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Picture Books

re: What’s the Difference between Plot and Reading Experience?

in Creative Process/Picture Books by

Dear Editor…

I seem to be stuck – not just with my current picture book WIP but caught between “plot” and “reading experience” and I think I’m confusing myself. How do I know which I’m working on? I can’t quite put my thumb on the difference, not in any practical way.

Sincerely,
Confused

Dear Confused…

Let’s take this one on the road: You’re a passenger in a car. Your ride is smooth or bumpy, it’s noisy or quiet. You feel big and safe, or big and clunky, or small and vulnerable, or small and zippy. That’s the experience. The pieces of the car and the way they work together create that experience, and the carmaker is responsible for those pieces and their interaction. You’re the carmaker. The plot is your pile of pieces and how they work together, the readers will be your passengers. Do you want your readers to feel big and powerful? Then construct a plot with bold events and big triumph. Want them to enjoy being bumped about and then be left breathless and satisfied? Construct a plot that twists, jars, surprises. Whee! Decide what you want the reading experience to be, then lay out a series of events that create it. Don’t get tunnel-visioned about plot creation, though: Just as a car gets painted and tricked out, you’ve got word choice and rhythm and, eventually, illustrations to help shape the experience. Plot is a core element and matters greatly, but it’s not Everything.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Can Picture Book Readers Feel It If I Don’t Tell It?

in Picture Books by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a picture book. A reader recommended I remove the parts that say how the character feels physically when she’s scared. Here’s an example: “It looks taller than I remember. My stomach starts to hurt.” Other lines recommended for deletion: “My heart pounds just as loud.” “I swallow. My throat feels dry.” My crit group wanted more of those. I’d appreciate your experienced perspective about how to handle this to make PB stories the strongest.

Sincerely,
N

Dear N…

I understand the desire to convey a sensual experience. I generally encourage picture book writers to avoid statements that explicitly tell how the character feels. Try this: Close your eyes and imagine the sentence “It looks taller than I remember” on one page, then imagine turning the page and seeing a character looking up, up, up at the tall thing. What is that character’s body language? What is the expression on her face? Kids will “read” that body language and, with the extra help of the well-timed page turn, they’ll “feel” that uncomfortable belly sensation of being daunted without you laying the words “my stomach starts to hurt” on the page.  The beauty of telling stories via the picture book format is that the art and page turns do part of the work. So try deleting those lines to allow these tools room to tell the story with you. Tip: Think of yourself like a “straight man” in a comedy duo: You set up the jokes with your text, then let the art and page turns deliver the punch lines.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Smarter to NOT Rhyme My Picture Book?

in Creative Process/Picture Books by

Dear Editor…

I’ve learned my rhyming picture book manuscript needs A LOT of work—specifically, I need to learn more about meter. Daunting and exciting. I’m hearing, though, that some agents/editors are reluctant to consider rhyming picture books from unknown writers. Do you think my time would be better and more strategically spent by writing a non-rhyming version of the book, rather than working further on the rhyming version?  I’ve learned not to treat any of my writing too preciously, so I’m happy to follow either route, but just want to do what would benefit this project (and position it for a possible sale) the most.  I’d love to know your thoughts on that.

Sincerely,
To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme

Dear to Rhyme or Not to Rhyme…

Children’s book editors do have a high bar when it comes to rhyming manuscripts. “A LOT of work,” eh? In that case, I say that since you’re just as happy with the idea of a non-rhyming version, go with that option. Strive for fabulous rhythm, structure, and fun-in-the-mouth word choice. That’ll give you the read-aloud quality you’re probably aiming for, but without the challenges inherent in trying to tell a story while maneuvering the rules of rhyme. You use the word “strategic.” Alternatively, you could indulge your excitement about mastering meter, nail the rhyming version, and then submit that rhyming manuscript after you’ve placed a different project with an editor. Lots of writers use the strategy of submitting their tougher-to-place projects after their foot is in the door.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Revision Week: Salina Yoon

in Creative Process/Picture Books/Revision Week by

Dear Readers…

Revision Week continues with Salina Yoon, author/illustrator of more than 160 books for kids. Salina’s characters Penguin and Bear are adored by young children around the world, and it’s an honor to have her here talking about the revision process with picture books, both the text and visual storylines. Please join Salina and The Editor for Day 2 of Revision Week, and enter to win today’s “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 12.24.33 PMSalina Yoon is an award-winning and bestselling author/illustrator of over 160 books for children, including her popular picture book series with the adventurous Penguin and the lovable Bear. Other titles include Be a Friend, and Duck, Duck, Porcupine!, the first book of a brand new early reader series. Learn more about Salina and her books at salinayoon.com. Also, enter to winsigned a copy of Duck, Duck, Porcupine! (a book that made me laugh out loud), which just pubbed last week!

Salina’s interview follows the Rafflecopter forms/entry links for the signed copy of Duck, Duck, Porcupine! and today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway. Scroll down for her full interview.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For your books, you’re both author and illustrator. Do your stories start their development as words or pictures? Stories begin for me with an idea or a concept. Once I feel like there’s an idea to explore, I come up with a specific character that would best execute this idea. When the character is imagined, it helps to develop the story with more authenticity.

DUck Duck PorcupineHow many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made? Usually, it’s around the third draft of storyboarding (sketches and text) where I feel like it’s either there or it isn’t. That doesn’t sound like much, but most drafts are being thought out in my mind before it’s even written. I mull ideas over and let them stay in my head until they feel worthy enough to be put on paper.

