How I won a Picture book writing contest in Japan

Today, I’m thrilled to announce that I won an incentive prize at the 10th Picture Book Contest in Japan. This was my first time entering a picture book-creating contest, and I feel incredibly lucky that the jury recognized my manuscript as publication material. Based on my experience, let me share with you what it takes to win this happy prize.

The contest

Now, there are three ways to publish your manuscript:

  • You can send it to the publisher directly
  • You can self-publish
  • You can win the publication through the contest

I’m not familiar with other genres, but self-publishing a paper book can cost over 200,000 yen, and you’d also need to handle advertising and sales yourself. As for knocking on the door of a publisher, they’re often swamped with options and more likely to choose a known name over a novice storyteller like myself. I didn’t want to fight that battle.

In this context, a contest seemed like a reasonable idea. There are strict rules, and you’ll get a definite result. Plus, there’s a deadline that pushes you to work towards it. Even if I don’t win a prize, I’ll advertise my participation as a research activity. It’s a perfect opportunity.

Choosing a contest

There are several picture book contests to choose from in Japan, including ones held twice a year, once a year, and those that accept only manuscripts. Initially, I selected the one sponsored by the Children’s Literature Research Lab in Osaka, which is held annually. The judges are also members of this lab.

However, during the writing process, I found out that my manuscript did not meet the length requirement of the Children’s Literature research lab contest. Despite this setback, I remained optimistic and decided to submit my work to a twice-a-year contest hosted by Mirai Publishing instead.

Fortunately, Mirai Publishing didn’t have any requirements on the length of the manuscript, so my writing went smoothly. However, I suspect they might ask me to add some pages before we sign a publication contract. Nonetheless, I’m highly motivated to publish, and I’m willing to do anything in my power to produce a great book.

f you’re also considering entering a writing contest, here are some options I explored:

However, most of these contests have a requirement that the book has already been published, so I decided to save them for later. For now, I am focusing on contests that are suitable for unpublished manuscripts like mine.

Writing tips

Let’s say you already have an idea of a story and a few images in mind. What is next?
To proceed with your writing you should consider the following items:

  • target age group
  • reading situation
  • message

Target age group

You may have to change your writing approach depending on the age group. I remember writing about picture books for the youngest readers in this blog. A picture book for a 0-year-old will definitely be different from one for a 2-year-old.

Reading situation

It might help to actually imagine how people will read your book. In terms of words, you can consider different fonts or colours to emphasise or tone down some places in your narration. Picture books are usually read aloud, so make sure that a parent could follow your writing.
In terms of pictures, you can imagine a child pointing at them or commenting on them. This visualisation will help you choose the right approach.


Every children’s book has an entertainment value as well as pedagogical value. Many people focus on one of them, losing sight of the other. Try to remember your favourite picture books and why you liked them.
Every book is a story behind a story, so make sure you relay your message in a clear and entertaining way.

Last but not least

And, yes, you have to know Japanese to enter a Japanese contest. If you don’t know Japanese, don’t be discouraged. You can ask your Japanese friends to help proofread your manuscript, use translation tools, or hire a professional translator. And if you win a contest, you can trust your Japanese-speaking editor to help refine your work

Good luck!

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