Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012 Geisel Awad Winner and Honor Books

Week of January 29, 2012—And the Winner Is
Tuesday—2012 Geisel Award Winner and Honor Books

You may not be familiar with The Geisel Award. The Geisel Award is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year. The winners may be picture books, leveled readers, beginning readers, early chapter books, and so on.

2012 Geisel Medal Award Winner

Tales for Very Picky Eaters
Written and illustrated by Josh Schneider
© 2011
Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

Anyone one has known (or been) a picky eater will enjoy this five chapter beginning chapter book. Each of the five chapters in Tales for Very Picky Eaters tells a different picky eating saga in the life of the main character, James. The horrid food James encounters include: disgusting broccoli, smelly lasagna, repulsive milk, lumpy oatmeal, and slimy eggs. James’ dad, always quick with a response, offers up outlandish optional dining suggestions for James. Dad also finds clever ways to encourage James to be more adventurous in his food choices. But be ready for the tables to be turned!

The writing is fun, albeit wordy, and the illustrations will delight young readers. Challenging vocabulary is defined in context (and through art) making the text palatable  to emergent readers.

2012 Geisel Honor Books

I Broke My Trunk
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
© 2011
Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group 

This book is from Willems’ series, Elephant and Piggie. Gerald the Elephant tells a long story about how his trunk was broken as his concerned and well-meaing friend, Piggie, listens. I find each installment of this series delightful. The book is child-like in every sense—bold type; easy-to-read text; and simple, colorful illustrations. The vocabulary is quite limited, yet very funny. 

I Want My Hat Back
Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
© 2011
Candlewick Press

A simple story with repeating lines and predictable phrases make this picture book a winner with young readers. Bear has lost his red, pointy hat and wanders through the forest asking others if they’ve seen it. Along the way, the reader sees Bear talking to one animal who is wearing a red, point hat. But it isn’t until the end of the book when Bear realizes, “I have seen my hat.” Kids will love knowing the solution to the problem before Bear does.

I highly recommend every picture book writer study this book and see how a strong story can be told with a few, well-chosen words.

See Me Run
Written and illustrated by Paul Meisel
© 2011
Holiday House

Dogs run, slide, jump, splash, and have tons of fun in this romp in this colorful, action-packed picture book. Just when you think you’ve seen all the dogs, there are more! The pictures will hook beginning readers first, then the story will draw them in. The end of the book will be a complete surprise, but there are hints along the way—even on the title page. The book has limited vocabulary, large print, and short sentences. All that coupled with a fun story will make this book a winner with kids.

Monday, January 30, 2012

2012 Caldecott Award Winner and Honor Books

Week of January 29, 2012—And the Winner Is
Monday, January 30, 2012—2012 Caldecott Award Winner and Honor Books
Each year The American Library Association Youth Media Awards present awards to authors and illustrators in numerous genres of children’s media. The Caldecott and Newberry Medal Awards are the oldest and most well-known of these awards.
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. The award is presented annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. [Blogger note: The award has nothing to do with the text—or lack of text—in a picture book. The award is only for the illustrations.]

A Ball for Daisy
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
© 2011
Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House Children’s Books

A Ball for Daisy is a wordless picture book with colorful illustrations that use only a few colors. The story line is communicated through the pictures alone, and the reader can image the story to be anything he/she desires. Daisy is a little dog who loves her red ball, then loses it for a short while, and finds it again. Seeing Daisy’s emotions after losing her ball will tug at your heart strings. But don’t despair—there is a happy ending.

I’m cautious to call Raschka the author/illustrator of this book since there are no words in the book. Perhaps story teller/illustrator would be a more accurate description. And I would hesitate to say the book will hold the attention of younger readers as the Caldecott Medal Committee Chair, Steven L. Herb, said. This book is aimed at pre-readers and its strength is that it might enable children to infer what is happening in the story, without reading what is happening. None-the-less, the illustrations are poignant and lead the viewer through a tale that will make you smile and, perhaps, even shed a tear.

2012 Caldecott Honor Books

Written and illustrated by John Rocco
© 2011
Disney-Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group

On August 14, 2003, a massive blackout hit the East Coast. Fourteen million people in New York City alone were without power. Rocco’s stellar picture book tracks the blackout through the voice a young narrator. The blackout occurred at 4:00 p.m. but it wasn’t until the sun went down that the blackout was truly felt. The power outage brings one family to the roof top of their building and then out on the street where a street party ensues. Normally darkness is something children fear, but not in this blackout. Both in text and illustrations this is a treasure to behold and hold.