Be a friendWhich draft typically gets shown to your editor? How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft? This depends on which editor it is going to. The editors I work with regularly for on-going series projects will get much looser, earlier storyboard drafts. For new editors on a new project submission, I would dummy out the entire book with tighter sketches and lots of finished art samples to have a clear representation of the final book. For Be a Friend, I dummied up nearly half the 40-page picture book with finished illustrations. After it was acquired, I ended up re-doing the artwork for the entire book because I was unsatisfied with my own quality of the illustrations. So doing the final artwork in the submission stage does not necessarily mean you will have less work to do once it is acquired. After the book was sold, I did two minor revisions with my editor, though the first revision required a new ending! But the ending did not require the beginning or middle to change in this case. thumbnails[Editor’s note: Over the years I’ve witnessed Salina’s personal encouragement of writers and illustrators­, so it’s no surprise to me that she’s gone the extra step of providing sketch drafts for us. Click on this pdf to see her original third draft of the Duck, Duck, Porcupine! storyboard, the version she shared with her editor. The coin in the scan shows how small those sketches actually are—roughly 3″x2″. That’s as big as she works until going to final art. She enlarges the thumbnails digitally then sends them to her editor to comments upon. thumbnails2You’ll see her editor’s notes in green; the other notes surrounding the spread are Salina’s as she begins the revision process.]

Do you use critique partners? I do not have critique partners, but I have a couple of trusted writer friends that I like to share my ideas with.  Or sometimes, I just go straight to my agent to hear what she thinks. For sequel ideas, I go straight to my editor.

Can you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did? I approach writing a story like solving a puzzle. Each piece is critical in telling the story. I cut out the pieces of my thumbnails so that each spread is loose. I arrange them in page order and see which scenes are weak, or not progressing the story. Then I simply replace the weak link with a revised piece, or simply delete it and move on. There is always lots of cutting, swapping, and taping in my crafty hands-on approach to revising.

Penguin and PineconeWhat’s the most drastic thing you’ve done to a story while revising? I’ve changed the goal of the character, which of course changed the plot, and of course changed the ending! And another time, I changed the ending… which required me to change the beginning… and revise the middle. It’s hard to change one part without impacting everything else in the story.

How do you know you’ve got the final draft? I have many false finals before it gets to the real final! This is a tough thing to know for certain, but it’s when it goes to press that I feel confident that this is it!

Thank you, Salina!

You can follow Salina on Facebook and Twitter @salinayoon.

Penguin and Pinecone on Vacation

re: Must I Contact Descendants for Biography?

in Contracts/Historical Fiction/Nonfiction/Picture Books by

Dear Editor…

During the recent Picture Book Idea Month hosted by Tara Lazar, I had a question that popped up (and was referred your way). I have a nonfiction biography I’m working on (creative nonfiction). If the person still has possible living descendants, do you track them down for permission to write about the historical person (if they’re not someone famous)? What would a publisher’s or editor’s perspective be on a project like this? Any idea?

Sincerely,
Jena

Dear Jena…

Though you don’t need descendants’ permission for biographies of private people, descendants can conceivably sue for an aspect of defamation/ invasion of privacy. They may not have standing or a strong case in this legal gray area, but you’d have to deal with it. Publishing contracts are usually worded to put that on you, although in-house attorneys weigh in. If your portrayal isn’t complimentary, smart money says have a publishing attorney assess your specifics to prevent greater future expense. I recently urged a client to do that because her subject is current generation, the circumstances emotional. The longer your subject has been deceased, the safer you likely are. Is there a moral imperative to seek permission? Get their blessing? I and experts I spoke with don’t think so. What if they decline? Will you trash your project? Do consider that descendants can be great resources, confirming/correcting info and providing insights, photos, documents. You could reach out for interviews or info without asking permission. Share your angle and aim to be thorough and fair.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Submitting Finished Art with Picture Book Manuscripts

in Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Do I need to have illustrations finished for a picture book before I try to sell it? How does that work?

Sincerely,
Heather

Dear Heather…

Do not finish that artwork. If you’re an illustrator as well as a writer, submit a full sketch dummy of the project and only one or two sample finished pieces (as pdfs or photocopies, not original artwork) to showcase your artwork. Also be prepared to show a full art portfolio upon request. It’s almost certain your acquiring editor and book designer will have some revision suggestions for the illustration dummy, just as they would for the text-only manuscript. If you’re not an illustrator by profession or training, don’t submit artwork at all; the manuscript will be matched with an illustrator by your acquiring editor. Artwork that’s less than professional or in any other way not exceptional can hurt a submission by creating a negative impression. Writers who are not also illustrators (a category that includes me) must trust someone else to do the visual storytelling.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Do I Break Into Picture Book Illustration?

in Picture Books/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

How on earth do I become an illustrator?

Sincerely,
Troubled in Texas

Dear Troubled in Texas…

Assuming your art can compete with that being published in the current market, I recommend you try to get a literary agent who represents children’s book illustrators. She’ll constantly pitch you to editors, she’ll know about manuscripts already under contract with publishers but needing artists, and she’ll help shape your career. Do submit directly to editors and art directors, too, via postcard mailings; those folks will keep the cards on file if they like the art, but you must send new cards to stay on their radars. Also make a portfolio that shows off your style, characters, color palette, conceptual thinking, and design sense to show that you understand the opportunities of the picture book format, like page turns and perspective shifts. To learn that, study picture books in stores or take a picture book illustration course. Above all, join the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators. Its resources include how-to’s and directories of agents, editors, and courses. Your local chapter periodically hosts agents, editors, art directors, and experienced illustrators for portfolio consults, and you’ll learn the pub biz itself, not just how to break in.

