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Genres & Age Categories => Picture Books (PB) => Topic started by: Betsy on September 13, 2011, 05:45 PM

Title: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Betsy on September 13, 2011, 05:45 PM
What have you heard?  Let's share with each other.  I'll start:

1. I've heard that almost all editors are looking for VERY short manuscripts because tired parents tend to read them at night and they don't want a lot of words.

2.  They want manuscripts tied to the curriculum.

3.  Humorous, not quiet mss.  Very child-centric not anything about adult issues.  (No retold folktales.)

4.  The want lovable characters that can be franchised and/or turned into series.

5.  They want refrains, repetition, or reader participation mss.

6.   The story should leave you with a warm, friendly feeling and make the child say, "Oh, read it again."

7.   No obvious lessons.

8.   No sad endings.  (I guess retellings of the Little Gingerbread Boy are out.)

Please share with your fellow writers.  I'd like to compile a general list here--not necessarily what specific editors want.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: KDuBayGillis on September 13, 2011, 07:02 PM
I'll play....was at a picture book workshop with a Chronicle editor this spring.  Heard many of the things already on your list.  In addition:

1) Give the child power/control (to make decisions/choices)
2) Let the reader in on the secret or know the answer before or correct the MC (plays into both participation and letting the child be in control)

Great list!  Thanks for sharing!!

-Kellie
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Franzilla on September 13, 2011, 07:02 PM
Characters, characters, characters. So that there's potential for more than one, I guess, and all the branding possibilities that go along with creating a strong interesting character that kids can identify with.

Stories that parents will love, so clever humor and wit that goes right over most young kids' heads. (Forget the kids, it's all about the parents because they carry the cash, right?)

No quiet stuff. (Yawn. So bored of hearing that... On what basis did someone decide that quiet books were not cool anymore?)

Nothing that's similar to anything else out there (needs to stand out in 'today's competitive market'). But nothing that's TOO wacky/quirky either (too risky).


Am I sounding jaded? I feel a little jaded today.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: KDuBayGillis on September 13, 2011, 07:04 PM
I'll throw in one more....twists/unexpected endings.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Betsy on September 13, 2011, 07:20 PM
Yep, those are all good.  Keep 'em coming.

(I don't know about the rest of you, but the mss. I write fail on one or more of those requirements.)

I've also heard they want ghosts--have any of you heard that? 
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Tammi on September 13, 2011, 07:32 PM
Spare text that leaves plenty of room for the illustrator to share his/her part of the story.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Tammi on September 13, 2011, 07:36 PM
Diamond in the Slush: What Picture Book Editors Are Really Looking For

http://metro.nyscbwi.org/news/diamond/
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Mindy Alyse Weiss on September 13, 2011, 07:42 PM
Wow, I think you've covered everything I was going to say.  I'll have to look through my notes again from the last conference to see if there's anything else to add.

Fantastic thread--thanks so much for starting it!

Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Tammi on September 13, 2011, 07:44 PM
Pb writers should consider their work a theater piece. Pbs are meant to be played.

(paraphrasing Allyn Johnston and Mo Willems simultaneously) :)
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Betsy on September 13, 2011, 07:56 PM
Thanks, Tammi.  Those are great suggestions.  And I enjoyed the article.

Any more specifics?  Trends? 
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: KDuBayGillis on September 13, 2011, 07:56 PM
Tammi....I love that idea....a theatre piece.  Thanks for sharing that one!  
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: LoriA on September 13, 2011, 10:05 PM
A few words from an agent-lead PB webinar I recently attended:

PBs that lead the market are hip, unique, funny, quirky, character-driven with a great voice and heart (is that all?). They have multiple sales hooks. And they are short! As far as the length goes, she said editors are asking for “snappy text” which means less than 700 words but preferably less than 500.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: JulieM on September 13, 2011, 11:19 PM
I was recently told "emotion"
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Tina Cho on September 14, 2011, 04:01 AM
Great list, Ellen! And I liked the article, Tammi, especially since your book is mentioned!
I've read that interactive picture books are becoming more popular.
~Tina
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Tammi on September 14, 2011, 08:34 AM
I recently heard that an editor is after a great reversal.

