Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I was lucky enough to attend a small picture book conference in beautiful Beaufort, SC, last weekend. I enjoyed the fact that it was a small gathering as opposed to the massive crowds I experienced in New York back in February. There were three editors in attendance and all were very approachable. The small number of attendees made for a cozier environment and the information shared was in abundance.

Maggie Lehrman, Editor from Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books, Noa Wheeler, Associate Editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers and Jill Dembowski, Assistant Editor at Little Brown Books for Young Readers shared with us their knowledge and a few tips of the trade. Here is a rundown of what they had to say:

They are intrigued by old themes written with a fresh perspective. (THE TRUE STORY OF THE THREE LITTLE PIGS by Jon Scieszka) Send them humor, but not scatological (gross) humor. They are tired of farts and poop! None of them want to see any more Grandparent stories. The market is flooded with them. Too often, writers send manuscripts written more for adults. It is integral we, as writers, remember to write our stories from the kid’s perspective. After all, it is for them we are writing.

Send your work along with a well-written cover letter. Typos and misspellings make them question a manuscript before they’ve even had a chance to look at it. Be meticulous and keep it quick and to the point. Mention your published works only if they are some that the editor will recognize. If your work has been published in your school newspaper, leave it out. Don’t compare your work to that of other best-selling books. (My book will be the next Harry Potter!) Use a simple font; twelve point, Times New Roman is best.

Keep the text of your manuscript short. Remember, picture books have pictures! Leave room for the illustration to pick up some of the story. Say a lot with a few words. Every word you write in a picture book must count. There is no room for weedy words or long description in this genre. Try to keep your manuscripts around five hundred words or less. (HUSH LITTLE DRAGON by Kelly Murphy is only 200 words.) Take a picture book you like and type it out. See how it looks on the page and try and adapt your own work in the same way.

Poetry is a tough sell. Rhyme and rhythm is hard to do and even harder to do well. There is always room for stories in rhyme, but most are picked up by authors who already have a reputation in that area.

If your book has silly or strange elements, make sure they aren’t there simply for nonsense sake. Somehow, somewhere you book needs to be grounded in reality. Even nonsense has to make sense.

As most of you know, the picture book market has fallen drastically from where it was a few years back. Of course, the present economy doesn’t help. However, all represented imprints are still acquiring material. But be aware, they are VERY selective about what they publish. Your submission must stand out, have marketability and most important, it must have staying power. It takes a long time for a picture book to make money. Your publisher wants it to stay in print long enough to be profitable. Publishing is a business after all.

And finally, all editors agree; the best thing you can do to get your work published is to GET AN AGENT.

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt


  1. Thanks for the summary, Niki. I have so much to learn.

    Get an agent, huh? And we all know how difficult that is to do in the PB arena!


  2. Thanks, Niki. That was appreciated. I'm a little confused about the "get an agent" too, since as Jean mentioned most say they're not too interested in PBs. It seemed like at the NY conference, the message from agents was: we're looking for MG or YA.

    Anyway, I guess I'll try it!

  3. If you are writing for children, beware of politics. Some people in power love to pick on you and your books in the name of vetting. I have written twelve books. Toronto Board of Education did not like the fact that I sent them to schools without going through their screening. They asked for a review set. Yesterday they called me to deliver their "verdict": All my books would be banned from schools. Care to know why? Read all my twelve pictures online at www.kevinandrobinbooks.com.

  4. Great info, Niki. Thanks for sharing!


  5. Just found your blog, Niki! Thanks for this information on the PB market!

  6. Thanks for the summary. Helpful information. Just FYI, Kelly Murphy illustrated (wonderfully!) Hush Little Dragon. The author of those 200 words is Boni Ashburn.


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