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Writer's Room => Picture Books (PB) => Topic started by: Dionna on April 11, 2012, 04:05 PM

Title: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Dionna on April 11, 2012, 04:05 PM
This question is for you illustrators out there.

I've been told by two agents regarding a ms that, while they like the story and the writing, I leave no room for the illustrator. They both basically said that the text is clear on its own.

So...from an illustrator's POV, what does that mean and can a ms with this handicap be "fixed" by the writer in a revision?  ???

Can't wait to figure this one out!! I've heard the advice, but don't really understand it.

Thanks for your help!

Dionna

 
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: eecoburn on April 11, 2012, 05:35 PM
Dionna,

I am not an illustrator, but as a PB writer who has been working on the craft for a few years, I'd say the best way to learn how to do it is to read, read, read tons of CURRENT (past five years) picture books. Really study them, and see how they leave room for the text. Look at what they don't say. I think the agent Linda Pratt once said that the text of the picture book is like the straight man, and the pictures are like the punchline. The pictures don't merely illustrate, they can develop the story, make visual jokes, and add entirely new plotlines. One book I remember someone highlighting for great picture/text interaction was s Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann. The text makes no sense without the pictures, and the pictures make no sense without the text.

Good luck! :goodluck
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: SYoon on April 11, 2012, 06:14 PM
Great advice by eecoburn!

Another thing to keep in mind is to not describe physical objects since the illustrations will show this. It's easy for a writer to forget this, since they see it in their heads and might want to include that detail in the text. But why include unnecessary words?

Instead of saying,... "The frog hopped onto a big brown log," you can just write, "The frog hopped onto his favorite spot"... and let the illustrator figure out what that favorite spot might be.

Study all of Amy Krouse Rosenthal's books! She is a master with using incredibly sparse words but having a big impact. She definitely allows the illustrator to breathe life into her words. PLANT A KISS is genius. How would an artist illustrate a kiss that is planted in the ground? What would it look like if it grew? Peter Reynolds finds a way!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: pilonsc on April 11, 2012, 07:14 PM
Adding to what SYoon said, remember that illustrations can only show how things look. In the text, try to play a bit with taste, feel, smell, and sound.

Also, scan your text for adjectives and ask yourself if each one is necessary. Many adjectives aren't needed because the text can show how big things are, what color they are etc.   
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Verla Kay on April 12, 2012, 10:24 AM
There's a very fine line in picture book texts and often it's difficult to see just where that line goes. Think for a moment about a scene where your main character is at the beach. In novels, you would need to describe the scene fully, to put your characters in that place. In a picture book, you just say, "Milda went to the beach."

It's up to the illustrator to decide if she went there by car, bus, motocycle, skateboard, bike or on foot. The illustrator will decide what she is wearing, how her hair looks and if she brought something (like a lunch, sand toys, etc.) with her or not. The illustrator will decde what the weather is like, how the beach looks, how big the waves are, etc.

If something is VITAL to the story (like Little Red Ridinghood's Red Cloak) then you should put that description in your text. But ONLY do this if the story can't be understood at all if the description is left out.

I hope this helps to clarify for you what an illustrator's part is in creating picture books.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Anne Marie on April 12, 2012, 10:38 AM
I think the agent Linda Pratt once said that the text of the picture book is like the straight man, and the pictures are like the punchline. The pictures don't merely illustrate, they can develop the story, make visual jokes, and add entirely new plotlines.

Ha!  Linda is my agent and she has taught me so much about writing picture book text. She works with a lot of excellent illustrators and has a very keen eye.

Yes, everything the people above said. 
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Tammi on April 12, 2012, 10:50 AM
A couple of examples from my books:

In Mostly Monsterly, I have the line "She caused mayhem of all kinds."

This allowed Scott Magoon to come up with a scene that ended up being one of my favorites in the book. In Scott's illustration, he showed Bernadette and her monster friends dressed in band uniforms and playing band instruments. Bernadette is marching everyone past the library where there is a "quiet please" sign posted.

In Bawk & Roll, there are a few scenes in which Marge and Lola get terrible reviews in the newspaper.