Example of a reversal is CHILDREN MAKE TERRIBLE PETS.

When Lucy, a young bear, discovers a boy in the woods, she's absolutely delighted. She brings him home and begs her mom to let her keep him, even though her mom warns, "Children make terrible pets." But mom relents, and Lucy gets to name her new pet Squeaker.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Betsy on September 14, 2011, 09:09 AM
I've tried to write reversal stories--they're not easy to write!
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: KDuBayGillis on September 14, 2011, 09:23 AM
I think the key with reversals is not letting the reversal become the book...still need to have a strong MC.   Peter Brown did another book with Lucy...
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: KDuBayGillis on September 14, 2011, 09:25 AM
another reversal pb:  AKR's BEDTIME FOR MOMMY
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: 217mom on September 14, 2011, 09:53 AM
Our Betsy started another super-duper thread.

One comment I got from a senior editor is to keep the balance of funny/poignant in check. He mentioned old Chaplin movies, like City Lights.

In other words, and we only have five hundred or less, make'em cry and laugh.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Betsy on September 14, 2011, 09:57 AM
Thanks, Mirka.  I'm a big Chaplin fan (and I've seen City Lights).

But in my own stories, I'm not too good at making 'em cry.  I'm better at the laugh thing.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Jessica Swaim on October 09, 2011, 10:54 AM
Based on my experience with personal rejections lately and with hearing editors do a first-pages sessions at our local scbwi conference,
they want "freshness", they want books with broad market appeal (very hard to define), not of mostly regional or narrow scope, and
they are sick of reading stories reflecting an adult point of view.  Short, definitely very short.  Nobody has an attention span anymore! 
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Liz on October 09, 2011, 11:34 AM
all of the above - especially about keeping it short  and leaving space for the illustrator to 'tell' part of the story.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: mrsbear on October 09, 2011, 03:53 PM
Here's my short list, based on comments on manuscripts and conferences I've attended--
Funny
Quirky
Emotional
Strong conflict and believable resolution
A character who grows and changes

On the issue of length, I've gotten mixed info--short is definitely a plus, but in doing requested revisions for an editor recently, one of my PBs actually got longer!  Haven't sold it yet, so we'll see.

Ellen
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: AnnS on October 10, 2011, 04:42 PM
I don't mean to put down these suggestions; I think that they're interesting and helpful.  But here is a cautionary note for pre-published writers about to push away from wonderful work that doesn't meet the criteria:

All but one of my PB's violate 4 or 5 of these criteria, depending on how you interpret the bit about refrains, how prominent the repetition has to be.  The books in question are with four different publishers, ranging from big 5 (or is it now down to 4?) to tiny.  Two of them aren't out yet, so some are quite recent sales.

It would be very sad if writers who are drawn to folklore decided that working in the genre was a waste of time when, in fact, retold and fractured tales are alive and well and selling (although certainly not as well as Olivia or Fancy Nancy, there's still room for them).  Or if stories that demand more words ended up stuffed in bankers boxes.  Or if stories with religious subtext and messages -- assuming no hit over the head with a hammer engraved with the words "and the moral of this story is" messages -- never got sent to secular publishers.

Over the years I've heard no anthropomorphic talking animals (my first book), no retold folktales (four books), no books with only adult characters (all the folktales and one non-folktale), no rhyme (I don't do these, but how many terrific rhyming books have you seen recently?), and all sorts of other prohibitions that are routinely violated by lots and lots of writers. 

