Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Interivew with Diane Muldrow, Part III

Week of November 27: Picture Books Are Golden
Wednesday, November 30: An Interview with Diane Muldrow, Part III

This is the third installment of a three-part interview with Golden Books/Random House Editorial Director, Diane Muldrow.

Rob Sanders: Diane, writers always want to know what is selling and what the latest trend is. What guidance would you give us about trends and markets?

Diane Muldrow: Don’t write toward trends. Trends come and go and by the time a trend is happening, the imitators are out in full force and it’s usually not great work, or work that we think we will be in demand much longer. Write subject matter that can be used in school curriculums or that’s really topical. My book WE PLANTED A TREE has a “green: hook, so it was published in the Spring, in time for Earth Day. Write something that has really classic content, something that won’'t date, like a good Christmas story. Your COWBOY CHRISTMAS is a great example of classic content and feel. 

I just published the author Nikki Shannon Smith’s first book: a Little Golden Book titled THE LITTLE CHRISTMAS ELF. It’s a sweet story about a little elf, the youngest and smallest elf in Santa’s workshop, who doesn’t finish her toy in time to be put on Santa’s sleigh. Still, she works through the night, alone in the lonely workshop, until it’s finished. As she’s leaving, Santa comes by the workshop very late. A baby has been born during the night, he tells her, and he needs a present for it. So the little elf gets to come along and help Santa deliver the finished gift for the new baby. It’s a very satisfying story, with a character that little ones can relate to. It has a nice message about not giving up, it’s very classic in feel (yet it feels fresh, too), and it has Christmas in it, which always makes for colorful, festive illustrations: a perfect Little Golden Book.

Rob: Writers work so hard to craft a cover letter, the perfect pitch, to format a manuscript, and so on . . . we are so concerned that the smallest thing might get our manuscript “disqualified.” What (if anything) turns you off about a submission or makes you stop reading?

Diane: What turns me off is that the writer has thought about everything you mention, but hasn’'t put enough thought or love into the work. When I get a manuscript that is pages and pages long, and it’s not paged out, I know the writer hasn’t thought about format or page count. When I get a manuscript that is really just two people talking, I know the writer hasn’t thought visually. If there’s no style or artfulness to the writing, I won’t read further. 

Rob: What percentage of your writers are new writers? What percentage of the books on your list are by an author/illustrator?

Diane: I have worked with several first-time writers lately. I work with few author/illustrators.

Rob: I know you are also an author. Tell us about your latest book and what we can expect from you in the future.

Diane: Actually, my latest book is a gift book aimed at adults titled EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK. It will publish in Spring, 2013. 

Rob: Picture This! readers are going to be curious about the Golden Book/Random House submission policy. Fill us in.

Diane: I don’t think that Random as a house accepts unsolicited manuscripts, but I do. I read everything I receive in the order that I receive it, and I do write back with a yes or a no (but usually no other real comments; there simply isn’t time). As you can imagine, I get a lot of mail, and it takes me a long time to get to it. Right now I’m backed up to last March, I think. And I can go months without opening any of that kind of mail because I’m so busy in my day-to-day work. 

Rob: Diane, thank you so much for spending time with us on Picture This! As my first picture book editor you have set the bar high . . . for me and for any other editor I will work with in the future. Much gratitude!

Tomorrow on Picture This! we’ll visit with Leonard S. Marcus and gain insights about what has made Little Golden Books the treasures that they are. Don’t miss it!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Interview with Diane Muldrow, Part II

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!

Monday, November 28, 2011

An Interview with Diane Muldrow, Part I

Week of November 27: Picture Books Are Golden
Monday, November 28: An Interview with Diane Muldrow, Part I

This is the first installment of a three-part interview with Golden Books/Random House Editorial Director, Diane Muldrow.

Rob Sanders: Diane, thank you for visiting with us on Picture This! Let’s start by talking about Golden Books. What makes a picture book a Golden Book? What makes a picture book fit into your list?