Dan Santat used this newspaper as an opportunity to add some additional funny headlines.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: SYoon on April 12, 2012, 10:57 AM
Great examples, Tammi!

Another good example book is: I'M NOT, by Pam Smallcomb and Robert Weinstock.

Here are some lines that has to be visualized by the illustrator to give it life/interest:

- "She's not one single bit ordinary."  (Dinosaur hangs from a tree upside down, saying "Look, I'm an apple!")
- "And she's a little mysterious." (Still hiding in tree and says, "a POISON apple!")
- "Evelyn is up on all the latest fashion trends." (you can imagine how creative an illustrator can be for this one. He's got the dino wearing lamp shades, pink band aids all over, and sweatbands and legwarmers.)

Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Anne Marie on April 12, 2012, 11:16 AM
In Mostly Monsterly, I have the line "She caused mayhem of all kinds."

ASIDE:  I think "mayhem" is my new favorite word.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: amberturner on April 12, 2012, 11:29 AM
Dionna...For what it's worth, I'm going to give you some left-field advice, since I was in your shoes exactly 5 years ago. I kept getting positive feedback from publishers on a handful of picture book manuscripts, but that same "you leave no room for illustrations" thing.

Know what one editor called and suggested to me? Write a novel.

That night, I began Sway.

It was such freedom to let the words do their own space-hogging thing!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: KatyD on April 12, 2012, 11:50 AM
You've already gotten a lot of great advice, but I'd like to mention one other thing you might want to try. I type out the texts of picture books that I like. It really doesn't take that long, and I learn so much from doing it. If you study the text alone in a Word doc, you begin to see how the words and the art work together. You can see what the author chooses to leave in and what they choose to leave out.

Salina, I adore PLANT A KISS. It's such a satisfying story in fewer than 100 words!

That's a great story, Amber. I think I'm on the opposite end of that spectrum though. I tend to write so "spare" that I don't think I have enough words inside me for a novel!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Anne Marie on April 12, 2012, 12:16 PM
I tend to write so "spare" that I don't think I have enough words inside me for a novel!

You are so full of c***, Duffield.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: KatyD on April 12, 2012, 03:28 PM
Hahahaha! Well, AM, I could probably write an 8000 to 10,000 word novel--if I really stretched it!  :grin
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Dionna on April 13, 2012, 02:02 PM
Thanks so much everyone. I now totally get what they mean! I really didn't have a clue (though I've read literally hundreds upon hundreds of pbs over the years). I guess I never paid attention to how the two entities worked separately, only appreciated the whole.

SYOON, your example really helped me see how I put in way too many details of what I see in the scene.

And Verla, you explained it in terms I can really wrap my wee-brain around. Thanks for the mentoring.

KatyD, I am definitely going to apply your suggestion and try typing out the text. Great advice.

AnneMarie, Why did you use a poopy word, *** or not? But thanks for the input.

I do have a question for you gals: Do you find it unnerving to let go of the control over how you envision the scene? If I say in my ms "Lorny's dust-kissed face", for instance. I would love it if the illustrator would simple paint a wonderful picture of what I wrote, how I see Lorny. Why is that asking too much?  ::)

Also wanted to mention...  that to my GREAT surprise you gals mentioned one of the agents of whom I spoke! (WILD!) Further, Amber, just yesterday, I had another agent (saying exactly the same thing about yet another ms, that I did not allow enough room for the illustrator, calling it "stationary") request that I keep her in mind if I write a middle-grade in the future. No phone call, but a real incentive to keep going since I just finished chapter 1 of a new one! (So excited!) Maybe I'll have the same ultimate outcome as you!!!

Thanks oodles again!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: J-Bert on April 13, 2012, 02:29 PM
Great question and thread! I'm scribbling notes and inspiration. . .
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Tammi on April 13, 2012, 02:53 PM
Nope. I don't find it unnerving. I LOVE to see what the illustrator brings to the text.

I always try to remember to tell as much as possible in as little as possible.