View a video at the book at http://roccoart.com/blackout.html.

Grandpa Green
Written and illustrated by Lane Smith
© 2011
Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership

To say I love this book would be an understatement. Smith writes a beautiful story, simply told then illustrated to show the rest of the story. The book tracks the life of one child’s great grandfather. We see the great grandfather’s life from being a boy who likes plants, to a boy who wants to be a horticulturalist, to a man who creates topiaries, to a man whose memory has faded but whose garden still reminds him of his life and loves. Lane’s illustrations are breathtaking and present multiple levels and layers of the story. The trailer for the book concludes with the statement: "For grownups to read to those still growing." Lovely.

Me. . . Jane
Written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
© 2011
Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

This book tells the story of world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall and her childhood friendship with her stuffed chimp, Jubliee. As she grows up, Jane observes the wonders of the world in her own backyard dreams of growing up to help animals everywhere. Of course, one day she grows up to do just that. The story is delightful, the illustrations in ink and watercolor are beautiful. This is a book that will have appeal to readers of all ages.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Coming This Week!

Week of January 29, 2012—And the Winner Is
Quotes of the Week:
Successful people aren’t born that way. They become successful by establishing the habit of doing things unsuccessful people don’t like to do. The successful people don’t always like these things themselves; they just get on and do them.
—Charles De Lint

Doing your best at this moment, puts you in the best place for the next moment.
—Oprah Winfrey

I can honestly say I’ve not thought of being an award-winning children’s picture book author. I have thought about being a successful one, however. One strategy I’ve used in my journey to become a successful author is to read about successful authors, meet them, read their work, interview them, and so on. I’m not hoping their success will rub off on me (though that would be nice), I want to learn what makes them successful.

I’ve not met any of the authors and illustrators mentioned in this week’s posts. I have heard two or three of them speak. And I’ve read books written and illustrated by many of them. Their latest award-winning books are now on my to-read list (and then may make it on to my to-own list). This week, let’s see what we can learn from successful, award-winning authors and illustrators.

Monday—2012 Caldecott Award Winner and Honor Books
Tuesday—2012 Geisel Award Winner and Honor Books
Wednesday—2012 Coretta Scott King Book Award Winners and Honor Books
Thursday—Other Award Winners
Friday—So What Does This Mean to Me?

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Glossary, T-Z

Week of January 22, 2012—Picture Book Writer’s Glossary
Friday, January 27, 2012—The Glossary, T-Z


Three-act structure—often used in screenwriting. Act One is the Set Up and includes an Inciting Incident that leads to the first turning point of the story. Act Two includes Confrontation/Development with trials and errors, and attempts and failures to solve the problem of the story. Turning Point 2 concludes Act Two and seems to make the situation even worse (the dark moment). Act Three moves quickly taking us to the Resolution of the story and all the way to the end. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/01/screenplay-approach.html.

Transitions—words and phrases that move the reader from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, from idea to idea, or change in time. Examples of transitional words and phrases include: suddenly, out of the blue, and within minutes. Onomatopoeias, ellipses, alliterations, questions, and other techniques may also be used as transitions. Writers should be cautioned to not overuse any transition word or phrase, especially the common then, first, next, and finally. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/05/transitions-and-time-compression.html.


Use binocular vision—this term used in the writings of Barry Lane reminds writers to clarify and focus their writing. Just as a pair of binoculars have to be focused in order to clearly see, so writing has to be focused with added details to focus the reader on what the writer is trying to communicate.


Vivid Verbs—choosing verbs (action words) that accurately show the action that is going on is essential in writing. For instance, an author may write that “the boy sat down”, when actually the boy pounced, slumped, or perched. The same is true for the word said. While it is fine to use said on occasion, there are other verbs to use that might more vividly describe what is happening—such as: screamed, whispered, whined, or purred. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/09/secrets-to-specific-nouns-and-vivid.html.

Voice—writing with voice shows the author’s personality and shows that the author is writing honestly and from the heart. Voice helps the reader “see” the person behind the writing and to feel what the writer is feeling. Voice adds style and flavor to an individual’s writing. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/05/dialogue-vs-voice.html.


