SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

You Can Judge a Book By a Title

 

by Rob Broder, President & Founder of Ripple Grove Press

 

So, what’s in a title?  A title can say a lot.  It can provide me with what the story is about, introduce a character, tell how the story will end or tell me to dive in and keep me guessing.  Titles like (I’m making these up but are similar to what we’ve received) The Grumpy Town says to me everyone in the town is grumpy except one small child who turns the town around and they are all happy in the end with merriment in the streets.  And hopefully it won’t rhyme.  

Or Mr. Pajama-Wama The Cat Thinks Theres A Monster Under His Bed.  I never thought there was a monster under my bed and I don’t know why I would want to put that idea into a child's mind.  The title gives it all away, and I don’t want to read the words Mr. Pajama-Wama on every single page. And hopefully it won’t rhyme.

There are titles that describe too much and spill the entire story, like, Little Red Hen and the Missing Mitten on a Rainy Tuesday.  I know everything before I even get to the first sentence. And… hopefully it won’t rhyme.

Or titles like, Im Always First or New Baby in the House.  Both titles are telling me the beginning, middle and end before I even get started.  And hopefully it won’t rhyme. 

The titles that make us want to move on to the story are the simple titles that pique my interest and keep me intrigued, (yes, these are our books) like The Peddlers Bed… okay, now what.

or Too Many Tables… okay, where could this go.  Or Lizbeth Lou got a Rock in her Shoe… a little long but you got my attention.  If your title mentions your pet’s name or your grandchild’s name, it doesn’t usually pan out.  When titles have names that don’t match the characters you created, like Aidan the Kangaroo or McKenzie the Raccoon or Addison the Hippo, it’s obvious the child is sitting right next to you as you write your story.  I understand that something special or sweet has happened to your loved one, but that doesn’t mean it has universal appeal. Share your ideas with friends or a critique group.  Read your story out loud to yourself. 

You can judge a book by it’s title… if words like Hope or Grace or Pray or Johnny Scuttle Butt are there.  And although bodily function writing might be humorous to some, it’s not something I want to read over and over again to a four-year-old.  So please, no poop or pee or burp or fart… not timeless, not cozy.

With all this said, I still get excited to read every submission and every story.  I want to find the gem, I want to be wow’d.  I want to put your story in my revisit folder and I want to like it more and more each time I read it.  So please, do your research.  And please, oh please, read children’s picture books.  Read award winners, what’s popular, what librarians recommend.  Read stories you may not be a fan of, it will guide you to your own voice.  Study them, why do they work, what made the publisher choose this story?  Match your story with the right publisher.  Hopefully all this work will shine through your story and one day you’ll get that phone call from a publisher who would like to talk to you about your submission. 

 

Rob Broder is the president and founder of Ripple Grove Press, an independent children’s picture book publishing company based in Portland, Oregon. To learn more about Ripple Grove Press and their submission guidelines, visit www.ripplegrovepress.com.

 

SCBWI Exclusive with Tina Wexler

 

What makes a compelling hook in a manuscript?

Anything that subverts my expectations, offers a fresh take on a familiar story, or offers an unfamiliar story with a relatable issue at its center.

 

What in a query letter catches your eye and makes you request a manuscript?

An original idea, expressed well, sent by someone who clearly researched agents and has read books published recently and within the category/genre they are writing.

 

Would you consider a query or manuscript from a writer whose queries you’ve passed on before?

Yes. I’ve signed and sold a number of projects that came to me as the authors’ second queries.

 

Is it essential to have a synopsis?

It is essential to have a pitch (two or three sentences that tell me what the project is), but it is not essential to have a synopsis (a page-long description of the story, beginning to end), as I rarely read them.

 

The million-dollar question: What in a manuscript takes your breath away?

If it has a great voice, if it works on a line-by-line level as well as a big picture story level, if the characters won’t leave me alone, if it makes me laugh out loud or cry, if it participates in the wider cultural conversation.

 

 Three Helpful Hints when querying an Agent

 1) Never underestimate the value of a personalized salutation.

2) Just as you should revise your manuscript, so to your query.

3) Don’t dilly-dally with long introductions. The sooner you tell me about your story, the sooner I can fall in love with it.

 

Tina Wexler is an agent in the Literary Department at ICM Partners representing middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction, as well as the occasional picture book or nonfiction for adults. A few of the authors on her acclaimed list are Anne Ursu, Christine Heppermann, Shane Burcaw and Brandy Colbert.

 

On the Shelves Hicklebee’s

 

What would you like to see more of from authors/illustrators in terms of community involvement?

A good social media outreach and community is helpful. And, please, include either your local independent bookstore(s) and/or a link to IndieBound.org on your website, Facebook, and other online places. If we visit these and only see Amazon, we just cannot link to your sites. 