P.S.  Anne Marie--mayhem mayhem mayhem.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Anne Marie on April 13, 2012, 03:08 PM

I do have a question for you gals: Do you find it unnerving to let go of the control over how you envision the scene? If I say in my ms "Lorny's dust-kissed faced", for instance. I would love it if the illustrator would simple paint a wonderful picture of what I wrote, how I see Lorny. Why is that asking too much?  ::)


No, I find it exciting, not unnerving. 

And I used a poopy word because KatyD needs occasional kicks in the heinie.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: KatyD on April 13, 2012, 04:37 PM
Hahaha, again! Yes, Katy needs occasional kicks in the heinie.

And I agree with Anne Marie and Tammi--it's SO fun to see what an illustrator adds to the story. The combination of text plus art equals picture book magic. Illustrators are so awesome; we need to trust their vision and what they can add to our stories.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: amberturner on April 13, 2012, 04:41 PM
Great, Dionna. Sounds promising!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: SYoon on April 13, 2012, 04:43 PM
Hahaha, again! Yes, Katy needs occasional kicks in the heinie.

And I agree with Anne Marie and Tammi--it's SO fun to see what an illustrator adds to the story. The combination of text plus art equals picture book magic. Illustrators are so awesome; we need to trust their vision and what they can add to our stories.

YES,... surrender your ms to the illustrator!  :whiteflag: :whiteflag: :whiteflag: It will be in good hands. :artist1:
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: LeslieG on April 13, 2012, 08:37 PM

I always try to remember to tell as much as possible in as little as possible.



 :) I'm taping this above my computer!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: JulieM on April 14, 2012, 12:39 AM
I just read The Quiet Book by by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska, and thought this is a great example of what is being discussed in this thread. Stuff is going on in the pictures that is not mentioned in the text, and the text has a complete yet sparse story that is enhanced by the illustrations. Worth a look, IMHO.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: poet on April 15, 2012, 12:18 PM
What a great thread! I'd also like to add, that though I'm not a professional illustrator, I am very visual.  I'm always picturing the the characters and action as I write.  This helps me keep from describing too much as I write because I say to myself -"The illustration will show that.

Laura
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: christripp on April 16, 2012, 03:35 AM
 
Quote
the text of the picture book is like the straight man, and the pictures are like the punchline.

I LOVE that line! So, I'm "Lewis" to my Authors "Martin":-)

Quote
I would love it if the illustrator would simple paint a wonderful picture of what I wrote, how I see Lorny. Why is that asking too much?
 

I'm not sure if you mean this question literally Dionna? Keep in mind, the illustrations are for the reader, not the Author and, of course, need to be lively/fun. (unless the story is of a more serious, or realistic nature)
I often think it must be a huge leap of faith for an Author to let go of their creation and put it's ultimate future into the hands of someone else. A bit like walking a daughter down the aisle. Will this person really CARE about this story the way "I" do? How could they?
Most times, thankfully, the Illustrator falls in love with the story as much as does the Author.
I remember (not all but bits of) a story of an Author who, while working on her PB, was imagining her characters to be human children. When the manuscript was handed to the Illustrator, she drew all the characters as "Mice". After the Author got over the shock, she fell in love with her story all over again.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Dionna on April 16, 2012, 05:54 AM
Excellent thoughts all!

And yes, ChrisTripp, I really meant it like I said it. (Hiding behind glasses.)  8)

Thanks to all of your motivating thoughts, I'm gonna dive into the deep end of my next pb, though I'm a little nervous, and write like a big-girl author! (I can do this, right?) One. (deep breath) Two. (bigger breath) Three. (lungs full)

GULP!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: CaroleB on April 16, 2012, 01:23 PM
So glad this question was posed. Though I don't have a problem understanding how NOT to do the illustrator's job in my writing I do have a problem understanding how some books I've read were ever "understood" enough for the illustrator to even grasp what the story was. Don't really want to give examples, but wondering if I'm the only one that scratches head sometimes and, also wondering how those types are submitted with such sparse writing.
Okay, I'll mention one, Yo! Yes?; this is safe to mention because C. R. also illustrated it. It's his story all around, but I've seen others that are not illustrated by the writer and I'm dumbfounded. How is something like that even submitted?
Just wondering,
Carole :shrug:
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: SYoon on April 16, 2012, 01:31 PM
So glad this question was posed. Though I don't have a problem understanding how NOT to do the illustrator's job in my writing I do have a problem understanding how some books I've read were ever "understood" enough for the illustrator to even grasp what the story was. Don't really want to give examples, but wondering if I'm the only one that scratches head sometimes and, also wondering how those types are submitted with such sparse writing.
Okay, I'll mention one, Yo! Yes?; this is safe to mention because C. R. also illustrated it. It's his story all around, but I've seen others that are not illustrated by the writer and I'm dumbfounded. How is something like that even submitted?
Just wondering,
Carole :shrug:

Illustration notes (written by author), or editorial discussions (between editor or art director and illustrator to discuss concept/direction in greater depth). Lots of development takes place before the book is in print, so it's not as simple as author submitting ms and the illustrator illustrating it. Lots of back and forth, push and pull, wipe on, wipe off.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: CaroleB on April 16, 2012, 04:42 PM
Illustration notes (written by author), or editorial discussions (between editor or art director and illustrator to discuss concept/direction in greater depth). Lots of development takes place before the book is in print, so it's not as simple as author submitting ms and the illustrator illustrating it. Lots of back and forth, push and pull, wipe on, wipe off.

Thanks for the reply, Salina. You know that doesn't surprise me on one hand, but on the other it goes against everything I've heard. I've heard authors don't even get to talk to the illustrators. Guess nothing is absolute.
And I can certainly see how a sparsely written pb would need a lot of collaboration once it's accepted, but I still don't understand how it gets accepted in the first place, unless one uses lots illustration notes (which I've heard one should not use or at least very sparingly).  For instance, let's pretend that CR did not illustrate Yo! Yes? and let's say he wanted to sub it. How the heck would he do that...lots of illustrative notes? And would it even be seriously read/considered with THAT many notes? Just wondering.

Carole
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: JulieM on April 16, 2012, 05:00 PM
...but I still don't understand how it gets accepted in the first place, unless one uses lots illustration notes (which I've heard one should not use or at least very sparingly).  For instance, let's pretend that CR did not illustrate Yo! Yes? and let's say he wanted to sub it. How the heck would he do that...lots of illustrative notes? And would it even be seriously read/considered with THAT many notes? Just wondering.
I asked that very question in a writing course I did once, Carole. The response I got was that, generally, only an established writer could get away with submitting a very sparse PB MS with any hope of getting it accepted. The rest of us have to submit something a little more...um...can I say substantial? to show that our writing is worth taking a chance on. I don't mean to underplay how wonderful sparse writing is. It is terrific. I am just relaying the response I got - that a publisher tends to trust sparse writing from writers with successful track records; not relative newbies.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: eecoburn on April 16, 2012, 05:12 PM
I will add I have not published a picture book yet, but that I have been shopping around a manuscript that requires LOTS of illustration notes, and it has gotten very far in the acquisitions process twice at major houses and neither editor has had a problem with the notes. That said, the notes are there to explain a visual joke (the punchline to my text). I am describing what a character is doing, not what he is wearing or what the setting looks like, etc. So while I think the general rule about avoiding notes is true, there are, as always, exceptions.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: SYoon on April 16, 2012, 06:18 PM
Thanks for the reply, Salina. You know that doesn't surprise me on one hand, but on the other it goes against everything I've heard. I've heard authors don't even get to talk to the illustrators. Guess nothing is absolute.
And I can certainly see how a sparsely written pb would need a lot of collaboration once it's accepted, but I still don't understand how it gets accepted in the first place, unless one uses lots illustration notes (which I've heard one should not use or at least very sparingly).  For instance, let's pretend that CR did not illustrate Yo! Yes? and let's say he wanted to sub it. How the heck would he do that...lots of illustrative notes? And would it even be seriously read/considered with THAT many notes? Just wondering.

Carole

Carole, you are quite right that the illustrator doesn't get in contact with the author in most instances. The editor is the "middle-man." Both sides talk to the editor. If the sparse ms (with notes) is accepted, the author and editor will discuss the concept at length. Then the editor relays that info to the illustrator. If the illustrator has a different vision (from the notes offered), then he/she will discuss with the editor, not directly with the author.  Then it all gets sorted out. Ultimately, it's the publisher's decision on which way to go should there be any differences.

