Feb 11

Picture Books – What Grabs an Editor

Grabbing an Editor

I attended a ‘live’ two hour writing workshop through SCBWI: Hook, Line and Sinker: What Catches the Editor’s Eye with Scholastic editor Natalia Remis.

It was an amazing workshop and not only was the information excellent, the editor gave the first page of the attendees’ manuscripts a critique!

I try to keep up with the children’s book industry, but online you get this opinion and that opinion and the other opinion.

There’s quite a difference hearing it directly from someone in the trenches.

Okay, so let me get to it. I took lots and lots of notes.

The Business End

The BIG publishing houses, like scholastic, want to sell to the mass market.

When Scholastic contracts a manuscript, they’re thinking of the trade side: book fairs in the school system, book clubs, Target, and so on.

This means the manuscripts they sign must appeal to the needs of the schools whether in NYC or Arkansas or California – across the nation. In other words, to the mass market.

So, what do the publishers want?

They want stories that kids will want.

How Do Publishing Houses (Editors) Find the Books?

1. Editors acquire books from authors they already have under contract.

They love having a proven author who keeps cranking out books. It takes some of the unknown out of the profit/loss equation.

2. They acquire books from agents they trust. Remis strongly advised that authors be agented.

3. They do some leg work. They actually look at writing blogs.

If Remis likes the writing style of the blog, even if it’s not a children’s author’s blog, she will reach out to the blogger and see if s/he’d be interested in writing for children.

This should be a wake-up call for authors who don’t think they need an author website or a blog.

YOU DO!

4. A smaller percentage is from unagented authors.

The PB Market

Picture books are getting harder and harder to publish.

The audience is shrinking.

By second-grade, kids are reading chapter books. So, picture books must be written for a younger child. This means the text must be geared toward a younger child.

Writing for younger children isn’t as easy as it sounds. A lot goes into it, including:

– An age-appropriate storyline
– One point-of-view
– Age-appropriate words
– Tight writing to keep it under 800 words
– Grabbing and engaging enough for a child to want to read it over and over and over
– It has to be written with the illustrations in mind

What Makes a Book Appealing to an Editor?

This is the thing every children’s picture book author wants to know.

What’s the magic formula?

The choice to take on a book is a personal one for an editor. Remis said a colleague chose a manuscript based on ONE line in the story. Another chose a book because of an illustration in the manuscript.

She likes vintage stories, particularly stories about New York City.

So, how do you get to the heart of an editor?

1. The very first step is to make you and your book visible.

a. Attend conferences and workshops.

Publishing is tough. The more people you know the better. Kind of like the who’s connected to who.

Like with the workshop I attended.

The editor is allowing the attendees to send in their PB manuscripts. This is a HUGE deal! Because of the workshop, she’ll actually look at the manuscripts.

b. Research agents and book publishers. Know which ones are a good match for your book. Know what they publish. And submit to the right ones.

Remis emphasized this with a story of a cook book manuscript someone keeps sending her. Even after she told the author that she only handles children’s books, the author keeps sending it back to her.

c. Look at recently published books in the library that are similar to your niche. Look at the imprint for the publisher. That house might be a good fit.

d. Write the infamous query letter.

This is where you need to know what the publishing house publishes because you should mention why you think your book will be a good fit for that house or agent.

Let the agent or editor know you’ve done your homework.

2. Write a strong story.

a. Keep the length of your manuscript in mind. Picture books aren’t long.

The typical PB is 32 pages, but two or three of those pages are for the front matter (title page, copyright, dedication). And, there is possibly backmatter to consider (author bio, reading comprehension, etc.). So, you have around 24 – 28 pages of actual story and illustrations to work with.

Every word in your story must be chosen carefully. Use simple and engaging words and sentences.

Remis did note that if you just can’t get the story within 28 pages, you can go for 40 pages. Those are the TWO options.

While picture books do come in 24 pages, 48, and 64 pages, the standard is 32.

b. Write knowing that illustrations will help tell the story. They enhance the story and fill in the missing pieces as picture books are a marriage of text and illustrations.

c. You need a plot with the elements of a good story.

