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Rising above the Slush

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Pickles

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Thanks Jody.

Hi Kay!...good thing I just changed my name to Lill...I also go by K and I"m a Kay

#61 - July 16, 2007, 01:45 PM

kay

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I thought it was really ironic that another Kay was being congratulated in the post above mine! 

I was gonna attempt to take the credit! Oh well, back to my newbie status...   :-\
#62 - July 16, 2007, 02:13 PM

PDM

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Good tips, Pickles. Hopefully at least people from here will be saved from been immediately rejected. The really difficult rule for me is the length. My first PB is just over 1000 words which should be okay (it started out at about 1900), but my second one has proven much harder to edit down.
#63 - July 26, 2007, 07:05 PM

Hi Lill,

Thanks for sharing your knowledge. 

I have a question about length as well.  I had a PB ms reviewed by an editor.  She made some great suggestions.  Then I asked her if it was too long (it was at 1100 words then) saying I'd always heard to keep it under 1000.  She said it did not feel long and that some of the words get edited out after the illos anyway.  That got me thinking...what may be essential to the story may later be able to be portrayed in the illos, which would decrease your word count after the pb is acquired.  Example (though maybe a poor one); the wind blew her hair in her face and she ran into the curb, bending the spokes on her tire.  That can all be illustrated but at the time of submission it is essential to the plot and must be said.

As long as a writer isn't counting on illos reducing their word count dramatically and writing unneccessary words such as 'the crinkly red skirt blew in the wind' (because, like who cares?), then they could be comfy submitting 1000 or so words, right?

-P

#64 - July 28, 2007, 12:42 PM
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and then you get into the good but not great pile


I'm currently doing a children's writing course and find myself consistently getting B's on my assignments.  On one hand I've been told that is good because they rare give out A's and B's are nearly as hard to get ... but I want an A+  - I need an A+!!!    :mad4:

My tutor is giving me fantastic comments like ...  (these ones were for a PB assignment)

"Clearly, you’ve given plenty of thought to the interests of your target age group, and you are spot on!"

"Your opening pages toss the reader right into the middle of the story. Great! This is exactly what a picture book text should do."

"Joe is a great character and your text includes plenty of images to inspire an illustrator."

"Your lively verses would make it easy for an illustrator to come up with a different image for each new page"

Yet she also said it lacked 'zing' if I wanted to get this published   :green:


So my question is how do you go from good to great???

I've found lots of websites like this that list similar "dont's" that were mentioned in this thread but I'm looking for a really extraordinary list of "do's" ... or is this just where 'talent' comes into play?  The best site I've found so far was an interview with Roald Dahl that had brilliant tips ... does anyone know of any others?
#65 - July 28, 2007, 04:41 PM

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Read every picture book that was named an ALA Notable in the last 10 years. Think about how the author is telling the story, what they say, and what they don't say. (I'm suggesting the Notables because you'll get through the Caldecotts pretty quickly, and the Notables are a good select list)

Anastasia Suen's Picture Writing might help too--she gets you to analyze existing books and learn from them.
#66 - August 29, 2007, 06:21 PM
Harold Underdown

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Z-cat

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Ooh, great information.
 So those of us who do our homework and keep ourselves in good literary shape are only competing with about 25% of total submissions, right?
#67 - September 27, 2007, 07:57 AM

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So those of us who do our homework and keep ourselves in good literary shape are only competing with about 25% of total submissions, right?

In my experience, a much lower percentage than that. I've read thousands of manuscripts from the slush pile over the years (as have many editors--I'm not unusual) and I'd say maybe 5-10% of the manuscripts didn't have an obvious problem that pretty much ruled them out within 30 seconds of my opening the envelope. The problems that rule out the 90-95% are the kind that you can avoid by doing your homework. Some obvious ones:
  • sending a particular type of manuscript to a publisher who doesn't publish that type of book
  • poorly executed rhyme or anthropomorphized alliterated animals
  • lots of typos
  • blah style, flawed plot, boring characters

But there are more, of course.

