to wait around until somebody else crosses the line; you can be the one, if that is necessary to write the story you believe in.

2. Your book will reflect a huge part of you. How I communicate through my book with readers hugely reflects how I share myself with other people. I look friendly and social at the first sight, but actually I am quite reserved and shy, and you need to dig in harder to find out more about me. (Please be patient! I love making friends.) My book Dream Friends is the same – its look is luxurious (if I can dare to say this), but the story is quiet and hidden in pictures. Be aware of how you communicate with others. Be cautious to find your way to share your story with readers, or even improve your social skills. They are connected. Also, if you cannot entertain and surprise yourself with your life, you wouldn’t do the same with your books either. The key is to live a rich life in both your creative life and outside of the creative life.

(How to get your children’s book published.)

3. Please yourself as a reader. I have the highest standard and expectation as a reader, like you do. When I walk into a bookstore, I want to be surprised to find a new picture book that will astonish me. I want to fall in love. I want to feel jealous because I didn’t come up with it first. I want to be surprised by a book because of its artwork or its touching story or the playfulness of the book. When I loved a book I have to own it. There is something magical in those special books which make me buy them. You want to have that magic in your book. My goal of making books is to satisfy that. When I write a book, I ask myself – Would I want to own this book if I saw this at the bookstore? Would I recommend this to friends? If not, it means either the story needs more works, or I need to start a new story.

4. Always carry a pen and a notepad. This is a new habit for me, which I admit I find very helpful. Now I pay attention to what I see or what I hear, because I know I have a notepad to fill in. Most importantly I write notes down rather than trying to remember them. Almost always I forget inspirations when I make a note in my head, so it is important to write those down. Inspirations are like butterflies, they suddenly appear and fly away whenever they like. Most of time you have to be in the right place to capture them.

(Can writers query multiple agents at the same agency?)

5. Keep the balance of output and input. Output means writing books. Input means doing something that inspires you to write books. Of course ‘input’ is not only about reading other books. Good conversations, listening to music, watching movies, travels – find your own input sources. Input and output should happen almost equally. Too much input without output will confuse you, and too much output without input will make it difficult to continue writing.

6. Beware of comments and reviews. It is exciting to have your book out there, and getting responses from people you never have met. You can learn from reviews but at the same time, you need to know how to draw a line between constructive feedback and more unfocused comments. Make sure they don’t affect you too much, so you don’t lose your own belief in your work. Stay confident and believe in what you are doing.

7. Treat your body well. I know all you want to do is writing – you don’t want to sleep or eat until the day your book is published, but it is important to maintain your health mentally and physically. Eat well, go on a long walk and sleep well too.

GIVEAWAY: Y.B. is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Sylliu won.) Read more


If you’re writing a picture book for kids and
looking to get it published, let us help you!
The Writer’s Digest 2nd Draft service has
professionals who edit picture books to make
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before submission. Learn more here.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:



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Order the book from WD at a discount.






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19 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by You Byun

  1. sefmac20

    Thank you! I found this article to be really helpful. I especially enjoyed your explanation of output vs. input. This concept had never crossed my mind, but will certainly be a focus of my writing lifestyle.

  2. Marie Rogers

    I like your attitude. You seem to be saying to enjoy life, enjoy both reading and writing, and your advice to take care of yourself is so important. I have written rough drafts of a few children’s stories, and after reading this I am inspired to develop them and make them available for others to read. Thank you.

  3. recmac@roadrunner.com

    I just sent my first picture story ms to a publisher. I can well identify with your above comments about the story being exciting for the author so that you’d want to buy your own book. The story I just completed and the one I am currently working on make me feel like a kid again myself. I AM the character in my story. 🙂 A very encouraging column. Thanks.

  4. Teresa

    Friendly and social on the outside, and shy and reserved on the inside sounds just like me! 🙂 Those are good advice and reminders for me; like a lot of the other commenters, the most useful point was about balancing input and output. Thank you…for both sharing the advice and the giveaway!

  5. kari00

    I enjoyed reading this! Really great. Doesn’t matter what you write, this all still applies! Keeping pens and paper on me at all times now! I never really thought about the fact that you have to keep yourself healthy, so thank you for that. I won’t make the mistake of neglecting myself!

  6. Carole Caprice

    So very right on all counts!

    RE:# 3 — You’re a woman after my own heart! I’m shy too, and find it much easier to “reveal” & share myself with others through the Art of Writing & Humor. In that sense, your story(ies) becomes your own baby as you’re sharing a part of yourself – [your choice of content, your personal history, your unique ideas & viewpoint, and even the style with which you chose to convey these ideas.] It parallels what humorists say… “I write what makes ME laugh”. When you stay true to the content by successfully “entertaining” yourself, the “audience”/reader will then immediately connect, identify, enjoy, & ultimately recognize your signature style. In return, you get the satisfaction of hitting that mark of creating something that no one else ever could – yes, something others “wish they could have thought of that first”.

    RE: #4 — Oh my gosh, YES. I found if I don’t carry a pen & paper with me at all times, the ideas that pop in my head, (usually out of nowhere), vaporize into thin air! I keep pens/paper tablets by my bed & now, in my purse. (Electronic devices don’t cut it for me since they seem to jeopardize the safety of those ideas… so … pen & paper it is!

    I visited your Twitter account & website yesterday, really loved your artwork, and then found myself inspired, not only by your talent to successfully publish your work as a writer AND artist, but to keep reaching for MY goals of getting published as a writer of childrens’ stories, while possibly incorporating MY artwork in them as well!

    Thanks! 😀

  7. chemin

    It’s good to know there is boundary of writing children stories and it’s ok to break them wisely. Carrying a sketchbook or notepad is really essential to develop voices. I love that you mention body health as well. I think that is the first priority.

    Not too critical to lose one’s own belief is what I learned through creation, too.
    I did try to maintain certain zone when critique starts to overwhelm me.
    Thanks for sharing the ideas~

    By the way, I love the warm color palette of your works, very tender.
    Keep it going!

  8. identity

    You, congratulations on the success of your book, and thank you for taking the time to share this blog with us. If your wisdom comes through as clearly in the book as it does in this blog, it is no wonder that the book is receiving such positive recognition.

  9. abhdavidson

    Very wise advice, You. Thank you for sharing. Especially potent for me were the input and output item…I NEED to read more. Also, take care of my body….I will forget to eat when I get in a certain mode of working, and I have to remind myself to get up and get a snack, and take a walk. Good for body and soul. This was very fun and enlightening to read. And your book looks lovely 🙂


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