 

How do you handle author/illustrator visits? Can authors/illustrators contact you directly?

Most of our author visits come via the publishers as they send their talent out on tour. The publishers also provide co-op funds that help us advertise the books and events. Co-op funds make up 100% of Hicklebee's advertising budget, which allows us to create and print in-store flyers and brochures, add the listing to our website, and enewsletter, put together in-store displays,  and do some print advertising in local newspapers. Authors and illustrators can indeed contact us directly. If a date and time works for our schedules, we're happy to discuss an event with you. For local, self-published people, we've developed a program that allows us to staff and manage their books and events: www.hicklebees.com/local-independently-published-authors-0

 

What is your favorite part of being a bookseller/manager/librarian?

Seeing children sprawled out across the store absorbed in a book. Watching kids beg their parents/caregivers for a book like their life depends on it. Plus getting to meet and talk to other book-loving people. 

 

Personal book recommendation?

Off the top of my head—Smek for President. Adam Rex had me laughing out loud with his clever words and characters. I found myself wishing my children were young again and still at home—we'd have had so much fun with this book!  For picture books, I'm loving The Duck and the Darklings by Glenda Millard, illustrated by Stephen Michael King for the beautiful, inventive language, hopeful, caring message, and curiously perfect illustrations.

 

To learn more visit: www.hicklebees.com

The Real Digital Children’s Book

 

 

However, at long last I believe I have seen something that could change the reading experience in what I think will be a profound way—and it is Virtual Reality—and it is going to be here in a mass market way in very short order, perhaps in a matter of months. If you have not already experienced Virtual Reality by using one of the Oculus Rift devices for instance then you are in for a transformative experience. This is not 3D. It is totally immersive.  My son is involved in various projects, some of which take him to the sites of natural disasters to report on and to coordinate specific relief efforts. Days after the Nepal earthquake, his business partner was in Kathmandu with a Virtual Reality camera (basically seven Go Pro cameras attached to a ball at the end of a rod).  The short film they created when edited, scored, and narrated  has you, the viewer, standing on a pile of rubble watching people pulling rocks and steel from the wrecked buildings as they search for survivors. When you lift your head you see others higher up on the building. Turn your head to the side and there is a line of people waiting in line for food. Turn completely around and you are looking down another broken street, and then a camera on a drone takes you hurtling down that same street.  At the end of the film there is a pitch to donate money for relief work. There is no doubt in my mind that bringing that kind of reality to the viewer is going to be a powerful incentive for people to get involved in what for them will no longer be just another disaster story at a bottom of a news page. How could it be? They were practically eye witnesses.

Right now the equipment to film, edit, and view Virtual Reality is expensive and rare. However, Google has just debuted Google Cardboard, an inexpensive device (about $10) that you can slip your phone into, and then connect with a brand new YouTube being developed just for Virtual Reality film. And Facebook’s Oculus Rift division will come out with new, cheaper, headgear early next year.

And so what does this have to do with children’s books? First, it is not the end of the traditional hardcover picture book.  The book, a unique art form that generations of parents and their children have grown up with is not going away, and in fact should continue to thrive no matter what electronic wonders evolve.

But think of this: A nonfiction book about the Holocaust in which embedded in the text is a link to a YouTube site that can be accessed by scanning a link onto your phone. Then, after slipping on Google Cardboard and sliding in your phone, you find yourself transported to the Holocaust Museum or through the gates of Auschwitz. Or a picture book about lions that places you in the middle of a pride lounging about a water hole. Tour the International Space Station? Take a spacewalk?  Visit Monet’s Garden?  The possibilities for enhancing a book are endless. 

Also endless is the headlong advance of technology. Google Cardboard, cutting edge today, could be old hat in a year, replaced by something being dreamed up in Silicon Valley even as you read this.

Our challenge as writers and artists is to use our creative minds to turn these new tools into compelling stories that will entertain and educate. The field of children’s books has always been highly competitive and the future will be no different. Those who succeed will be those who educate themselves, work hard at their craft and, in the end, settle for nothing but the very best. New technology will demand it, and children deserve it.

 

Want to learn more about Virtual Reality? Here are a few links that will get you started.

 

  1. Purchase Google Cardboard Viewer for your smartphone and find VR Apps: www.google.com/get/cardboard
  2.  
  3. The Wall Street Journal on how Virtual Reality will change the news-a short video: Will Virtual Reality Change How We Consume News?
  4.  
  5. Short Virtual Reality Videos to View with Google Cardboard: www.vrvideo.co

  6.  
  7. All you want to know—and then some about Virtual Reality: www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality/what-is-virtual-reality.html