This means you need a beginning (opens), a middle (explores), and an ending (resolves).

You also need conflict in your story. There must be an emotional journey for the protagonist and the reader.

What needs to be solved? This is a must. And, it must be known at the beginning of the story. Get to it quick.

In just about all the manuscript critiques she gave, the conflict, the reason for the story was missing.

Remis suggests using a dummy story board or a similar method to see how the story can be laid out.

You’ll also be able to see which pages have too much text or too little and get a better idea of how it flows. It will help you give your story balance.

Another tip she gave is to pick a book from a book store, like Barnes and Noble, and type it out word for word.

This is also a copywriting trick. It teaches the brain to write good text.

This is just a writing exercise though. You cannot use it as your own story – that would be plagiarism.

d. You need a satisfying ending, but you don’t want to tell the reader what to think. Leave room for kids to imagine. Let them have their own take-away.

3. Read your story out loud.

As you read it, watch for where you pause or stumble.

4. Read your story to children and watch their reactions.

– Where do you lose your audience?
– Where are they most engaged?
– How long did each page take?
– How did it flow?

Watch for pausing, stumbling, and unnecessary text that slows the story down.

Remis said she occasionally reads to groups of school children to see their reactions to stories she’s working on. She ends up revising the story as she’s reading to the kids. She’ll eliminate words, sentences, even pages.

Picture books are meant to be read out loud. Your story must read well out loud.

Couple of Odds and Ends

1. Page Breaks and Numbers: Remis said you can supply page breaks or numbers when submitting your manuscript. But be careful here. Check the guide lines of the publisher or agent you’re submitting to.

2. Social Media: A social media platform can be a big deal. It’s important for young adult authors, but it’s a good idea for picture book authors too.

If a publisher knows you have a nice size following on Facebook, Instagram, or other popular social network, they’ll feel more comfortable that you can help sell your books.

Problems to Watch For

1. Don’t forget about illustrations: The first problem Remis mentioned is lots of authors forget there will be illustrations. The picture book must be visually interesting. You must be able to see how the text and illustrations will work together.

The dummy story board should help with this also.

To get an idea of how it works, study PBs focusing on the illustrations. See how they add to the story.

Leave room for the illustrator to fill in the blanks.

Remis recommended “Picture This” by Molly Bang. It shows how a PB works.

2. Don’t add a lot of Art Notes.

3. Don’t tell the editor or illustrator how to layout the book.

4. Don’t talk down to kids.

5. Don’t tell your story – show it.

6. Don’t overdo the dialogue.

7. Make the protagonist child-like (young, like the reader). Write for the young reader. This includes the dialogue and the storyline – keep it age appropriate.

8. If you’re not a skilled illustrator, don’t submit a picture book with illustrations.

There was a five-minute Q&A at the end and I asked this question:

Should your protagonist be older than the targeted reader?

Answer: Children do like to read-up, but the protagonist should be around the same age as the reader. A 12-year-old is too old as a protagonist in a picture book.

My take-away for this is if you’re writing for the four to eight-year-old market, the protagonist should be eight, possibly nine You don’t want to make the protagonist under eight because then the story won’t appeal to the older end of your market, the eight-year-old reader.

This was an eye-opening workshop.

Next week, I’ll go over the acquisitions process according to Remis. It’s very interesting stuff.

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need rewriting or ghostwriting, let me take a look at your story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box.

Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your book in publishable shape today!

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Oct 22

Small Home-Grown Book Publishers – Good or Bad?

Publishing with Small PressesI’m thrilled to announce that I have an article up at Writer’s Digest!

It’s about the pros and cons of working with very small book publishers. What I mean by “very small” is the publishers that are primarily one-man or one-woman businesses.

While these home-grown publishers can be a life-saver for the new author and certainly do have benefits, there are a few things to be aware of before jumping in.

Here’s the very beginning:

As a new author or even if you have one or two books under your self-publishing belt, you may be thinking of entering the traditional publishing arena.