And JulieM is absolutely right that sparse-text mss are harder for unpublished writers to sell. An author/illustrator has an advantage with this one. If the art is amazing and the concept or story is unique, even an unpublished auth/illus may make a sale with very sparse words, or no words at all. Sometimes the art is enough. Like WAVE, by Suzy Lee. No words at all, and she's a debut. Got lots of buzz from Chronicle, and got a second book deal after.

Unfortunately, with a picture book, a writer couldn't show the complete book with just the words, since a picture book isn't complete without the pictures. (But it CAN be complete without words.)
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: CarrieF on April 16, 2012, 06:36 PM
This is a great thread! I too have been befuddled as a writer about whether, when, and how to include art notes, and most especially how to create the spare texts that editors seem to be calling for these days without including notes.

I came across Linda Ashman's website, and she actually posted her manuscript for the book "No Dogs Allowed" which is a wonderful and very funny book that is told entirely in pictures and text written on a chalkboard sign in the illustrations.
http://www.lindaashman.com/no_dogs_allowed_108750.htm

She's an established writer, so I'm not sure the same rules apply to unpublished writers (sounds like they don't from Julie M's comment) but it was fascinating to see. I'd love to find more examples like this if anyone knows of any -- especially books where there is reliance on the illustrations to tell a significant part of the story. And especially debut books.

Carrie
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: JulieM on April 16, 2012, 07:18 PM
"Dog in, cat out" is a good one, although not debut. It is by Gillian Rubenstein and Ann James. Those four little words are the only words used, yet a full day in the life of a busy family is wonderfully depicted in the illustrations.
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1337066.Dog_in_Cat_Out_CL
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Dionna on April 16, 2012, 08:15 PM
WOWSIE! I'm learning so much here!!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: ruecole on April 16, 2012, 08:26 PM
You aren't the only one! Great thread!  :clap:

Rue
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: christripp on April 17, 2012, 03:47 AM
Illustration notes (written by author), or editorial discussions (between editor or art director and illustrator to discuss concept/direction in greater depth). Lots of development takes place before the book is in print, so it's not as simple as author submitting ms and the illustrator illustrating it. Lots of back and forth, push and pull, wipe on, wipe off.

So, SO true but also true that, except for some of the "name" Authors, most times the writer has very limited to no direct contact or input when it comes to the Illustrators job. The Author may speak to the Editor, the Editor may think the Authors point valid and speak to the AD, who then, if agreeing, convays the point to the Illustrator but, as SYoon says, lots of behind the scenes push and pull going on.
 
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: christripp on April 17, 2012, 04:02 AM
Quote
For instance, let's pretend that CR did not illustrate Yo! Yes? and let's say he wanted to sub it. How the heck would he do that...

I have also heard that some Authors will submit a dummy, especially if there is little to no text. They may not be able to draw well, but well enough to convey the actions that their words do not.

Personal note: Darn it CarrieF, "No Dogs Allowed" was the title I used for my PB Dummy, (that concentrated on no dogs allowed signs all over town) that I sent to a few Publishers about 4 years ago.  (not that any of them were interested or anything, but darn it anyway:)
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Jodell Sadler on April 19, 2012, 07:47 AM
Great postings!

When we write picture books, as writers, we can focus on all the tools of great writing.

We can think about what appears on the page. We have to step into the world of our main character and dare to do less in order to do more. We have to know when to pull back in order for the heart of our story to surface. When we focus intensely on how a picture books sounds (aurally and orally), we can see the picture book as a performance. When we perform, even the quiet around words become important. Think about comedy and the pause before the punch line. This is the power of the picture book.

We can ask ourselves if we enjoy our words strings? Whether or not there is a repetitive word or phrase that will help the manuscript grow and sing. We can investigate whether we are using threes, building tension, offering surprise. If we can even explore the negative space of our writing to define what our character is not like Mo Willems does in Leonardo the Terrible Monster.