OK, probably a humorless 4,000 word PB in which a talking refrigerator overcomes its fear of the leafy green vegetables lurking in its produce drawer thanks to divine intervention, written in mind-numbing iambic pentameter, is not going to jump out of the slush pile any time soon, but I think that if you read a lot of PB's and exercise reasonable judgment, you have a lot of room to be creative and follow your passion with an awareness but not a slavish dedication to producing what's supposed to be hot.

Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: 217mom on October 10, 2011, 06:23 PM
I’m with you, AnnS. I’m only sorry that my five thousand word dancing elevator story is drawer-bound. :0
 
Betsy knows the score as well as anyone possibly could. I agree with the sentiment that you should, please don’t, write ‘to the market.’ But it is helpful to share what is being said here and there, to be aware of it, and then make your own mind. It's good to know if you're bucking the trend.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: AnnS on October 10, 2011, 07:22 PM
217mom -- Agree completely, that's why I prefaced as I did.  Not in any way a put down of Betsy or of the suggestions; it's important to be aware of the info that editors are putting out there. 

My agenda is that I love folklore, and as long as I've been writing for children -- which started way, way before I was published -- I've been hearing that if you want to do folk tales, you're screwed.  (The OP is correctly reporting the info that's out there: that's the info.)  It's tremendously frustrating to keep hearing this, and to see people who love folklore trying to do something else on the assumption that their retellings will never find a home.  My feeling is that it's such a challenge to be published in the first place, you'd might as well deal with all of vicissitudes of submissions and rejections and rewrites in the service of work that you care about deeply.  Not with a sense of nanny-nanny-foo-foo, I'll write what I want and if you don't like my dancing elevator and his romance with a talking duck, the heck with you, my captive-audience nephew likes to hear it every day if I feed him enough candy bars, but with a desire to write the specific thing you're writing.

I'm not suggesting that writers who check out the market are selling out or lack conviction; I just want to reassure people who have conviction and are doing something that barely even touches on the 8 criteria that they're OK.  And to urge them not to stop doing what they're doing, or to lose faith in possibility that their book will find its way into print and find its audience.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Sheila on October 10, 2011, 08:52 PM
Today I got a long, detailed evaluation of a picture book dummy from an editorial service that I trust. I paid to have this done because I have gotten a lot of nice personal comments from editors and some conflicting suggestions when sending this one out. Basically, she said my book included too many concepts and I need to make it more simple and focus on one theme. Funny -- another dummy I've done has only 75 words, and I've been told it's too simple and that parents won't want to spend over $15 for such a story. I guess there's a happy medium?

The sad thing is that kids who're three and four can enjoy longer and fairly complex stories if someone is willing to read these books to them. At least the books are out there even if few new ones  are being published. I'm not sure I could have raised my children without the real Pooh Bear, Bill Peet's tales, and the 20-minutes-to-read Dr. Seuss books.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Betsy on October 10, 2011, 11:03 PM
No offense taken at anyone's remarks.  All opinions are welcome on this thread.  I expect there to be contradictions.  

I've sold my share of retold folktales too, and my last three sales were rhyming pbs.  Nothing on this thread should be taken as cast in cement.  Thanks for reminding us of that, Ann.  I was hoping maybe, instead of a list of what isn't wanted, we'd concentrate more on topics and material that's of special interest these days.  

Like, for example, I did have an editor ask me specifically for pb ghost stories.  Not my thing, so I'm mentioning it here in case someone's inspired to write one. 

Any other topics someone's heard an editor mention?  (If it's not for you, share with your friends.)

Ann--love that talking refrigerator idea and the dancing elevator isn't bad either!
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: 217mom on October 11, 2011, 09:42 AM
I just want to reassure people who have conviction and are doing something that barely even touches on the 8 criteria that they're OK.  And to urge them not to stop doing what they're doing, or to lose faith in possibility that their book will find its way into print and find its audience.

