Week of November 27: Picture Books Are Golden
Tuesday, November 29: An Interview with Diane Muldrow, Part II
This is the second installment of a three-part interview with Golden Books/Random House Editorial Director, Diane Muldrow.
Rob Sanders: Diane, if you could give picture book writers three key words of advice, what would you say?
Diane Muldrow: You’ll have a better chance of selling your manuscript if it has what we call a “hook.” Is it a good book to sell around Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day or Halloween? That's a seasonal or holiday hook. Is it a fresh way of teaching counting or colors? Then it's a great new twist on concept book. Is it a friendship story? That’s a hook, too. So is a school story. So make sure your story has a hook. Also, think cinematically, and page it out for yourself so you see how the text falls on each page. That’s a good way to force yourself to think visually, and think about the most important thing in a picture book: the page turn. How do you lay out your text so that it makes the reader want to turn the page to see what happens next?
Rob: We writers are consumed with word count and we’re all revising to get our manuscripts down to 500 words or less. What is your opinion about word count and what guidance can you give us?
Diane: Everyone is revising to get their manuscripts down to 500 words or less? Why? Who told them to do that? There’s no recipe to writing a picture book. I don’t think about word count. I think about how the text falls, and looks, and feels, on the page. It isn’t about word count. I don’t like picture books that are heavy on text—occasionally, though, on a page or two, sometimes it works out that way . . . One good way to see if your book is too heavy on text is to page it out.
Rob: Writers are often told their writing is “too quiet.” What does “too quiet” mean to you?
Diane: It can mean a lot of things. It can mean that there isn’t enough going on to make interesting illustrations, or that the writing style is too subtle or simply lackluster . . . or that the message is simply too vague. Or that it doesn’t make me feel anything. The main reason I reject something is because it doesn’t make me feel anything.
Rob: I’ve heard you talk about thinking of picture books cinematically. What does that mean to you?
Diane: It means that you need to think about the picture book as a dynamic visual medium. You need to have pictures in your head and write them into your book.
Rob: Any favorite picture books out there that you wish you could have acquired? What? Why?
Diane: There are so many great picture books out there. One that comes right to my mind is CHILDREN MAKE TERRIBLE PETS by Peter Brown.
Rob: People always ask editors, “What are you looking for?” So here goes—what are you looking for?
Diane: “Something good.”
Rob: Well, thanks for that! Truthfully, you are defining “something good” for us with each answer. I, for one, am glad to know you aren’t looking for this or that, but that you are looking for the thing that moves you and inspires you, Diane.
More insights from Diane on Wednesday!