How I won a Picture book writing contest in Japan

Today I found out that I won an incentive award at the 10th picture book contest in Japan. I’m very happy.
It is my first picture book-creating contest, and I feel lucky that the jury marked my manuscript as publication material. Let me tell you what you need to win this happy price based on my experience.

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 don’t know much about other genres, but to self-publish a paper book would cost more than 200 000 yen. Then you would have to advertise your book and sell it yourself.
Knocking on the publisher’s door was not an option for me either. The publishers are usually flooded with options. And it is always safer to publish someone how’s name is already known than a novice storyteller. I’m not that tough to fight this battle.
In this context, a contest sounds like a reasonable idea. There are strict terms by which you would get a definite result. A plus. You also have a deadline, which makes you work towards it. A plus. Even if I don’t get any prize I will advertise my participation as a research activity. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

Choosing a contest

There are a few contest options in Japan from which you can choose. One contest is held twice a year, one is once a year, and there are various “only manuscript” contests.
At first, I chose the one that is held once a year and is sponsored by the Children’s Literature research lab in Osaka. Notwithstanding, the judges are also members of this lab.

But at a later writing stage, I discovered that they have a requirement on the length that I didn’t meet. My manuscript was shorter in half. I didn’t lose hope and switched to a twice-a-year contest held by Mirai publishing.

Thankfully, they didn’t have any requirements, and my writing went on smoothly. And although I suspect they might ask me to add some pages before we sign a contract for the publication, I am very motivated to publish, so I’ll do anything in my power to produce a good book.
Here are other contests that I considered:

Most of them have an already published book requirement, so I saved them for later.

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. But don’t be discouraged. Where there is a will there is a way. Ask your Japanese friends to proofread your manuscript. Use various translation tools. And, if you win, trust your Japanese-speaking editor.

Good luck!

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