Tips from editors

I wanted to share some editor and agent notes from the recent November conference of the WPASCBWI. Daniel Nayeri and Stephanie Pitts were the editors visiting, along with Harold Underdown, an independent editor. The children’s agents were Rachel Orr and Jessica Regel.
Daniel Nayeri is an editor with Clarion books, part of Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, for a few more days until he moves to Workman Publishers. Daniel used a picture book entitled Mustache Baby to explain what the thinking is behind such a book.
At first, he worried that this book would express the cliché Ted theme from the 1950s, “I’m different, but I’m okay.” Fortunately, it did not. He spoke of the importance of the art and text being interdependent—the art does not simply describe what is going on in the text anymore. Editors know that most picture books begin on page 5, which is a single spread, and that prevents a big ban or explosion happening until pages 6 and 7, where a double spread is possible. Often today, picture books like to let the art do the expressing. “Our baby was born with a mustache,” or whatever the actual text is, could have been done with the illustration alone. However, Daniel worried that a child reading it might miss the subtle mustache, so decided to keep the words there. However, at the end of the book, he allowed the art to do the talking, giving the final surprise.
Daniel said that picture books with lists are boring. We all know the rule of 3 in children’s writing, but in films, list are a montage of pictures with accompanying music and last a couple of minutes. To have several pages of text listing, and then we did this, and then this, and this…bores the reader.
I asked Daniel what other themes are clichés now, and he said tomboy princesses, bully books, ABC books, I’m different, but Mama loves me.
Stephanie Pitts also talked about picture books—biographies as well as fiction. Several that she recommended were:
17 Things I’m not allowed to do Anymore and How to Be A Baby, by a Big Sister. She recommended several picture book biographies, such as Me Jane and Brave Girl. She also discussed 2 mid grade books, Monster and a biography of Amelia Earhart, which alternates chapters of the search for her and her biography.
Stephanie gave several tips:
Follow the rules on the website
Do not use too many art notes in a picture book, just 1 or 2
Consider not rhyming your picture book, but using lyrical language with a voice
Do not send her early readers, books about dragons, vampires,

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About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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One Response to Tips from editors

  1. Pingback: Pitts, Stephanie | Writing for Children and Teens

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