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.


Susan said...

Great posts this week, Rob! I especially liked this one and think every picture book writer would benefit from seeing these rumors addressed.

Rob Sanders said...

Thanks, Susan. Great to hear from you!

Cathy Mealey said...

Yesterday the Publishers Weekly email arrived at my inbox. I was astonished by the number and breadth of the Spring 2012 preview.

Clearly, this proves that Rumor #1 is indeed false!

Rob Sanders said...

Thanks for sharing the info, Cathy!