I’ve been there and have had my share of rejections from the larger well-known publishing houses.

But, I didn’t let that discourage me … well, not entirely.

While disappointed, I dug in my heels and attended writers conferences and joined writing groups. In one of the online conferences I attended, small publishers were on hand to take pitches from authors. Naturally, I took advantage of this opportunity. I gave my pitch and the owner of the publishing house asked to see my manuscript.

Excitement, excitement.

Check out the full article – it has very helpful information and insights into publishing with a small home-grown publisher:

The Pros and Cons of Publishing with a Small Publisher

HEY! While you’re there, please SHARE and COMMENT!

Children's ghostwriterWhether you need rewriting or ghostwriting, let me take a look at your story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box.

Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your book in publishable shape today!

Aug 17

Writing to Get Published – 5 Power Tips

Tips on writing to get publishedAll writers have one primary focus—to get published. What makes each of us different is our slant or perspective on the story we’re telling, and how we tell it.

It’s true that anyone can write, but writing to get published is another story. To accomplish this, there four steps you need to include in your writing. (The fifth tip is a bonus.)

THE FIVE TIPS

1. Write an out-of-the-ballpark beginning

This is the crucial step that will determine whether the agent or editor keeps reading. Your beginning needs to grab the reader; it needs to lead the reader on without him having to think about it.

Here are different slants on a possible beginning:

A. Jan saw blood dripping down the wall. She screamed.

This idea is a beginning that might entice a reader to read on, but the problem is it’s telling not showing. To add showing:

B. Blood dripped down the stark white wall, adding to the puddle already formed on the floor. Jane felt a quiver run down her spine. Reacting before thinking of the consequences, a blood curdling scream issued from the depths of her being.

C. Blood slowly dripped down the stark white wall. A quiver ran throughout Jane’s body. An urgent eruption welled up from the depths of her being and brought forth a blood curdling scream.

D. Blood slowly dripped down the stark white wall, adding to the dark red puddle already formed on the floor. A quiver ran throughout Jane’s body creating an urgent eruption that welled up from the depths of her being—a blood curdling scream issued forth.

Examples B, C and D do a much better job of showing rather than telling. While they can easily be taken apart and reworded for tightness, more description or less description, whatever the author deems necessary, for this article they serve their purpose.

And remember, using descriptive words and adverbs adds to the word count. So, analyze each word you use; be sure they enhance the story and move it along, not weigh it down. In today’s writing world publishers and agents want tight writing.

2. The body of your story

This area needs to fulfill the beginning’s promise. It needs to keep the reader interested in the characters and plot—this will ensure the reader keeps turning the pages. You also need to keep track of everything going on in the story and follow through. Readers don’t want to feel cheated or disappointed.

Some authors use character and event cards or sheets to keep track of each character’s qualities and the details to each event. This will guarantee continuity and help prevent loose ends.

3. Your ending

The ending must tie everything together and tie-up all loose ends. If you wrote a paragraph or chapter about John and Jane contemplating marriage then segue into something else, let the reader know how it ends up.

It’s also a plus if you can come up with a twist at the end, something the reader won’t expect.
But, keep in mind it’s essential that you leave the reader satisfied.

4. Submitting your work

You’ll never know if you’ve written the next best seller if you don’t submit your work. Research publishers and/or agents who work in the genre you write. Choose the ones that you think are the best fit and study their guidelines. Then, follow the guidelines and submit your work. Don’t let fear or uncertainty keep you from moving forward—nothing ventured, nothing gained.

5. Attend conferences.

If you’re able to, attend writing / pitching conferences, like the one Writer’s Digest has. I know an author who got nibbles from 10 out of 14 agents and publishers. Big enough nibbles that they requested 25-50 pages of her story. And, one requested the entire manuscript.

This is the power of pitching at a conference.

Along with this, it’s important to network as much as you can – conferences are a great place to do this.

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Writing with Clarity
Writing Rhyme in Children’s Stories
The Writing Elements Mix – Is There a Right Balance?