“He (Leonardo) didn’t have 1,642* teeth, like Tony.
He wasn’t big, like Eleanor.
And he wasn’t just plain weird, like Hector.”

And this is just one tool... so when we imagine all there is to hone and play with as we write, we can begin to do more by writing less.

I like to think about this relationship as not "leaving room for" but pulling back when the art can help carry our story. Think about Where the Wild Things Are and how Maurice Sendak really pulled all the way back to let the Rumpus begin. Identify those moments an illustrator can do more. 
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Hannah B. on April 27, 2012, 01:44 PM
Learning a lot from this thread! I really liked seeing Linda Ashman's manuscript - thanks CarrieF for the link  :inbox:
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Jodell Sadler on May 01, 2012, 03:05 PM
Love this topic, as I have been really honing in on what makes picture books sing for the past ten years. When I edit, I focus on 10 verbal tools and 10 visual tools that help balance the interplay of art and words.

I use the book Office Buckle and Gloria as an example of how art and words interplay in the picture book form. Office Buckle represents the words, while Gloria represents the art, that does flips and tricks and performs behind the text. Once separated, Office Buckle doesn't get the laughs. When Gloria (the art) performs alone, she falls asleep. This could be argued that their are plenty of successful wordless picture books (Flotsam, etc.) but they point is we can safely say these two works best following the buddy system and perform together.

When we write picture books, I've found that when we focus on key tools, interactively engaging the reader while supporting the stories theme, we find that we do not need so many words. 500 is a lot.

We can look at writers who write slim, like Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka, but also Orange Pear Apple Bear, Dogs, or Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett. Or even Hurry! Hurry! by Eve Bunting. These are very, very slim texts that allow the art to do more.

Plant A Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (or many of her other titles) are also great examples of this powerful art and work interplay.  The illustrator, Peter H Reynolds, is another author to study well.

What I have seen in my own study is that when we focus on what makes a picture book interactive and a great read aloud, we invent ways to decrease our word counts because we are so focused on writing for good pacing. Repetition, rhythm, dialogue, description, incorporating threes can be checked and allowed to do more. I do list these tools on my website for your review at http://www.jodellsadler.com or http://www.pacingpicturebooks.com. Often times, small changes like these show us exactly what words are no longer necessary, and when it comes to picture books, the rule really is "less is more."

What is even more exciting is how the study of picture books informs older genre writing. Think Wonderstruck, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, or even writers who break into picture book like line breaks within their middle grade texts like The Underneath or Keeper, and YA writers like Wendelin Van Draanen who are doing great, slim writing in longer forms.

Great discussion, everyone!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: kathym44 on May 01, 2012, 03:55 PM
  :goodthread: Thanks for sharing all the great info, everybody. 

Thanks for the link to your book, Jodell.  I'll have to add it to my resource library!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Franzilla on May 01, 2012, 04:53 PM

When we write picture books, I've found that when we focus on key tools, interactively engaging the reader while supporting the stories theme, we find that we do not need so many words. 500 is a lot.

We can look at writers who write slim, like Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka, but also Orange Pear Apple Bear, Dogs, or Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett. Or even Hurry! Hurry! by Eve Bunting. These are very, very slim texts that allow the art to do more.

Yet most of these books are written/illustrated by author-illustrators or by established writers. They're fantastic books but for a writer-only person trying to break into the PB market, they're not really books we can even try to emulate in order to get an agent or editor interest. Querying Yo! Yes? would be an interesting process, same with Hurry! Hurry!

Aren't there other potentially more useful books for aspiring non-illustrating PB authors to study - ones that let the illustrations tell half the story but are also stories that hold up in simple text form?
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: CarrieF on May 01, 2012, 05:42 PM
What Franziska said.

I may even try to compile a list (in my "spare" time): picture books by debut authors who are not illustrators.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Verla Kay on May 01, 2012, 07:43 PM
My books, all of them, have been used from kindergarten through college classes to demonstrate examples of sparse texts that tell a tremendous amount of story in minimal words, yet leave a lot of room for the illustrations. For example, in my book, Iron Horses, I told a complete story of how the transcontinental railroad was built -- in 180 words. Each word is vitally important when you are writing this sparse! None of my stories have been over 350 words long.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Artemesia on May 01, 2012, 08:54 PM
I've heard that it is acceptable for a PB writer to submit a simple dummy for sparse or conceptual texts that require more visual examples to be understood, but with the understanding that they are not submitting it as an illustrator, only to show the concept. This could be done with art notes or just simple sketches if you can do them well enough to get your concept across. And not to dictate the illustrations to the illustrator. I wouldn't attempt this without learning about how to do a dummy, tho.