You generally get more hopeless cases at larger publishers (people know the names) and with picture books (the fastest to write) but no matter what you are writing and where you are sending it, if you do your homework and polish your writing you can be pretty confident that you're going into the publisher's mailbox ahead of most of the submissions.
#68 - September 27, 2007, 08:59 AM
Harold Underdown

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Mr. Underdown, Harold-

You're the writer's best friend.
#69 - September 27, 2007, 10:54 AM
THE VOICE OF THUNDER, WiDo Publishing Aug 2012
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I just had a rejection on a non-fiction PB that might be applicable to the discussion. My piece could be a part of a series (something I'm considering) but the editor mentioned that the unusual subject matter (deep sea angler fish) might make it difficult to fit into a school curriculum.

I've gotten good feedback on the manuscript and 2nd place Barbara Karlin Grant to boot, but I haven't had any luck placing it. I thought I saw a hole in the market, but I didn't really think about the fact that the market is sometimes dictated by other variables--like what they're studying in school.
#70 - September 27, 2007, 11:15 AM

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Thanks, 217mom.

That's an interesting example, Elaine. When I was at Charlesbridge, we dealt with that issue all the time. I bet they still do. It's not a just a question of what's studied in schools. After all, deep sea angler fish could easily be used as part of a broader subject, such as adaptations or environments.  A NF PB publisher also has to find the right spot between overly familiar and so unfamiliar that nobody's interested. There's a reason why there are so many books about sharks and dolphins, for example.
#71 - September 27, 2007, 11:31 AM
« Last Edit: September 27, 2007, 11:34 AM by HaroldU »
Harold Underdown

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A NF PB publisher also has to find the right spot between overly familiar and so unfamiliar that nobody's interested. There's a reason why there are so many books about sharks and dolphins, for example.

Yep, exactly. I get that the publisher has to find the right market, but the plethora of sharks and dolphins suggests that the stock standard is a safe bet, financially.

Of course, my perceptions are colored by my frustration.  :)  I believe that the manuscript is worthy. I have a runner-up Barbara Karlin and 2nd place in Smartwriters to support that idea, but it seems to fall into an unknown catagory--maybe not a perfect fit for trade, but not exactly right for the educational market either because it is NF that reads like a story.

BTW, I wrote the piece in Lisa Fraustino's Children's Writing class at Eastern (you edited one of her books, I believe. Small world, huh?) and though she said it was excellent, she said finding out where it would fit best would be a challenge. She was right.

#72 - September 28, 2007, 06:37 AM

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Let me clarify something about the sharks and dolphins. I didn't mean that someone should choose subjects such as sharks or dolphins. A publisher tends to want subjects with a proven market. And many of the sharks and dolphins books are parts of series. Single titles need to find a new approach, and you need one if you write on such an often-published subject.

If sharks and dolphins are clogging up the shelves, and deep-sea angler fishes are too narrow or unfamiliar, what's in the spot between them?

This is an approach you can take in many areas of nonfiction. If you have a particular area of interest, take some time to do some research into what's out there in your area. Then start brainstorming ideas. Look for topics that interest you that are a step or two away from the familiar....

(And yes, this is a small world, isn't it?)
#73 - September 28, 2007, 06:51 AM
Harold Underdown

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barb

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I'd like to follow up on the point made above about the top 5%.  I recently judged a picture book contest and I'd say the majority of the manuscripts I read met those standards; about half the stories were competent stories.  In other words, a lot of people are following the basic rules -- they're really not that hard!

But here's the thing.  Virtually none of the manuscripts I read were publishable as picture books.  Bottom line, getting to the top 5% will not get you pulled from slush.  Here's what you need (IMO):

-- A character that jumps off the page and makes the reader go "wow, I love this character; KIDS would love this character."
-- A properly paced story that builds over the course of 16 page spreads -- that's 16 separate scenes that will fascinate the reader and make him or her want to turn the page (okay, only 15 scenes have to be page-turners; the final scene needs to make the reader go, "now, that was a great story").
-- what I just said about the ending.