Happy illustrating!
The Editor

re: Are Footnoted Illustration Notes the New Vogue?

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I know illustration notes should only be used when absolutely necessary in picture book manuscripts, but I do have a few manuscripts that need them. I’ve recently seen them noted as footnotes rather than italicized text between brackets. What do you think of this?

Sincerely,
Wendy

Dear Wendy…

I haven’t seen that, myself. That formatting sounds like it would interrupt the reading experience, forcing the editor or agent to stop reading the main text, drop down to the bottom of the page, and then go back up and find their place within the main text again. Such interruption is the same reason many people dislike footnotes in a published book. Some readers simply skip the footnotes altogether, or wait until they get to the bottom of the page to glance at them. I recommending sticking with industry standard, which is to set the illustration note within brackets alongside the pertinent line of text. Why risk distracting an editor with a formatting detail? Save your risk-taking for revolutionary story content or narrative styles. That kind of “different” wins you fans.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Any Hope for Non-Artists Submitting ABC/Other Concept Books?

in Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Is there any point in submitting a concept book such as ABC, colors, numbers if you are not an illustrator. I have a great idea but I am concerned that editors/agents will think my contribution to the end product was not significant enough. What are your thoughts on this?

Sincerely,
Laurie

Dear Laurie…

That project will probably be tougher to place than a less art-dependent one, but it’s not impossible. It could happen in a number of ways. If you have an opportunity to submit directly to an editor, she likely wouldn’t acquire it until she gets an illustrator to commit. She’d then take you both to her editorial board as a package deal for the final okay. I’ve seen that happen plenty of times with concept book projects that hinge on the illustrations. If you submit to an agent, the agent may decide to handle the pairing herself, pitching your concept to editors with an illustrator she already represents. An option you might consider, if yours isn’t a time-sensitive concept, is holding on to it until you’ve secured an agent or editor with another manuscript, one with more textual “meat.” At that point, you’ll be talking with them about other projects you’ve got in the works and can pitch this concept. Its acquisition may still depend on an artist’s solid commitment, but you won’t be trying to land your first deal with a manuscript that’s more idea than text.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: What’s Up with the Super Short Picture Book Texts?

in Creative Process/Picture Books by

Dear Editor…

I was wondering if you would know why the word count for picture books is dwindling. Now I have heard it’s 500 words or less. Why the decrease in word count? Same number of pages. Is it to focus more on illustrations?

Sincerely,
Patti

Dear Patti…

It’s a combination of market demand and product potential. Sales are strong for shorter, character-driven picture books, as opposed to stories with longer, more detailed narratives and plots. Concept always matters, but it’s the characters who drive this bus. Illustrations are key to their presentation. If the characters hit big, you’re looking at more books, even a franchise. Writers crafting this kind of text should strive for concise, rhythmic wording for a rich read-aloud quality. As for plot, think episodically, seeing the story in a series of scenes that use page turns and rhythmic breaks to transition from one moment to the next. That leaves room for the illustrator to swoop in with a strong visual storyline utilizing those same turns and breaks. Fewer words, but the same goal: a story that’s fun to read, delivers a great message, and offers characters with whom kids can connect.

Happy writing!
The Editor

News: 1 Call for Submissions & 2 Publisher-Sponsored Contests

in New Adult Fiction/News/Picture Books/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction/Uncategorized by

Dear Readers…

Summer seems to be bringing out the editors! In today’s post I share news about two publisher-sponsored contests and a call for submissions for a new imprint. Check out the rest of the post for details on these opportunities.

Heads up: I post news like this and other publishing happenings on the DearEditor.com Facebook page and DearEditor.com Google+ page. If you haven’t already “Liked” the page, consider checking it out. I do my best to keep the news and inspirational items flowing there.

Happy submitting!
The Editor

Picture book contest: LEE & LOW BOOKS announces its 14th annual “New Voices Award” for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and a standard publication contract. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500. Click here to check out the Lee & Low Books announcement page.

Young Adult & New Adult fiction call for submissions: BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING is announcing their new digital-only imprint Bloomsbury Spark with a call for YA and NA submissions. Bloomsbury Spark will publish fiction eBooks for teen, YA, and new adult readers. Its list will feature multiple genres: romance, contemporary, dystopian, paranormal, sci-fi, mystery, thriller, and more. The inaugural list launches in Autumn 2013. Click here for Bloomsbury Spark’s submission guidelines and email addresses.

New Adult fiction Pitch Contest: NA ALLEY, a blog for writers of New Adult fiction by writers of New Adult fiction, is hosting a Pitch Contest with Senior Editorial Director Karen Grove and Assistant Editor Nicole Steinhaus from Embrace, the New Adult line from Entangled Publishing. Entangled is interested in “submissions of any genre with main characters aged 18 to 24. ‘We’re looking for strong voices, characters who jump off the page, and unusual twists to stories. Fresh. Exciting. Bold.’” The contest starts June 5 at 1pm PST and closes June 12 at 11:59pm PST. To enter, you will be required to submit via comment at the NA Alley blog. Your manuscript must be complete and polished, and it must fall into the New Adult category. Check out the NA Alley Pitch Contest announcement post for details about what to include in the comment.

Good luck!

Guest Editor Sara Sciuto re: Should I Submit My Picture Book Dummy to Agents & Editors Simultaneously?

in Guest Editors/Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

If I submit a picture book dummy to a publisher, may I also query an agent about the same pb, as long as I state it is a “simultaneous” submission? I am thinking of finding an agent. Is this a turn-off to the agent if the ms is out there?

