Week of July 8, 2012—An Interview with Frances Gilbert
Tuesday, July 10—Become Serious About Your Craft
This is the second installment in a four-part interview with Frances Gilbert, Editorial Director at Doubleday Children’s Books, Random House.
Rob: Frances, we ended yesterday’s post with you mentioning that picture book writers need to leave room for the illustrations and leave room for the story to breathe. I have another illustration question. Picture book writers get mixed messages about whether to include art notes or not, and how to include them if we do. Any suggestions?
Frances: I don’t mind if an author includes notes for how she or he envisions the art if it fills in the ideas I can’t see in the story. I also don’t mind if an author paginates the story so I can see how it flows, but it’s not required. The main rule, however, is to never ever include illustrations, unless the friend who’s helping you out happens to be Ian Falconer.
Rob: The age-range of the picture book audience seems to have shifted lower. What age-range do you consider to be the audience for the picture books you publish?
Frances: Ages 4-6 is my ideal range, when they’re still young enough to want to cuddle but old enough to know not to chew the pages.
Rob: What are the mistakes or misfires you see most often in submissions?
Frances: The mistakes are mostly about a lack of rigor – someone with little knowledge of the genre in which they are trying to work. This includes manuscripts that are clearly first drafts; manuscripts with typos; and writers who haven’t learned the difference between a chapter book and a picture book and who submit a 3,000-word picture book manuscript. I’ll save my biggest pet peeve, however, for writers who want to teach kids a lesson. Adults don’t read novels in order to learn a very important lesson; why should kids?
Rob: Writers always want to know what is selling and what the latest trend is. What guidance would you give us about trends and markets?
Frances: I get sort of depressed by trends. You know those pitches: “It’s Hunger Games meets Fancy Nancy meets 50 Shades of Grey.” I’d rather read something that’s simply beautiful or funny or unique. Don’t get me wrong, if a writer studies what’s face-out in national chains they might have some success with that and I would congratulate them and probably also like to publish them. I’d just like to think that would be a secondary motivation for creating something.
That’s what’s particularly inspiring about an oddball book like The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Brian Selznick didn’t create this miracle because 500-page hardcover partially wordless pencil-sketched graphic novels about obscure French film-makers were “trending up.” He created it because he’s a genius. And brave.