edited by Jon Bard
In this special issue of the Update, we'll answer some of the top questions we get from aspiring children's writers!
1. Our #1 Most Frequently Asked Question: Do I Need an Illustrator?
This one’s for the newbies…..
I have a story I've written for children. Do I need to find someone to illustrate it before I can send it to a publisher?
In fact, in cases where the author of a picture book is not also an artist, the publisher prefers to find its own illustrator for the book. The reason for this: often a publisher will match up a new author with a more experienced illustrator who has some name-recognition among book stores and teachers. Also, publishers have a stable of illustrators they have cultivated, and are always looking for new manuscripts for these illustrators to work on.
Finally, publishers have a certain “look” they have developed for their individual lists, and the illustrator you choose for your manuscript may not have a style that fits with other books already published by that house.
If you do know an artist that you want to work with, you can submit illustrations with your manuscript, but be prepared that the editor may like only the writing or only the illustrations and won’t want to buy the entire package.
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2. Point of View and Picture Books
Could you address point of view and the picture book? I’m working on a picture book story, with several characters a lot of action. It seems more economical word-wise to write it from the omniscient view point, although that is often cautioned against. But in the picture book, there is scarcely enough time to introduce one character well before the end of the story would be near, and the other characters wouldn’t get as fleshed out as they could be.
The omniscient viewpoint can work in a picture book, and it’s used there more often than in longer books. If you have several characters who are crucial to the story, it’s probably the best way to go. Also, since picture books deal with action and dialogue, rather than the internal thoughts of the characters, using the omniscient viewpoint won’t be as confusing in this format as in novels where the reader can see inside a character’s head. But still make sure one character takes center stage as your main character. Your readers have to have one character with which to identify, one character to sympathize with, and one character who has a clearly defined problem that he/she solves during the course of the story.
3. Should I Query a Specific Editor?
When sending a query letter, many resources I read say to choose an editor from a market directory and send it to him/her personally. This seems counter-intuitive to me. My first thought would be to send it as the publisher’s submission guidelines instruct–which often does NOT list editors by name. Should a secondary source really be favored over a primary source for this information?
This is a tricky one, and most authors go with what feels right to them. Publishers’ guidelines (especially with larger publishing houses), often don’t list the names of specific editors because if that editor leaves or gets promoted to a different position, all the guidelines would have to be reprinted. However, the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market is updated every year, so the staff names are current at least for a few months after each edition comes out.
The prevailing wisdom is to, whenever possible, address your query to a specific editor. So I’d start with the name listed in CWIM, and give a quick call to the publisher just to verify that that person is still there before mailing your manuscript. If the listing in CWIM says to address to “Submissions Editor,” then honor that. Some publishers’ guidelines do state that they don’t want manuscripts addressed to particular editors, but rather to the Children’s Book Department in general, and in those cases that’s what you should do.
The bottom line: Do your best to write a professional letter and follow the submission procedures as closely as you can. I don’t think a terrific manuscript would be rejected because you put a person’s name on the letter when it should go to a department, or vice versa.
4. So, Are You a Fightin' Bookworm Yet?
The CBI Clubhouse is rocking! We've got lots of new members who are meeting one another on the message boards, plenty of new videos and audios, our free children's writing course (The CBI Challenge), exclusive publishing opportunities just for our members and much more.
And all of it is free for paid subscribers to Children's Book Insider, the Neewsletter for Children's Writers!
Here's what Fightin' Bookworm Irene Roth has to say:
Before I joined the CBI Clubhouse, I was completely lost as a freelance writer. I knew that I wanted to write for kids, but I didn't have the first idea about what I should do to achieve this.
I sent out a few articles to magazines, and they all got rejected. This went on for two years. I was devastated and ready to give up! Then I was talking to a friend of mine who suggested that I check out the CBI Clubhouse. I did. And I have never felt better in my whole life as a freelance writer.
There are weekly instructional videos by Jon Bard on different aspects of the writing process. These are invaluable. There are also videos by Laura Backes. She has become my personal mentor. I listen to her videos every few days. Some videos I listen to over and over again.
Then there is the CBI Challenge. It is absolutely chock full of information on finding your passion in writing to the nuts and bolts of publishing. I am on Module #2 and I have learned more than I could have ever imagined.
Lastly, if you have any questions or concerns, you can email either Jon or Laura at any time. They are also willing to help and are encouraging. Finally, I don't feel so alone as a writer!
So what are you waiting for? Join the CBI Clubhouse for a small, small fee every month. Skip one latte and you have your monthly membership which will give you a lot more value that your latte.