Thanks for the advice!
Lisa

 

Sara SciutoSara Sciuto, today’s Guest Editor, is an agent with Full Circle Literary, representing children’s fiction (picture books, middle grade, and YA) and select adult nonfiction. A graduate of the University of California, San Diego, Sara also completed literature coursework at NYU. Before joining Full Circle, she gained valuable experience working on film and foreign rights with the Taryn Fagerness Agency. Her great passions in life are travel and good food – and good books, of course! (Website: www.fullcircleliterary.com, Twitter: @sarasciuto, Blog: http://sarasciuto.tumblr.com/)

Dear Lisa…

Great question! It does happen sometimes that an author will let me know that their material is currently under review at a publishing house (usually because they had an open invitation from attending a conference), and that’s fine as long as they let us know. However, I wouldn’t suggest planning on submitting to agencies and publishing houses simultaneously while you’re trying to find an agent. Here’re a few reasons why: (1) It could be a deterrent to an interested agent if we learn it’s already been submitted to multiple houses (that’s fewer chances we have to get it sold). (2) Most agents are fairly hands-on editorially (I know I am!) and will work with you to make your project stronger before ever submitting to publishers. You only have one shot with a particular publishing house/imprint so you want your project in its best possible shape before submitting. Having an agent on your side BEFORE you submit will help you make it all the more strong and appealing to publishers. (3) When an author/illustrator (which I assume you are if you’re submitting a dummy rather than just a manuscript) meets an editor at a conference and submits a dummy, that author is typically only sending one project to one publishing house. An agent is able to send the project to several editors at one time in order to find the best match for your project. There you have it—three reasons why I suggest securing an agent before submitting your work to publishers.

Best wishes,
Sara Sciuto

re: Have I Waited Too Long to Submit Post-Conference?

in Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

At a SCBWI conference, I had an art director show interest in my pb dummy, however she wanted to see some changes. I have made those changes, but it has taken me five months. May I submit the ms and dummy to her at this point? Or should I submit it with the SCBWI sticker used for conference attendees to the “acquisitions” dept. and send her a follow-up letter it is submitted the usual way? It is a long time after the usual three months. We did connect via email about this project, and she was interested. Which way to proceed? Thank you for your ideas.

Sincerely,
Lisa

Dear Lisa…

Build on the connection you’ve already established – send that revised dummy to your art director contact. Five months is fine as long as she put no time limit on submissions from that conference. I wouldn’t even give it a second thought before six months. An explanation is in order, though, if you take longer than six months. At a year, you’ve pretty much missed that boat. The art director may question your ability to produce in a timely manner, or she just might have left the company altogether. There’s a lot of house jumping in publishing.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: My Agent Says No, I Say Yes…. Who’s Right?

in Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

My agent isn’t sure there’s enough of a market for my new picture book manuscript. I’m thinking of subbing it on my own (my contract with my agent is very flexible in this regard), and trying for smaller, independent presses. Here’s where I get a little confused as a writer. The agent is supposed to know the market, so do I just take her at her word for it and abandon the project? My writing group thinks it’s a good story and, my agent did say she thought it was very well written, so I’m not quite ready to just toss it aside. Once upon a time, nobody thought there was a market for boy wizards either until one publisher took the risk. Just wondering if you have any thoughts or insights on this.

Thanks,
Y. N.

Dear Y. N.…

The key factor here is that your agent gave the writing itself a thumbs up. She’s not afraid this project will hurt your reputation; it’s clearly a numbers thing. Knowing that, I say do your round of smaller press submissions. A small press isn’t as dependent on huge yearly sales as a Big House (although they’d sure love to score huge sales) and so may be that risk-taking house you’re looking for. Either you’ll get a book deal (yay!) or you’ll get peace of mind that you’ve given this story a shot at the bound cover.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: The State of Picture Book Ebooks

in Ebooks/Picture Books by

Dear Editor…

Thanks for your help with all our questions! I am a little wary of e-publication, since I have been going the other route. I would like to know the success or state of e-books vs traditional publishing. Is it a viable option for picture book authors? I’d really like to know how well e-books, and apps are doing, and whether or not e-books are gaining popularity and sales.

Thank you!
Lisa

Dear Lisa…

Resist being a Nervous Nellie during this publishing revolution. View e-publication not as a usurper but as an additional tool in our publishing belt. One picture book sales VP put it to me this way: “Look, we’ve been given another format—that’s a good thing.” Overall, ebook sales are still rising, but in recent months that rise has slowed. Specific “children’s books” sales reports lump picture books in with novels like The Hunger Games, so specific numbers are hard to come by, but few would argue that digital will become the dominant format for picture books anytime soon—the major reason being that too much of the unique reading experience is lost in the transition from bound book to screen. (I mourn trim size distinctions: a bold 10×10 book reads differently than an intimate 8×10, a distinction that’s neutralized in a one-screen-fits-all reading device.) But some readers want digital picture books, and we should give it to them. Self-published picture book authors who can handle the expense and distribution should sell both hard copies and digital. Book-specific apps aren’t worth your money or effort yet. Easily $10,000 a pop, picture book apps are for bestsellers and branded characters—as bonus items, not marketing tools. Apps don’t sell books because, due to discoverability issues, readers must know about an app to look for it, meaning publishers must market the apps with resources better spent directly on the book.

Happy writing!
The Editor

 

Guest Editor Stacy Innerst: The Risk of Illustration Notes in Picture Books Manuscripts

in Guest Editors/Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

If you have a spare text for a picture book, should you send along another copy of the story with illustration notes? If so, what’s the proper format for the notes? Brackets? Italics?