Whispered parenthesis—after saying something, people sometimes raise a hand to their mouth and whisper their true feelings behind the raised hands. Katie Wood Ray introduced the idea of whispered parenthesis in writing. Placing those behind-the-hand comments within parenthesis adds voice to writing. For instance: I’m sorry little brother, I’ll never do it again (until no one is looking).NOTE: Also known as Thought shot.

Writers Workshop—Writers Workshop is the method many teachers use for daily writing instruction. Writers Workshop includes four components:

Read Aloud from a variety of genres (about 5 minutes)
Modeled/Shared Writing (10-15 minutes)
Independent Writing (35-45 minutes)
Sharing Session (5 minutes)




Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Glossary, R-S

Week of January 22, 2012—Picture Book Writer’s Glossary
Thursday, January 26, 2012—The Glossary, R-S


Repetition (purposeful)—purposeful repetition is created intentionally. Using the word “Then” to begin every sentence is not meaningful or purposeful and is dull. Using a word, phrase, or sentence (such as using Crash! Bang! Boom! OR But the best was yet to come.) several times throughout a writing piece to intentionally add interest or move the action along is purposeful repetition. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/05/lists-rule-of-three-and-repetition.html.

Revise—to alter something already written in order to improve, change, or clarify. Revision is more involved than editing since the writer is looking not for errors to correct, but ways to improve the writing as a whole.

Rhyme—a matching similarity in sounds in two or more words, especially when the accented vowel and the consonants that follow are all the same. (For instance: mall/fall; core/more, babble/dabble.) Picture book authors strive for perfect (exact) rhyme. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/04/rhyming-poems-in-picture-books.html.

Rhythm—refers to the speed, intensity, and tone of a piece of writing. Think of this as the heart rate or heartbeat of the story. (All stories can have rhythm, but rhythm is especially a part of poetry and rhyming stories.)

Rule of Three—using words, phrases, sounds, etc. in groups of three. Three of anything seems to provide a pleasing, comforting feel for the reader. This could refer to repeating a sound three times (Whack! Whack! Whack!), three details (She was hungry. She was tired. She was lonely), or even three attempts/scenes of the main character attempting to solve his/her problem. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/05/lists-rule-of-three-and-repetition.html.


Sentence fragment (purposeful)— A meaningful sentence fragment can add sentence variety to a piece of writing. Sentence fragments are intentional and should appear in a limited number in a piece of writing. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/05/sentence-variety.html.

Shouting caps—writing a word or phrase in all capital letters is called Shouting Caps. This technique adds interest, communicates emotions, and emphasizes the word or phrase. Shouting caps may be part of dialogue, but do not have to be. (For instance: I saw the moving van pull away. YES! YES! YES! My dream had finally come true.)

Show Don’t Tell—many authors have used this phrase or concept when writing. Mark Twain said, “Don’t say the old lady screamed—bring her on and let her scream.” In other words, instead of telling the reader what has happened, the writer SHOWS what has happened. Instead of “The woman screamed”, the author could write: “The old woman flung her cane into the air and let out a blood-curdling scream.”

Simile—a comparison of two dissimilar things using like or as in the comparison. (For instance: The clouds were fluffy like cotton candy. OR He was as smelly as a trashcan.) See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/03/similes-and-metaphorscomparisons-r-us.html.

Snapshot writing—this type of writing has been described by Barry Lane in his books The Revisers Tool Box and After the End. Think of how a snapshot freezes a moment in time with all the details of that moment captured for all to see. Snapshot writing does the same thing. It freezes the moment and helps the reader see all the details before moving on. NOTE: This technique is also called Exploding the Moment.

Specific Nouns—all authors use nouns (names of people, places, and things) in their writing. Good writers make the nouns specific. Instead of store, they write grocery store. Great writers use even more specific nouns. Instead of grocery store, they write Winn Dixie. Instead of dog, they write German Shepherd. These specific nouns add details to the writing and show the reader what the author is writing about. http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/09/secrets-to-specific-nouns-and-vivid.html.

Support (supporting details)—details that work to support the topic sentence or provide more detail about the topic sentence and also make the main idea stronger. Supporting details could be facts, personal experiences, examples, descriptions (using similes, alliteration, and other figurative language), or arguments for or against something. In every case support details should directly connect with the topic sentence of your paragraph.