I'm my own illustrator, so I've never tested this. And I tend to be on the wordy side, lol.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: CarrieF on May 02, 2012, 04:24 AM
Wow, Verla, that is AMAZING. Do you include any illustration notes at all?
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Kell on May 02, 2012, 05:42 AM
That's amazing, Verla!

Interesting that No Dogs Allowed is being discussed. I just took it out from the library and I rushed here to bring it up as a nearly text-free book from separate author and illustrator rather than author/illustrator. I think this is a sign of how rare such books are, that the same title was brought up by three of us!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: CaroleB on May 02, 2012, 07:24 AM
My books, all of them, have been used from kindergarten through college classes to demonstrate examples of sparse texts that tell a tremendous amount of story in minimal words, yet leave a lot of room for the illustrations. For example, in my book, Iron Horses, I told a complete story of how the transcontinental railroad was built -- in 180 words. Each word is vitally important when you are writing this sparse! None of my stories have been over 350 words long.

Yeah, but you're Verla. One of a kind. :)
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: CarrieF on May 02, 2012, 01:10 PM
OK, I started a list. Can you tell I'm a list person?

These are what appear to be (as far as I can tell) debut picture books by non-illustrating writers, published in 2011 or 2012.

I'm excited to look at these books and compare them with some of the other wonderful books published recently by author-illustrators. Thank goodness for inter-library loan.

For the record, here's what I did. On Amazon.com, an advanced search with these parameters:
Children's Books - Hardcover - English - Ages 4-8
Publication date after January 1, 2011
Then I sorted by Popularity and looked at the first 300 titles.
I skipped over author-illustrators, known authors (Karma Wilson, etc), anyone famous for another reason (Julie Andrews, etc), novelty books, very religious looking books.

Some tidbits:
- Out of the 300 most popular titles on Amazon the #1 title (Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site) was by a debut non-illustrating author. (Yay!)
- Out of the 300 most popular titles, 11 were debuts by non-illustrting authors. (Not sure if this is good news or bad news?)
- Many of the books I clicked on, thinking they might be debuts, were actually by established authors who were unknown to me. Many of these titles were continuations in a series.

If anyone wants to do the same search and explore the next bunch - be my guest! Or if you happen to know of other recent debuts, please add them.


The List

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld (May 4, 2011)
And Then It's Spring by Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead (Feb 14, 2012)
Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky (Feb 28, 2012)
More by I. C. Springman and Brian Lies (Mar 6, 2012)
When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore and Howard McWilliam (May 1, 2011)
Boy and Bot by Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino (Apr 10, 2012)
I Couldn't Love You More by Jason Ingram, Matt Hammitt and Polona Lovsin (Mar 30, 2012)
The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray and Mike Lowery (Jul 7, 2011)
A New Year's Reunion: A Chinese Story by Li Qiong Yu and Zhu Chen Liang (Oct 31, 2011)
Barry B. Wary by Leslie Muir and Carrie Gifford (May 3, 2011)
Prudence Wants a Pet by Cathleen Daly and Stephen Michael King (Jun 21, 2011)
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: LeslieG on May 02, 2012, 01:42 PM
Interesting! Thanks for sharing that, Carrie.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Anne Marie on May 02, 2012, 01:57 PM
Not to be promote obnoxiously, but in August, VAMPIRINA BALLERINA is coming out, and I think it is a good example of collaborative art and text.

:)
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: kathym44 on May 02, 2012, 02:22 PM
Thanks for the list, Carrie!  I'm familiar with many of these, but will have to check out the others you mention.