Sincerely,
Natasha

Stacy Innerst, today’s Guest Editor, is the award-winning illustrator of picture books including The Worm Family, M Is For Music, Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea, Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country), and the upcoming The Beatles: They Were Fab and They Were Funny.

Dear Natasha…

An illustrator’s perspective: I prefer to have the opportunity to have an unencumbered first impression of the story, no matter how spare the text might be.  You’d be amazed at how easily an artist’s creative train can be derailed by having illustration notes, especially early in the process—it’s like a hair in your soup, you can’t forget about it.

The first reading of just words on a page, without preconceptions, is where the pictures start to germinate and the enthusiasm for the project takes hold. I can only assume that an editor would feel the same way.

I understand that with minimal text there is a temptation to sell the story by filling in the blanks, but I think if the root of the story is strong enough the pictures will come. A good illustrator will get what you’re trying to evoke without too much direction.

Best wishes to you,
Stacy Innerst

re: How to Handle Picture Book Back Matter During Submission

in Picture Books by

Dear Editor…

I see picture books with supporting information in the back. I am ready to submit a fiction picture book for which I have some suporting information I think would be fun for readers. How do I handle that in the submission? Do I include it or just discuss it in the cover letter?

Sincerely,
Rosi

Dear Rosi…

Include the back matter as part of your manuscript and call it out in your query letter. That supporting material is a component of your project, which should be considered in full. There’s no point in telling the editor about potential back matter but then leaving her to guess whether or not you could create truly interesting and useful material. If the editor thinks the back matter isn’t necessary, she’ll focus on the text; you won’t have hurt yourself by including it. Just remember that back matter should expand the book’s usefulness or interest. Adding instructions for building a kite simply because a kite appears in your story may seem fun, but it’s probably unnecessary. If the kite figures into the story in a crucial way that implies buying or building a kite is important, then it makes sense to add material about kite building and flying. Nonfiction picture books are more natural candidates for back matter, but fiction can benefit from it, too.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Picture Book Text versus Magazine Story

in Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’ve been getting rejection letters—that’s okay, I get it, it’s part of the process and I’ve been fine with it until now. An agent just rejected my picture book manuscript with the comment that it would be best suited for a magazine because the hook isn’t strong enough to carry a whole book. It made me feel BAD, I mean REALLY BAD, that she didn’t think it has any value as a picture book. And now I’m worried she’s right. Maybe I’m taking it too hard, and maybe it’s not such a terrible comment. I hope you don’t mind me bouncing this off you….

Thanks,
E.

Dear E….

I’m sorry your spirits have taken a pummeling. Rejection stinks, especially when it seems to undermine the whole project! Is there truth in the agent’s critique? Could be. “It’s not substantial enough” is a common critique because it’s a common pitfall as writers learn to distinguish a nice story for kids from a story that can sustain 32 satisfying pages and an $18 tag. Parents shelling out for books want reread-ability and to extend the conversation beyond the pages, and for that the stories need extra oomph from universal themes presented in a deep and/or fresh way, necessary and well-timed page turns, and lots of visual opportunities for illustrations. But then, maybe your ms is simply a fun romp, with fun language and energy that’ll entice re-reading for the sheer joy of it. There’s an audience for that. This agent feels your ms isn’t substantial enough? Fine. Your book isn’t for her. If you feel you’ve got the oomph or the romp, keep trying.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Guest Editor Bobbi Katz re: Formatting a Poetry Collection Submission

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Guest Editors/Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

My writing partner and I have a collection of poems we want to submit. What we can’t find anywhere is how to format the poems. Should we include a list of the poems in the order they are being presented? Should each poem have line or word counts at the top of the page? Should the pages have a header with the overall title and page numbers? Should each poem simply be presented with its own page number since they might be moved around by an editor? We can’t find any information anywhere to guide us.
Thanks,
Rosi

Dear Rosi…

I’ve done collections of my own poems and anthologies, plus I’ve been an editor. That said, my way of preparing a manuscript may not be to everyone’s liking. My system is to make life as easy as possible for the reader/editor.

After deciding on the order of the poems, I create a title page with, of course, the title in caps and the authors’ names and contact info on the lower right. Each poem should be typed on a separate sheet and be 1.5- or double-spaced. Once you’ve established a working order, number the pages in the lower right corner with a circle around them. If any of the poems has been previously published in an anthology or magazine, print the credit on the page. I usually use a different font and smaller type for that. Then I create a (tentative) table of contents page. In most of my books there is an order created by the subject of the poems. In my anthology Pocket Poems, for example, I used poems to create a day for an elementary child from waking up, getting dressed, going to school, etc., until bedtime. Sometimes just the opening and ending poems act like book ends. That’s the case with a collection of my own poems, A Rumpus of Rhymes: A Book of Noisy Poems. All the poems contain onomatopoeic words. I just tried to imagine which poems might go together very loosely by seasons ending with the palpable silence of a “Snow Scene.” Poets order each collection differently, of course. You’ll have to decide what’s best for your current project. These days I believe that editors receive so much material that the less they have to do to see the possibility of creating a book from a manuscript, the better your chances are. Do not staple the manuscript. A sturdy paperclip is best so that the editor can move the poems about easily. Include an SASE when you do a hardcopy submission via regular mail, but be sure to check the agency’s/publisher’s website for their submission guidelines, as they may prefer electronic submissions or have formatting/SASE preferences.