Diane Muldrow: A Little Golden Book is a read-aloud with classic preschool content. It should have a special storytelling style that’s good for reading aloud. It can even be a little quirky, in a way that appeals to preschoolers. A Golden trade hardcover is more difficult to define: it needs to be a great read-aloud too, but can feel more modern, or tackle subjects that are older than the preschool content found in Little Golden Books. Bob Staake's award-winning book THE RED LEMON is a great example of a newer Golden trade book. My book WE PLANTED A TREE (also illustrated by Bob Staake) is a good example, too. 

Rob: The age-range for 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? How much do you consider age-range when choosing a manuscript to publish?

Diane: I aim the Little Golden Books at 2-5 year-olds. Trade picture books that I do can go older—to age 7 or so, but those books aren't usually for the 2 year-olds. Age range is an automatic concern for editors when reading something: who’s the audience and will this book really reach them? 

Rob:  What ingredients combine to make a well-written picture book?

Diane: Style and lively language. A picture book is usually a read-aloud, so it has to be written in a way that will have a sort of musicality when read aloud. A picture book needs to have an emotional resonance, too. Or be really funny. It should—artfully—lead us to feel something, teach us something, or show us something in a new way . . .  it should add something to the reader's outlook. A well-written picture book has to have an element that makes a child want to pick it up again and again and again. 

Rob:  Event-driven or character-driven, which do you prefer and why?

Diane: I have no preferences. Every picture book is unique and I don’t think so scientifically about them. After all this is art we’re talking about, not cookies vs. crackers. But a manuscript has to have something—maybe it’s a strong and appealing character, maybe it’s a timeless message brought to life in a wonderful or fresh way . . . the main thing is that, as I said above, it has to make us feel something, it has to make us think about something after we put the book away. 

Rob: What have you acquired recently that you love and why?

Diane: Well, I love your book COWBOY CHRISTMAS! That book has sweetness and humor, a classic feel, and a neat twist at the end that makes you think and wonder. And it’s really fun to read aloud. 

Rob: Oh, what a perfect place to end our first day! Working on COWBOY CHRISTMAS with you has been a blast. To those reading this post, we’ve seen final sketches and are now waiting on final art.

Tomorrow Diane will share more specifics about crafting delightful picture books.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Coming This Week!

Week of November 27: Picture Books Are Golden
Quote of the Week:
A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid.
—J. R. R. Tolkien

During 2012, Little Golden Books—the great literacy equalizer—will turn 70.
Launched during World War II, Little Golden Books made quality children’s literature available at a price nearly everyone could afford (25 cents) and sold the books where ordinary people shopped.

This week we’ll be celebrating Golden Books with a three-part interview with Golden Books/Random House editorial director, Diane Muldrow (who is also my editor). Later in the week, we’ll visit with Leonard S. Marcus, the authority on children’s publishing and get his insights about Golden Books based on his research for Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children’s Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way.

Come along on this golden journey with Golden Books!

Monday: An Interview with Diane Muldrow, Part I
Tuesday: An Interview with Diane Muldrow, Part II
Wednesday: An Interview with Diane Muldrow, Part III
Thursday: An Interview with Leonard S. Marcus
Friday: The Little Golden Books On My Shelf

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Picture Book Critiques
I’ve been staying busy with my critique service, but now have a few openings. If you have a picture book manuscript in need of an in-depth critique, please check out my services. Reasonable, realistic, and reliable!

n I begin with an overall list of the things I love about your story and your writing, possible concerns, and possible fixes.
n Then I provide a line-by-line critique, which may include suggested cuts, additions, and comments.
n I will also look at the BIG PICTURE of your plot and story development.

n I am a published picture book author and have been published in other genres as well—educational resources, inspirational books, and magazine articles to name a few.
n I critique nearly a hundred picture book manuscripts a year.
n I have taught creative writing to children for years.  I know how to teach and coach as well as critique.  And I know what kids love and what they don’t.
n I have worked as an editor, editorial group manager, and a coordinator of children’s product development for a major not-for-profit publisher.