Surprise ending—surprise endings (also known as twisted endings) are unexpected and can catch the reader off guard. The surprise ending may include irony or cause the reader to reevaluate the story. The writer must be careful to make the ending logical even though surprising. (For instance, introducing a character or super hero suddenly in the last paragraph to solve the story’s problem may not seem logical to the reader.) See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/02/effective-endings.html.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Glossary, M-Q

Week of January 22, 2012—Picture Book Writer’s Glossary
Wednesday, January 25, 2012—The Glossary, M-Q


Meaningful list (or purposeful list)—meaningful lists include details, move action along, or otherwise enhance writing can be helpful. (For instance: Twelve Clydesdale horse, two Dalmatians, and four firefighters rode Engine #49 in the parade.)

Metaphor—a comparison of two different things that does NOT use like or as (For instance: The sun is an orange basketball bouncing through the sky.) See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/03/similes-and-metaphorscomparisons-r-us.html.

Modifier—a word, phrase, or sentence that limits or qualifies the sense of another word, phrase, or sentence is called a modifier. Often modifiers are two hyphenated words used to qualify something about another word or phrase. (For instance: Jake was a first-time award winner.)

Moral/lesson ending—writers can communicate a moral or lesson learned at the end of their writing. A moral/lesson ending may be obvious and stated (for instance: I sure learned a lesson that day and from now I will think before I speak) or it may be implied and subtle. CAUTION: Avoid being preachy or didactic. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/02/effective-endings.html.



Onomatopoeia—the use of words that sound like the noise they make. Also known as sound effects (such as cuckoo or boom). See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/03/onomatopoeias-i-love-sound-of-it.html.


Pacing—the speed at which a story progresses. The rate of pacing can change throughout a story—from fast to slow and vice versa.  http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/05/bit-about-pacing.html.

Personification—giving human characteristics to non-human, inanimate things. (For instance: The car wipers batted away tears. OR The tree streched its arms to the sky.) See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/03/personificationgiving-legs-to-words.html.

Plot—the structure and action of the events in a work of fiction. In order for a plot to begin some sort of catalyst must occur.

Point of view (POV)—the way a story is told and who tells it. The two most common POVs used in picture books are first-person POV (when the narrator speaks as “I” and is a character in the story) and third-person POV (when the narrator seems to be standing outside the story and refers to all the characters by name and uses he, they, she, etc.).

Problem—giving the central character a problem, situation, or challenge (no matter how big or small) that he/she must successfully solve/resolve (most often by himself/herself) for the story to come to a satisfactory conclusion.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Glossary, E-L

Week of January 22, 2012—Picture Book Writer’s Glossary
Tuesday, January 24, 2012—The Glossary, E-L


Edit—to correct or “clean up” a draft. Usually includes correcting spelling, word usage, capitalization, and punctuation.

Explode the moment— this type of writing has been described by Barry Lane in his books The Revisers Tool Box and After the End. Think of how a snapshot freezes a moment in time with all the details of that moment captured for all to see. NOTE: This technique is also called Snapshot Writing.


Focus—staying focused on one central idea and excluding extraneous information.

Foreshadowing—to show or indicate beforehand.

Fretag’s Pyramid—a dramatic structure diagram showing rising action on the left side of the pyramid, up to the apex (which represents the climax), and falling action on the right side of the pyramid leading to the conclusion and denouement of the story. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/10/dramatic-structurefreytags-pyramid.html.


Golden thread—a technique where a recurring theme, phrase, or set of words flow throughout a piece of writing. The thread helps “tie” together the writing and gives a feeling of completeness. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/02/golden-thread.html.


Hyperbole—an exaggeration or extravagant statement or figure of speech that is not intended to be taken literally (such as: The pizza was so hot it burned my tongue off!)


Idiom—a figure of speech in which the meaning cannot be understood simply from the actual meaning of the words. (For istance: Keep tabs on him. OR It’s raining cats and dogs.) See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/03/idioms-familiar-wise-and-fun-sayings.html.

Insider vocabulary—vocabulary associated with a certain job, hobby, sport, and so on. For instance, ballet has its own set of vocabulary, as does skateboarding, soccer, instant messaging, and so on. The use of some insider vocabulary (and the inclusion of necessary definitions) can add interest and variety to writing.