You and your partner have written a collection. I imagine that these are either poems you’ve worked on together or poems by you and poems by your partner. A brief cover letter to the editor is a must. In a few words explain the collaboration. You may mention that while a few of the poems have appeared elsewhere, you control all the rights, if indeed that is the case.

I wish you the best of luck in finding a home for the collection.

-Guest Editor Bobbi Katz

Bobbi Katz has written picture books, chapter books, and even a biography about her hero, Nelson Mandela, but she is best known for her lauded collections of poetry and rhyming books, such as A Rumpus of Rhymes: A Book of Noisy Poems, Once Around The Sun, Trailblazers: Poems of Exploration, Nothing But A Dog, The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme, We the People, Partner Poems for Building Literacy, Pocket Poems, and More Pocket Poems. Bobbi conducts poetry workshops for children, teachers, and librarians. Her classroom workshops make students and teachers comfortable with reading and writing poetry and discovering the joy of language. For more about Bobbi, visit her website www.bobbikatz.com.

 

re: How to Submit When Illustrations Are Kit-and-Caboodle with the Text

in Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

My wife and I have collaborated on a 4,000-word children’s book with hybrid animals as the main characters and are growing a brand built around them. Although we have not done the illustrations, we own the copyrights to them and need them to be depicted as conceived. In a query letter to an editor and/or agent, would it be appropriate to include these illustrations and would color be acceptable? As an alternative, could we insert a link to our website?

Sincerely,
Nick

Dear Nick…

My usual reaction to this kind of question is to run around in circles with my arms flailing wildly, screaming, “Don’t include illustrations! Editors and agents really, really, REALLY don’t want them!” And in most cases, they don’t need them. We writers sometimes forget that half of a picture book editor’s job is envisioning potential illustration styles for a story and then pairing the manuscript with an established illustrator. But in your case, the project is all-or-nothing, so here’s how to do it right: Include one or two color illustrations on a single sheet of paper in your submission package and then refer the agent/editor to your website for more illustration samples. Explain the scope of your project in the cover letter. After that, it’s up to them to decide if they like your text and illustrations with equal passion.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Revision Week: Kathleen Krull

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Picture Books/Revision Week by

Dear Readers…

DearEditor.com’s Revision Week continues with award-winning author Kathleen Krull. In 2011 Kathleen was awarded the Children’s Book Guild of Washington D.C. Nonfiction Award, an honor presented annually to “an author or illustrator whose total body of work has contributed significantly to the quality of nonfiction for children.”

Please join Kathleen and The Editor for Day 2 of Revision Week, and find out how to win today’s “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.

Kathleen Krull has written some 60 books for young readers, most notably the award-winning series of “Lives of” books, now with new jackets and new titles forthcoming. The Editor had the honor of working with Kathleen on many of the “Lives of” books as well as other books at Harcourt Children’s Books.

*After Kathleen’s interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway.

When you write a new picture book manuscript, how many drafts does it typically take before you’ll show it to an editor?

From the days when every penny counted, I’m so cheap with paper that I don’t print out a draft after I make every little change, so it’s hard to say. I print at least 10 to 15 drafts, representing what seem like substantial changes, before I’m happy. When I get to the point of taking out commas and putting them back in again, I feel ready to send it off.

How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?

A lot, as you know, Deborah, from sitting across the desk from me once upon a time. A good example is Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez. True story: between what I thought was my final draft, and what emerged after the editorial process, only one sentence stood intact: “Grapes, when ripe, do not last long.” It’s not that I deliberately send in something unpolished, it’s that editors are indispensable. (Note from The Editor: Kathy gave me permission to take credit for coming up with the “Harvesting Hope” title. I credit Kathy’s other wonderful editor at Harcourt with the revision fun.) Watch the National Endowment for the Humanities book trailer for Harvesting Hope here.

You’ve started co-writing with your husband, author/illustrator Paul Brewer. How does that collaboration work?

It’s truly a collaboration. One of us will start with an idea (Fartiste, needless to say, was his), a paragraph, or a first page, and we’ll then pass drafts back and forth, endlessly tweaking. Paul specializes in research. With Lincoln Tells a Joke, he found all the jokes. Same thing with our upcoming funny book about the Beatles. My focus is the final fine-tuning of the words. He typically works at night and I work days, so I’ll hand things off to him at the end of the day and find it back on my desk the next morning.

Did you use Paul or other critique partners for the books you wrote solo in the past?

Paul is usually the only one I show manuscripts to, for the simple value of watching his face as he reads. I can tell when he gets hung up, confused, or amused, and I use those reactions as clues when I’m revising.

Do you ever read your picture book manuscripts to kids to test them out?

I’ve tried this, but haven’t found it that helpful. I lean toward the “too many cooks” theory, that my views and the editor’s (and sometimes Paul’s) are what matter. More input than that can be muddling.

Can you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did?

With my biography of Dr. Seuss (The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss), I found it flummoxing that his life, from all outward appearances, was pretty darn charmed. I like to write about obstacles overcome, battles fought and won, and with him the more I researched, the less conflict I found. After many many drafts, I was finally able to tease out the theme that fooling around with words and pictures was not considered appropriate for an adult—but he did it anyway.

What’s the most drastic thing you’ve done to a story while revising?

With Fartiste, Paul and I tried every which way to tell the story of Joseph Pujol, a real French performer whose entire act was farting on stage. Nothing clicked until I hit upon telling the story in rhyme. Paul thought this was a terrible idea—among other reasons, most editors hate stories in rhyme. But then I came up with a few funny verses, and we were off and running. I’d like to use this remedy again, but it would have to be the right subject.

How do you know you’ve got the final draft?