For more information, rates, and availability, visit:!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Leftovers, Of Course

Week of November 20: Grateful for a Few More Writing Ideas
Friday, November 25: Leftovers, Of Course

I hate that the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday. The day after giving thanks should have a more positive moniker . . . perhaps Shiny Friday or Rainbow Friday would work. One thing I love about the Friday after Thanksgiving is leftovers. I knew I would be spending Thanksgiving with my sister and we had a long debate about whether we were going to cook a meal for the two of us or go to a restaurant. My sister (who was advocating for cooking at home) finally said, “But think of all the leftovers we’ll have!” That’s all the convincing I needed. We’ll be cooking this year.

Today look for “leftovers” in your writing that can inspire additional ideas.

-Look through your files of manuscripts started, but never finished. Is there a new idea hiding there?
-Think of characters, scenes, words, and phrases you have cut from other manuscripts. Any ideas among those leftovers?
-Search through your writing notebook. Any words, phrases, snippets of conversation, or little notes there that could be a writing idea?

I’m sure Paula Dean can turn a pile of Thanksgiving leftovers into a delectable meal. And I bet we can turn our writing leftovers into some delectable stories!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Two in Tow--Using a Venn Diagram

Week of November 20: Grateful for a Few More Writing Ideas
Wednesday, November 23: Two in Tow—Using a Venn Diagram

Mash-ups are the hottest thing in music these days. A mash-up is when a musician (or a techy) blends together two or more pre-recorded songs by overlaying the tracks to create a new musical experience. (If you still don’t understand, watch an episode of Glee!) A Venn diagram (another one of those old-timey teaching tools) can help you mash together to seemingly unrelated topics to come up with something new.

A Venn diagram is made up of two intersecting circles. The graphic organizer is usually used to compare and contrast two items. You write in one circle all the unique characteristics of one item; in the second circle you list everything unique about the second item; and in the center/intersection you write the things both items have in common. Let me try to mash-up a couple of holiday pies in a Venn diagram to illustrate what I mean.

So how can a Venn diagram help writers? Well, imagine if I have an idea about time-traveling pilgrims whose calculations are off by a month and they end up visiting Halloween 2011 instead of Thanksgiving in the 1600s. (Not exactly a picture book concept perhaps, but play along with me here!) I could use Venn diagrams to compare and contrast the 1600s and present-day American, pilgrims and trick-or-treaters, and Halloween and Thanksgiving. By doing so, I’ll discover new ideas that I can mash-up into a story.

From this Venn diagram I decided that my pilgrims travel in time in a pumpkin. When they arrive in 2011, they think some kids in Indian costumes are actually related to their Native American friends and start following them around. They are shocked to taste candy corn—nothing like the corn crops they produce. Ok, it’s a wacky idea, but you can see how the Venn diagram could help you mash-up two different ideas or concepts and come up with something news.

Happy mashing!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pilgrims, Land Ho--Using a KWL Chart

Week of November 20: Grateful for a Few More Writing Ideas
Tuesday, November 22: Pilgrims, Land Ho—Using a KWL Chart

How about a simple, but helpful strategy for learning more about an idea and/or bringing it to life? For years, reading teachers have used KWL Charts with students.

SUBJECT/TOPIC _______________________________________________________




Before beginning a book, a teacher might use a KWL to assess previous knowledge, create interest, start students thinking about what they would like to learn about a topic, and more. Once students have identified what they know (K), and listed what they’d like to know or what they wonder about (W), they read. What is listed in the K column is brainstorming—no judging about the correctness (the text will help us with that later on). After reading, students list what they learned (L). This column can include the answers to the things in your W column and additional information learned.

This same chart can be used when brainstorming an idea. Let’s say I have a desire to write about pilgrims . . . here’s how I might begin my KWL Chart.