Monday, January 23, 2012

The Glossary, A-D

Week of January 22, 2012—Picture Book Writer’s Glossary
Monday, January 23, 2012—The Glossary, A-D



Alliteration—repetition of sounds in two or more stressed syllables (see also: Assonance and Consonance.) See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/03/alliteration-and-assonancefabulous-fun.html.

Anthropomorphism—giving human characteristics to non-human things, usually animals. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/06/anthropomorphic-main-characters.html.

Assonance—repetition of vowel sounds to create internal rhyming in phrases and/or sentences. For instance: “Do you like blue?” Also called vowel rhyme. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/03/alliteration-and-assonancefabulous-fun.html.

Attributes—describing the qualities and/or characteristics of people, places, things, ideas, objects. Attributes could include size, color, shape, movement/action, symmetry, texture, number, composition, smell, taste, function, location, habitat, direction, orientation, temperature, weight, age, and so on. (Attributes are more than adjectives. Attributes seek to describe with details, and adjectives are usually used to merely list characteristics. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/02/forget-adjectives-think-attributes.html.



Circular ending—ending the story in the same way that you began it or ending where you began. For instance with the same onomatopoeia, same phrase, same details, and so on. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/02/effective-endings.html.

Consonance—repetition of consonant sounds in phrases and/or sentences. For instance: The silver snow slid down from the sky.

Conventions—commonly accepted rules of edited American English (e.g., spelling, usage, capitalization, punctuation, and sentence structure).


Defining terms in context—defining a word within the context of writing. For instance: The Smack Down, an exciting wrestling event, occurs once a month at the arena. OR That yellow flowering shrub is a forsythia.

Defining terms in parentheses—this technique can add sentence variety while also providing a definition. For instance: The in-the-park homerun (a homerun where the ball never leaves the playing field) won the game.

Denouement—the final resolution of the intricacies of a plot. The ah-h-h-h moment at the end of a story. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/07/heart-gravitas-denouement.html.

Dialogue (purposeful)—purposeful dialogue is dialogue that moves the action of the writing along, adds details, gives insight into characters, and so on. Writers should avoid chit-chat or he-said-she-said writing with long sections of dialogue. A good rule of thumb is to insert action or details between each exchange of dialogue. See: http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/05/dialogue-vs-voice.html and http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2011/05/dialogue-tags.html.

Draft—preliminary version of a piece of writing that may need editing and revision of details, organization, and conventions

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Clark Elementary School

A Big Ole Wonka Wow!

Yesterday was another great Wonka Writing Factory session at Clark Elementary in Tampa, Florida. We learned about sentence variety (specifically a dash to add details, ellipses as a transition, and a purpose list). Man, can those kids write! If I were a literary agent I would sign half of them up and start selling their stories!

Coming This Week!

Week of January 22, 2012—Picture Book Writer’s Glossary
Quote of the week:
Nothing leads so straight to futility as literary ambitions without systematic knowledge.
—H.G. Wells

Few people know that Picture This! really exists to help me learn more about writing picture books. By sharing what I learn, I have more accountability to keep on learning. In this same spirit, a few years ago I began to write definitions for writing crafts, terms, and topics that I was learning about. Creating my own definitions was my way of internalizing what I was learning. The collection resulted in a glossary.

This week I’m sharing my glossary. This is very much a fluid document that changes and grows. I can’t guarantee that every definition is text-book, but I can guarantee that every definition comes from my current, working understanding of each term. Throughout the glossary I’ve provided links to Picture This! blog posts about related topics.

As you read through and use the glossary this week, be sure to add your two cents worth in the comments section. If there are terms you want defined and added to the glossary, please let me know.

Monday—The Glossary, A-D
Tuesday—The Glossary, E-L
Wednesday—The Glossary, M-Q
Thursday—The Glossary, R-S
Friday—The Glossary, T-Z

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Picture Book Critiques
By Rob Sanders
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 availability, email me at rob@robsanderswrites.com.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Peek at SCBWI Miami

Week of January 15, 2012—Reflections from SCBWI Miami
Friday, January 20, 2012—A Peek at SCBWI Miami

I have more memories than pictures of SCBWI Miami. But I wanted to share what I have (and what my friends shared with me).

I guess this picture speaks for itself. I just wonder where Wonder Man is.