When the editor and I have wrestled it into a story that seems to have written itself—that’s the goal anyway.

TODAY’S GIVEAWAY:

Today The Editor is giving away another FREE PARTIAL EDIT of your manuscript. Note that the winner of today’s giveaway IS eligible for Saturday’s grand prize Full Manuscript Edit Giveaway. Here are the rules, with a bonus entry available to DearEditor.com subscribers:

  1. Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
  2. The partial edit will cover the FIRST CHAPTER of your manuscript. In the case of a picture book entry, the edit will cover the entire manuscript—but the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
  3. Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 6, 2012, PST.
  4. Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 7, 2012, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.

TO ENTER:

One entry –  SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Partial Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to dear-editor@hotmail.com.)

Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.

Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.

Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.

Good luck!

Blog Tour: Katie Davis on Promoting Books (Book Giveaway!)

in Giveaways/News/Picture Books/Promotion by

Dear Readers…

Author/illustrator Katie Davis is a tireless promoter whose 9 children’s books have sold over 250,000 copies. Today at DearEditor.com she’s sharing what she’s learned about promoting—and she’s giving away a free download of her new eBook How to Promote Your Children’s Book: Tips, Tricks and Secrets to Create a Bestseller.

What I love about Katie Davis is how she can make even hard work fun. This attitude is on full display in her new eBook How to Promote Your Children’s Book: Tips, Tricks and Secrets to Create a Bestseller, 30 chapters of practical advice about things like plotting your strategy, using social media, growing your mailing list, and using videos in ways beyond book trailers. I edited the book (disclaimer!), so I know there’s great info in it, from Katie as well as the 60 authors she interviewed for the book. Katie visited DearEditor.com as a Guest Editor last year to sort out the benefits of podcasting versus adding video to your website. Today she answers readers’ questions (and my own) about promoting books. At the end of the Q&A are instructions for entering a drawing for A FREE PDF DOWNLOAD OF HER BOOK.

Katie, you’ve got a lot of on-going promo tools such as your weekly podcasts. When you have a new book coming out, how far ahead of your pub date do you start book-specific promoting?

My mind can wander, imagine, plan and think of specifics while I’m finishing up the art (not the writing—I can only think of the story when I’m writing). With Little Chicken’s Big Day, every time I had a new idea, I added it to The List. Then once I turn in the art I can pay attention to that list, anywhere between 18 months to a year before the book comes out.

How do you balance your writing and promoting time?

Last year I did not do well on the balance thing! So far this year I am getting up early, doing a little social media action over coffee, and then I turn everything off and write in the mornings until lunch. After lunch I do other kinds of things, like my podcast or email answering, blog writing, etc.

Will the promotional strategies in your book work for novels, too?

Actually, it would work for any kind of book—including adult books. And in fact, the basic principles would work for any kind of promotion, though the examples are specific to children’s books.

And now a few questions from DearEditor.com readers…

I love your trailer for Little Chicken’s Big Day! What’s one effective way to use a trailer? —Anonymous picture book writer

One? Just one? Sorry. Can’t do that! Here are many things to do with your great book trailer:

  • Upload it to YouTube (you can use up to four different titles in order to upload four times, broadening your reach)
  • embed on your site
  • upload to other video sites like teachertube.com, booktrailersforall.com, and kidlitbooktrailers.ning.com/video
  • include the YouTube URL in your signature
  • create a QR code and include it on your business card
  • enter it in trailer competitions like the Moby or SLJ Trailee Award contests

Does it make sense to send free promo copies directly to teachers, as a contribution to their classroom libraries?BrickToyNut, MG fantasy writer

It would certainly be nice of you! It makes sense if you want to thank a particularly supportive or helpful teacher. However, if your goal is to generate word of mouth in the teaching community, I’d recommend holding a giveaway. Then tweet, blog, and Facebooking it to teachers would be far more effective. If your goal is to generate sales, it might be better to send support materials to tempt them to use the book in the classroom. You could do other things to be helpful, like offer “value added” services to make it worthwhile to purchase your book. Offering a free Skype Q&A to the class after they do an author study would be a great example of that. To connect with teachers for this kind of promotion, check out http://skypeanauthor.wetpaint.com/ or http://www.katemessner.com/authors-who-skype-with-classes-book-clubs-for-free/.

How important is it to create a teacher’s resource guide to go along with the book?BrickToyNut

It depends on the target age of your reader. Picture books should have activities or puzzles, or anything that extends the impact and value of your book. Middle grade and young adult novels should absolutely have a resource guide. You can offer it as a digital download on your site and other sites that sell your book, and if you have it printed you can make it available at book fairs, festivals, and school visits. I have one for a middle grade novel I wrote that did not do well, but I’m glad I have it because the teachers I’ve given it to love it!

Out of the many suggestions you have on how to promote a book, which one would you say has the highest success rate?Kurt Chambers, YA fantasy writer (whose first novel, Truth Teller, pubbed last week!) 

Congrats on your debut!

Genuine reciprocity is the best way to live online. It’s the thing I emphasize most in How to Promote Your Children’s Book. That means:

  • give before you get
  • support others
  • follow blogs not because you hope they’ll review your book but because you like what they have to say
  • engage in your community and connect

What does that look like?

  •  Tweet someone’s blog post because you like it
  •  Tell others about a great site
  •  Blog about something that will help other people

I wanted to make this tour worth it for anyone who would help me so I bribed enticed my hosts to join in the fun work by gifting them their own copy of the book. There is also promotion for them because they’re each linked on every blog I’m visiting, as well as on my own site. As hokey as it sounds, the thing that works best for me is to always try to give more than I get. It feels good to help others and if it feels good, you’ll be more likely to keep up with your promotional efforts, too.