Join The CBI Clubhouse now (for less than the cost of a latte each month) and you'll get:
- a fresh issue of Children's Book Insider, The Newsletter for Children's Writers
- audio interviews with top authors
- video tutorials about every aspect of writing and submitting children's books to publishers
- a slew of exclusive articles
- free ebooks
- message boards and chatrooms
- The CBI Challenge -- our exclusive step-by-step children's writing course!
...and much, much more!
If you're at all serious about writing children's books and getting them published, you really need to hop on board with the Fightin' Bookworms of The CBI Clubhouse. All the education and inspiration you need to make it is waiting for you for just pennies a day. Plus, we have lots of fun while we're at it.
Here's the link to the Clubhouse!
See you 'round the Clubhouse, future Fightin' Bookworm!
5. What Makes a Picture Book Memorable?
What are the qualities that make a memorable illustrated children’s book?
Many things make a picture book memorable. Well-defined characters with whom young children can identity, and who have a problem or goal that young children can understand and find important. A well-paced plot that inspires the child to turn the page and see what happens next. Lyrical, rhythmic text that sounds appealing when read out loud. Engaging illustrations that contain details not found in the text, and also add another layer to the story. And finally, an original, imaginative story that the child, parent and editor haven’t seen before!
If you think about your favorite books from your own childhood, they are probably stories that made you feel something: wonder, joy, excitement, surprise, or even sadness. Those stories that speak directly to a child’s emotions are always the most memorable.
6. What's in October's Children's Book Insider?
If you're new to the Update, you may not know that we publish a monthly subscription-only newsletter for aspiring and working children's book writers that's jam-packed with market leads, advice, inside info and much more.
It's called Children's Book Insider, and we've been sharing it with subscribers across the globe since May, 1990! (And remember, every subscriber to Children's Book Insider gets total access to the incredible CBI Clubhouse website AND The CBI Challenge!)
Here's a look at what's in the current issue of Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers:
* Publisher Seeks Nonfiction on Nature, Western Culture, History
* Electronic Publisher Seeks Submissions
* University Press Seeks Picture Books with Regional Themes
* Deadlines Approach for Three Contests
* Exclusive Publishing Opportunity for Fightin' Bookworms!
* How to Write Supernatural Thrillers
* In-Depth with Literary Agent Turned Author Laura Rennert
* How to Create a Book Trailer to Promote Your Work
* The CBI Challenge, Part 6: Creating a Strong Antagonist
If you enjoy the information offered in this e-mail update, wait 'til you see what we've got in store for you each month in the pages of CBI!
A subscription to CBI and full access to the CBI Clubhouse and CBI Challenge costs about the same each month as a latte!
For more information and to order, go to http://cbiclubhouse.com/non-members
"If you are "thinking" about subscribing, DON'T!!! Just do it. I waited for almost 2 years before I did, now I'm wondering why I waited so long" Frederick Claus
"I won a subscription to CBI at a conference few years ago. I've been renewing ever since -- 450 magazine and 4 book credits later! Thanks for the best information published. I rely on your newsletter!" Lorri Cardwell-Casey
"I knew if I was going to keep getting published I'd need some help so I did some research and discovered your newsletter. It seemed made to order so I ordered it! Five books and over thirty-five articles later, I'm still subscribing and finding Children's Book Insider as useful and inspiring as ever. " Lynne Stover
"If you're not sure whether joining CBI is the right move, consider this: I got a book contract from a lead on the first page of my very first issue of CBI! How's that for results?" Marci Mathers
7. Can I Have an Adult Lead Character in a Children’s Book?
Is it possible or advisable to have a lead character who is an adult, rather than a child, in a novel for kids ages 8-12? It seems to me that many successful books involve a lead character who is approximately the same age as the audience, unless the book involves animals as characters. Is it a generally accepted convention or a rule that the character who experiences the main conflict and changes in a children’s book should be a child? Or is it possible to have an adult as the lead character if the supporting characters are children and if the problems faced by the adult involve issues which are relevant to children? Do you know of any examples of any successful books for ages 8-12 in which the lead character is not a child?
Your questions are very perceptive. You’ve noticed that most books have children as main characters, and that the conflict needs to be something relevant to a child. As a result, it’s hard to have the main character be an adult, though not impossible. Everything that comes to mind as examples feature a prominent adult character, but the story’s still told through the viewpoint of a child. For example, The Pigman by Paul Zindel is about an eccentric loner, but the story’s told by two kids who befriend him. Even in these books the adult is facing problems that are relevant to the middle grade readers. So to give you a firm answer to your question, I believe it would be difficult to successfully make an adult the main, viewpoint character, though he/she can be a very strong secondary character or even the focus of the book as long as a child is the one telling the story.
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October 22, 2009
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