One of the highlights of the meeting was having Lin Oliver, co-founder and executive director of SCBWI with us. Lin gave a keynote address on Saturday, critiqued manuscripts, and led a breakout session on Sunday.

Here is my fellow critique group member, Dionna, with Lin just after having books autographed.

This is Dionna with author Laura Murray who wrote the hit The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School. Laura is a former SCBWI Florida gal and now lives in Virginia. She was back to participate in the First-Books Panel and led a breakout session with her agent.

At the Mad Hatter’s Ball four of my face-to-face critique group members and one of my online critique group members joined me and we dressed as the Tweedles. I was Tweedle Dum (go figure), Cheryl was Tweedle Dee, Aimee was Tweedle Mum, Madeleine was Tweedle Bee, Dionna was Tweedle Rum, and Jane was Tweedle Sea. Bonnie joined us as the unnamed Tweedle with a beanie!

Here’s Tweedle Mum and Tweedle Dum. Aimee is wearing padding. I, sadly, am not.

Tweedle Sea (aka Jane) with a random sea creature who wandered into the banquet. Jane asked me to not say she hooked a big one! Oops!

Dionna is in my face-to-face group and Aimee (from Canada) is in my online group. I’ve been telling them they look like sisters. This picture is the proof.

We learned, we collaborated, we wrote, we critiqued, we networked, we brainstormed, we ate, we laughed, we had a wonderful time. Thanks SCBWI Florida for an outstanding conference experience!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Beware of Writing Rumors

Week of January 15, 2012—Reflections from SCBWI Miami
Thursday, January 19, 2012—Beware of Writing Rumors

From time to time I hear picture book writers say, “I heard so-and-so at such-and-so conference and they said thus-and-so, so we can’t do that anymore or we’ll never get published.” I was reminded at SCBWI Miami, that every editor is different and every editor has different requirements, expectations, and preferences. Be cautious to not over-generalize when you hear a message from an editor or agent. There’s a great big market out there with lots of different wants and needs.

Below are some rumors we can dispel.

Let me remind you of Bonnie Bader’s and Diane Muldrow’s quotes that I shared on Monday. Bonnie said: “There is a thriving picture book business. But the problem may be that there were too many poor ones that came out.”  Diane added: “Good books can be published.” Diane went on to say that there’s lots of gloom-and-doom in the industry these days and that the rumors about the demise of pictures seems self-perpetuating. “Picture books,” she concluded, “never went out.”

Tamar Brazis said that publishing companies are becoming more discriminating and strategic about the picture books they choose to publish.

The four editors at the conference who work with picture books were actively looking for new projects. They all critiqued manuscripts in hopes of finding that perfect picture book manuscript. I know of one picture book author who landed a well-known agent who hardly ever works with picture book authors. Why? Because she saw something unique, something stellar, something she could sell.

Picture books are alive and well, thank you very much.

When discussing leveled readers and early chapter books (the bookends that surround picture books), Bonnie Bader said: “Art notes need to be spelled out and specific.” We even did an exercise during Bonnie and Natalie’s intensive where we paginated a text and added art suggestions in the margins.

Diane Muldrow said, “Think like an editor,” and encouraged us to page out our books and create art suggestions for each page. When you do this, “it forces you to think visually,” Diane said. “Always think of page turns,” and “take ownership of your writing,” Diane instructed.

You may never send one of the art suggestions that you create to an editor. Initially the art suggestions are just are for you, the author. The art suggestions allow you to see how your text flows, what words you can cut because art will show the details, where additional details might be needed, how the pacing flows, where the page turns should come, and so on.

Once you get to know an editor you’ll discover his/her likes and dislikes. No two editors are going to approach art notes in the same. The rumor that you can never have art notes is, however, just that . . . a rumor.

Not one editor at the conference mentioned word count. Diane even said, “I don’t count.” But what every editor said is that she is looking for manuscripts with perfect word choices, just-right pacing, and a clear story line. If you think you can write 1200 words and send it off without seriously thinking through the list above, you’re wrong.

Again, every editor will have different preferences when it comes to word count. Some firmly hold to 500 words or less, others don’t. I still shoot for 500 words in my manuscripts—sometimes lower, sometimes a little higher. This is the strategy I use to keep my words tight and my story flowing. Try it, it might work you. But it’s not a rule—that’s just a rumor.