In other words, your manuscript needs to be extraordinary in several different ways.  It's a very high bar.  Good luck!
#74 - September 28, 2007, 08:23 AM

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Great advice Barb and Harold.  You have shared some golden nuggets here. 
#75 - September 28, 2007, 08:34 AM
You must be mad, said the Cheshire Cat, or you wouldn't have come here. -- Lewis Carroll

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Good points, Barb. I think we are looking at this from slightly different angles. My point was that the vast majority of manuscripts get ruled out very quickly. Your point is that even the manuscripts that weren't immediately ruled out face stiff competition and must stand out to be selected.

I think, in fact, that the bar is higher than it was 20 years ago. Organizations like the SCBW-I have done such a good job at getting the basics out to people that the standard of the slush AS A WHOLE is higher.
#76 - September 28, 2007, 09:19 AM
Harold Underdown

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cdb

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          Sorry, this is somewhat off topic--Barb? Do you mind sharing what contest you judged? It's amazing that not one ms was publishable. I'm asking to know if perhaps, I entered that contest and should revise my ms.
          Big sigh from me.

               Carole
#77 - September 28, 2007, 09:54 AM

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Look for topics that interest you that are a step or two away from the familiar....

I'm thinking along the same venue, writing about other unusual creatures with the same style of the first piece.

In your opinion, are my odds of attracting a publisher better if I were to have 3-4 fish tales or do you think it is more likely to place a manuscript with a publisher who is already planning a series in which my book may fit?

I'm sort of thinking that the first option has to be better odds.
#78 - September 28, 2007, 10:36 AM

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Well, one question you have to resolve is whether you are aiming to start a series or doing a single title.

Your approach will be different, and the publishers you approach may be different too. Charlesbridge, for example, has a couple of long-running series, but most of their new titles are one-offs. Other NF publishers ONLY publish series, while some do a mix. And I don't have to tell you that a company such as Charlesbridge that aims at the trade and school markets is not going to have exactly the same focus as a company like Bearport, which is pretty much just in the institutional market....

Three or four titles on similar subjects might be the best of both worlds, though. You could sell each individually, or a publisher might decide that they want all of therm.
#79 - September 28, 2007, 10:43 AM
Harold Underdown

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Wow, I just came across this thread- great stuff. Thanks to everyone for sharing.  :)
#80 - September 28, 2007, 09:39 PM
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Harold,

My original goal was a single title. I think it can stand alone and at 800 words, I'm not sure I could cut anymore.  ;)

The idea for doing additional stories came out of suggestions I received during the submission process. That and after reading a variety of non-fiction for the younger set, I just plain like the style it is written in. (I apologize in advance if that sounds braggy.) So, I've begun to embrace the idea and start work on story #2. 
#81 - September 29, 2007, 06:02 AM

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Elaine, your approach makes sense--and 800 words for a NF PB sounds reasonable to me. NF PBs tend to run longer than fiction PBs.
#82 - September 30, 2007, 07:10 PM
Harold Underdown

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Thanks, Harold. It's a whole lot easier to follow the editorial advice for this NF PB than for my MG orphan train book, which I recently was told was too similar to other orphan train books, including Cushman's "Rodzina" which I purposefully did not read so that it didn't influence me. Guess I've got to read it now to find out how to make mine stand out.  :)   

I bet many orphan train books run the risk of being alike. Just the nature of the subject.



 
#83 - October 01, 2007, 11:59 AM

Pickles

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Orphan train books are plentiful.  When writing historical fiction I think it helps to see what else is out there on the subject. I once read a book told from the view point of Sacajawea, and I loved it, but there are too many out there on the subject. Same thing with pioneer stories.