How to Promote Your Children’s Book: Tips, Tricks and Secrets to Create a Bestseller: PDF / For kindle / For Nook /For iPad, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch

Follow Katie’s blog tour for more promo insights & giveaways:

GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment on this post by midnight Wednesday, Feb 8, to be included in the random drawing for a free pdf edition of How to Promote Your Children’s Book: Tips, Tricks and Secrets to Create a Bestseller. Winner to be announced Thursday, Feb 9.

Katie Davis has published nine books and appears monthly on the ABC affiliate show, Good Morning Connecticut, recommending great books for kids. She produces Brain Burps About Books, a podcast about kidlit, a blog and monthly newsletter. Katie has volunteered in a maximum-security prison teaching Writing for Children and over the last dozen years has presented at schools and writing conferences. She’s a 2010 Cybils judge and has also judged the Golden Kite, smartwriters.com, and Frontiers in Writing awards. Recently Katie was selected to be on the Honorary Advisory Board for the Brooke Jackman Foundation, a literacy-based charity. For more about Katie and her book, go to www.KatieDavis.com.

re: Opportunities in Children’s Book Categories

in Creative Process/Picture Books/Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have ideas for both fiction and nonfiction children’s books. What category is easier to break into?

Thanks,
Amy

Dear Amy…

“Easy” is no word for publishing. The economy and industry changes have publishers proceeding cautiously. Embrace “opportunity” instead. If your nonfiction ideas are curriculum-based, you’ll rely on institutional sales (mainly schools and libraries) where budgets are being slashed, slimming opportunities there. Nonfiction picture books with rhythmic narrative are finding homes, though, appealing to institutional and consumer buyers alike. Consider Me…Jane, a picture book biography that offers a simple, rhythmic story and leaves the facts for the backmatter. Children’s fiction has opportunities: YA can make money, MG sales are up, and the market for fictional picture books is improving. But “opportunity” becomes “success” only if you’re ready for it. Developing ideas into fresh, standout additions to any category is hard work, and hard work only happens when you’re passionate enough about an idea to pursue it doggedly. So add “passion” to your word list, too.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Thanksgiving Thinking

in Picture Books by

Dear Readers . . .

As we set aside our pens and papers today to count our blessings amongst family and friends, here’s something extra to chew on, from the writer who teaches us as much now that we’re grown as he did when we were tykes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Editor

“When you think things are bad

when you feel sour and blue

when you start to get mad

you should do what I do!

Just tell yourself, Duckie, you’re really quite lucky!

Some people are much more

oh, ever so much more

oh, muchly much-much more unlucky than you!”

from Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, by Dr. Seuss

re: The Sweet Smell of Submissions

in Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I have written a picture book manuscript and am confused about what to write as far as a cover letter/query letter. It’s my understanding I send the entire ms (461 words) with it for any submissions. What do I need to send with the ms?

Sincerely,

Melanie

Dear Melanie…

Don’t let the jargon trip you up. Submit two things: the cover letter (called a “query letter”) and your manuscript. That’s all.

Seriously. That’s ALL. Don’t include anything gimmicky. An author once sent me a vial of homemade perfume that tied into her story’s theme. Only, I didn’t know the vial was in the submission envelope when I shoved it into my bag to read at home—along with several full novel manuscripts. The vial was crushed in my car. The scent? Let’s just say the manuscript was about a horse and leave it at that.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: A Place for Poetry Collections in Children’s Books?

in Picture Books by

Dear Editor…

Are agents accepting children’s poetry books by authors with a passion for phonemic awareness and whole-brain education?

Sincerely,

Jennifer

Dear Jennifer…

Ah, a poet who knows it and wants to work it. There is a place for poetry books in the children’s book market, but it’s a tough one to squeeze into. The picture book market is still scrabbling its way out of the recession, and straight poetry collections are hard sells. To better your chances, your collection should center on one child-friendly theme, which you’ll use as your hook. Douglas Florian built a career by coupling this strategy with clever, child-friendly poems that wow grown-ups, too. Mammalabilia, Insectlopedia, Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings… Florian works his poetry like nobody’s business. Where there’s a passion for poetry, there is a way.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: “Rules” for Picture Book Word Counts?

in Picture Books by

Dear Editor…
I’m having a hard time figuring out the “rules” of picture books. Word limits:  I’ve seen figures ranging from 1000 to 1500 to even higher.  Do you have any advice?

Sincerely,

Sharon

Dear Sharon…

The discrepancy you’re encountering in word count may be due to the fact that picture books serve a wide-ranged audience, from toddlers to tweens. For the record, there are no specific “rules” regarding word counts, nor should there be. But perhaps this breakdown will help you navigate these cloudy waters:

Young picture book: For ages 2 to 5. Short, simple texts/concepts and young, bold illustrations. Example: Guess How Much I Love You You, approx. 400 words.

Standard picture book: For ages 3 to 7. Generally illustrated stories. Example: How I Became a Pirate, approx. 1000 words.

Older picture book: For ages 6 to 9. Somewhat more sophisticated subject matter and approach to illustrations. Example: Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez, approx. 2500 words.

Illustrated story collection, Illustrated historical fiction, or Nonfiction photo-essay: For ages 7 to 10, although the ages vary for this category; “All ages” may apply. Stronger emphasis on text than illustration, and the format is typically of a larger picture book size. Example: Lives of Extraordinary Women, approx. 16,500 words.

Happy writing!

The Editor

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