-Plymouth Rock
-First Thanksgiving
-Many died of disease
-Had to build new world
-Men, women, & children
-Wore big hats
-Buckles on shoes

-Why did they celebrate?
-What foods did they eat?
-Were Indians really there?
-How did they keep their buckles so shiny?
-Where did their food come from?
-Whatever happened to the Mayflower ship?

Because we’ve not read, studied, or researched yet, the L column is blank. Our next step is to read. The knowledge we gain can then be listed in the L column. For instance:




-Plymouth Rock
-First Thanksgiving
-Many died of disease
-Had to build new world
-Men, women, & children
-Wore big hats
-Buckles on shoes

-Why did they celebrate?
-What foods did they eat?
-Were Indians really there?
-How did they keep their buckles so shiny?
-Where did their food come from?
-Whatever happened to the Mayflower ship?

-Thanked God for guiding them to the New World
-Feast lasted three days
-13 pilgrims, 90 Native Americans
-Ate fish, shellfish, wild fowl, venison, fruit, berries, vegetables, grain corn.
-They DID hate turkey and pumpkin at first Thanksgiving—but lots more, too
-First official Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 26, 1863—President Lincoln declared
-Always fourth Thursday of November in USA
-Other countries have Thanksgiving, too—but often different times

While the KWL Chart is used in education primarily with non-fiction text, writers can use it for fiction, too. After all, when you are creating a character, a setting, and a problem for your character you K-now some things, you W-onder about other things, and you L-earn through your own cunning and imagination what the answers are.

Pilgrim, give the KWL Chart a shot. Who knows what you might discover?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Yo, Turkey--Playing with Words

Week of November 20: Grateful for a Few More Writing Ideas
Monday, November 21: Yo, Turkey—Playing with Words

Playing with words can often plant the seed for an idea (or help an existing idea begin to germinate). Nothing tricky here—just take a word or phrase or concept that has popped into your head and play with it as much as you can. Don’t start out with any expectations, just let the word spirits lead you!

Let’s take a perfect word for this week—turkey! Now let’s play with it.

Think of all the turkey idioms you can (and Google turkey idioms to see what you can find). List everything you think of and/or find . . . don’t judge the idiom, accept it. You can decide later if you want to use it or not. Here are my turkey idioms:

·        Going cold turkey
·        Talk turkey
·        Turkey nests (like dust bunnies—“There were turkey nests in every corner.”)
·        A turkey shoot
·        The turkeys are voting for an early Christmas

You can also mash together your word or phrase with other familiar idioms. Such as:
·        Let them eat turkey
·        A turkey on the plate is worth two in the freezer
·        A turkey in every pot
·        Turkey is as turkey does
·        A turkey a day keeps the doctor away

Finding idioms may be enough to move your idea to the next step, but why stop playing now?

Search for words that rhyme with your focus word(s). Again, list everything you find or think of—don’t limit yourself. For instance:

·        Durkee (as in Green Bean Caserole!)
·        Jerky
·        Murky
·        Perky
·        Quirky

Then you can also make up your own rhyme words to fit the situation or need.

·        Berserky
·        Clean and jerky
·        Desk clerky
·        Irky
·        Jerky
·        Lurky
·        Out of worky
·        Smirky

But don’t stop there! Continue to play with words thinking of literary devices such as similes, metaphors, and onomatopoeias. For instance:

·        He waddles like a turkey.
·        She felt like a turkey on her way to Thanksgiving dinner.
·        He ignored her like three-day-old turkey leftovers.

·        You’re a turkey.
·        She was the cranberry sauce to my roasted turkey.
·        He was stuffed like a turkey.

·        Gobble-gobble-gobble.
·        SQAWK!
·        Flap. Flutter. Flap.
·        Scratch-peck. Scratch-peck. Scratch.
·        Gulp!
·        CHOP!
·        Kerplunk!

Ok, turkey . . . I mean, friend, now that you’ve played with the word(s)/phrase you thought of, you’re ready to take your idea to the next level. Use your new discoveries to create a title, write an initial description, or outline your plot. Then save your word play to inspire and impact the manuscript that grows from your idea.