If your love is historical fiction, consider choosing an event or era that has not been written about as much.
#84 - October 01, 2007, 12:06 PM

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I agree with Lill. Sometimes what seems like a narrow subject can get heavily published, due to the particular appeal of the topic for children's books (orphan trains --> children as primary focus). And then even a new approach may not be enough. Imagine if deep sea angler fishes had turned out to be the subject of 27 books over the past five years....
#85 - October 01, 2007, 12:21 PM
Harold Underdown

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Lill & Harold,

I get what you're saying and I'll definately keep it in mind the next time I write a historical. If I had taken more care choosing a time period/subject to write about, I might not have toiled for the past 2 years on a manuscript that may not have a whole lot of chance to break into the market. (Man, that was tough to say.) I guess I was following the story I wanted to write, rather than thinking of the market.

It's funny, in my brief time at Vermont College this subject came up a lot: Write what you are passionate about vs. Write to the market. The philosophy at V.C. is definately write the story you want to write but I wondered how can you do that all the time without risking that you will end up with a manuscript "left in a drawer"? Truth be told, many were willing to risk that to think "story before market."

With my first book, I definately considered market and story simultaneously. I like paranormal mysteries. I like scary books. I saw how popular they were. I read a lot of them. I wrote with the market in mind and it equated to a sale. The opposite could be said of both manuscripts I've mentioned on this thread and....no sale yet.

Question:  Does having an orphan train book from a male perspective make a difference in the current market? I read only two from the male POV.
#86 - October 02, 2007, 06:15 AM

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I don't know about orphan train books, but I do know that there are a ton of WWII books being subbed, so I'll use that as an example. After a while, they all start to seem alike, even if the characters or situation are a bit different, it's still set in the time period, in the USA, with rationing and boys going off to war, and, and, and.

However, I have seen WWII books that manage to stand out from the pack by coming at it in an unusual way. The stand out books are usually very character driven so that you fall in love with the MC and get sucked into their life. There are other reasons too, more specific to particular stories, but they could be the POV the story is told in, or format or which character reveals the story, or where/when it takes place, or whatever you decide is the best way to tell the story.

So what makes the stand out books unusual? It's all subjective, but for me, the character and the part of the character's story that the author decided to tell, were what made them stand out. That and amazing writing.

You have to find a way to make it worth it for the publisher to put out yet another WWII or Orphan Train book. One place to start would be to go and read all the other books on your subject for children (yep, PBs, MG, and YA). Know what's already been covered and how. Then go back to your story and see if you can't find a new way to tell it that's unique and makes it jump out of the pack.

Good Luck!
#87 - October 02, 2007, 08:13 AM
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Elaine,

I can't answer your specific question, because I think that's really going to depend on the publisher and on how distinctive/compelling your manuscript manages to be, but I do want to address the wider question of writing your passion vs. writing for the market.

Personally, I think that in the long run, you've got to do both--write what you want to write, taking the market into account--but that the approach at Vermont College is sound for someone who is still learning and exploring their interests. Once you know what you most want to write, what you do care about, then you can safely add some knowledge of the market. But if you start out by trying to write for the market, well, you might never find out where your strengths and passions are.
#88 - October 02, 2007, 11:29 AM
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Mussel Bound

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OK, I feel like a complete moron here, but what the heck is an orphan train book?  Go ahead and laugh as long as you give me the answer.    :laugh: :laugh:
#89 - October 02, 2007, 10:17 PM
« Last Edit: October 02, 2007, 10:35 PM by Mussel Bound »

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In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, "orphan trains" carried thousands of children from crowded homes and orphanages in the Northeastern states to farming towns across the Midwest.  My grandmother's mother left New York on an orphan train and ended up in Iowa.  To this day, we can't trace that part of our family heritage, as we know nothing about her parents.  :(

Laura  :)
#90 - October 02, 2007, 11:13 PM
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