Spot-on, AnnS. Hear what the Mavins have to say, but (I agree) give back to the world what you consider to be real value. You have done it, and you know.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Ev on October 11, 2011, 02:30 PM
I heard an editor at our SCBWI conference last month say she loves Ninja stories.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: DianaM on October 12, 2011, 05:22 AM
I would add "young" to the list. I keep hearing that editors want picture books targeted at younger readers. This is one of the reasons they prefer a short word count and the use of refrains, etc.

Also, opportunities for audience participation and vibrant language.

Did anyone say "page turns" yet?

Finally, I think multicultural viewpoints seem to be highly desirable.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Betsy on May 16, 2012, 03:12 PM
Thought I'd revive this thread.  Anybody hearing anything they'd like to share?
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: KateMessner on May 19, 2012, 04:14 AM
While I've heard all the same things and think this is all useful conversation, I'd also caution that following this list of guidelines would lead us to a world where picture books are pretty similar.  I wrote a picture book a few years back that I loved, but I knew it broke every rule in the book. It was short, yes, but it was also quiet without a distinct Fancy-Nancy type character, and with no conflict or problem. I sent it to my agent (whose favorite saying is "There is always a market for awesome.")  She sold it, and OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW has not only won more awards than any of my other books but also sells the most copies, hands-down. And it's not alone - think WATER SINGS BLUE, or BLACKOUT or ME, JANE - none of these follow the list of rules, but they are lovely and they do what they do perfectly. And that is perhaps, the most important thing of all when it comes to picture books, I think. Your book doesn't have to do what all the other successful picture books do - but it does have to do what it does so beautifully that it's impossible not to imagine it as a real book on shelves.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: majanecka on May 19, 2012, 01:48 PM
"There is always a market for awesome."

I love your agent's favorite saying!
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Betsy on May 21, 2012, 10:44 AM
Thanks, Kate.  I've read your book OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, and it's a very charming picture book. 

I'm not looking for rules.  But sometimes editors will specify a certain theme that they want, and while it might not be my thing -- it's always nice to toss it out for someone else.  For example, (I think I shared this earlier on this thread) several editors were asking for ghost stories a while back.  I don't do ghosts, but I'm sure some of you do. Another nonfiction editor wanted American Revolution stories.  Again, not for me -- but someone else might benefit.  If nothing else, sometimes these tossed out ideas trigger a related thought.

I have been hearing that the sweet spot is still between 300 and 500 words.   

Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: CaroleB on May 21, 2012, 11:42 AM
Kate,
Thank you for sharing your experience. I love that.  :hearts
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Nan on May 21, 2012, 12:49 PM
A definite plot arc with tension and resolution.
(Did someone say that already?)
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Jaina on May 21, 2012, 01:15 PM
'Twas then that Fred the Frigidaire avowed
that verdant foes no more his drawer should crowd.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: JulieM on May 21, 2012, 03:08 PM
Wow, you had better be careful, Jaina. You might be plagiarized if you put such gems on the net for all to see! :  )
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: wolfie712 on May 21, 2012, 03:14 PM
Loved your post, Kate!  Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Stephanie Ruble on May 21, 2012, 07:08 PM
Two things I've heard lately are strong characters and books for younger PB age children.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: DianaM on May 21, 2012, 07:32 PM
I keep hearing "strong characters" too.

--

Quote
'Twas then that Fred the Frigidaire avowed
that verdant foes no more his drawer should crowd.

 :dr Jaina, I can only offer one suggestion. Perhaps change "no more" to "nevermore". Then it would be perfect! I assume this couplet is the refrain?
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: Jaina on May 22, 2012, 05:58 AM
I was trying for iambic pentameter, but drawer is one syllable too many. "Draw'r" if you're Shakespeare, I guess.
Title: Re: What do picture book editors want (lately)?
Post by: DianaM on May 22, 2012, 06:12 AM
Your meter is perfect. I was just trying to make a bad Poe reference. My suggestion actually throws the meter off.

Anyhow, I would certainly want to read more about Fred!