Ann Marie... definitely not being obnoxious! I loved Teacher for Bear, and I'm sure Vampirina will be equally great! 
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: CarrieF on May 02, 2012, 03:44 PM
Yes, add more to the list! The more the merrier. Horn-tooting strongly encouraged....
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Anne Marie on May 02, 2012, 05:15 PM
Ann Marie... definitely not being obnoxious! I loved Teacher for Bear, and I'm sure Vampirina will be equally great! 

Aw shucks--thanks!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Verla Kay on May 02, 2012, 09:23 PM
Carrie, I never sent any illustrator notes with any of my books. Ever.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Tina Cho on May 03, 2012, 05:11 AM
I agree, what a thread full of knowledge and advice! Thanks, everyone! And great list, Carrie!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Dionna on May 03, 2012, 05:29 AM
WOWSIE KAPOWSIE, VERLA!

180 words on a subject that has covered volumes of books! Amazing.

I was thinking that since my picture book manuscripts are biographies they could be longer. Many non-fiction picture books (including bios) that I've read are more word-count dense than fiction ones...

Myth busted with Iron Horses! Can't wait to read it!

Dionna

Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Mara on May 03, 2012, 06:55 AM
I was thinking that since my picture book manuscripts are biographies they could be longer. Many non-fiction picture books (including bios) that I've read are more word-count dense than fiction ones...

Myth busted with Iron Horses! Can't wait to read it!

I'm not sure what you mean. Are you saying that because Verla has successfully written very short picture books, you were wrong to think that your picture book biographies can be longer?
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Verla Kay on May 03, 2012, 07:58 AM
There's a place in the publishing world for lots of different kinds and lengths of books, especially books on non-fiction subjects. My books aren't meant to give readers "all of the facts." Instead, they are meant to tickle the interest of readers in subjects so they will go on to read more text-intensive books that do have "all" the facts in them. Write your books the length they need to be to say what you want them to say. They can always be cut or expanded as necessary later on.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Hannah B. on May 03, 2012, 08:38 AM
Verla, for your non-fiction book that was 180 words.....how did you decide which material to include and what to leave out? I have a WIP that is a biography and already I've found that it has a high word count and I'm not even done! I started with an outline before I started writing but even with following that it's just long.....maybe too long for a PB.

I forgot to mention: My goal is to get the reader interested about the person and to want to know more their life and achievements but there are so many interesting facts about the person and their life that I don't know what to include and what to cut  :scissors:
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Verla Kay on May 03, 2012, 09:12 AM
I wrote over 150 verses for Iron Horses and just 18 of them were used in the final story that I submitted. It's very hard to decide what to include and what to eat out. Perhaps the best way is to cut out EVERYTHING except the absolute bare bones story and then add the most interesting facts one by one until your word count feels just right. Put the rest of your facts into an author's note in the back of the book.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Anne Marie on May 03, 2012, 09:15 AM
(Verla also doesn't use articles or conjunctions.)
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Verla Kay on May 03, 2012, 10:05 AM
Very true. I write extremely spare verse.

Example of two verses from Iron Horses:

Black clouds skuttle,
Billow high.
Lightning crackles,
Splitting sky.

Time for pleasure,
Town of tents.
Raucous ruckus,
Ladies, gents.

And here are two verses from my new book, Civil War Drummer Boy, that's being released on May 10th:

Weary army,
Must retreat.
Johnny, drumming,
Slows his beat.

"Lee surrenders!"
Headline reads.
"War Has Ended!"
"South Concedes!"
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: LeslieG on May 03, 2012, 10:10 AM
Verla's writing= :love4: Just reading it makes me want to get to work!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: CarrieF on May 03, 2012, 11:02 AM
Verla, reading your work is like a master class for us mere mortals.  :) Thanks!
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Dionna on May 03, 2012, 11:13 AM
Amen, sista! ;)
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Verla Kay on May 03, 2012, 12:40 PM
:flowers2

Thanks!

:verla
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Hannah B. on May 04, 2012, 09:21 AM
Verla,

Thanks so much for your post. When I read your work I thought :wow.... and then  :wow

I like your style of writing very much.
Title: Re: How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?
Post by: Verla Kay on May 04, 2012, 09:25 AM
:) Hannah. Glad you like it.