Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PB's by Namrata Tripathi

My first workshop of the day carried the above title. Because I consider myself predominantly a picture book writer, it was great to see so many sessions dedicated to this genre. Let me start off by saying Ms. Tripathi, an Executive Editor at Atheneum books for Young Readers which is an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division, was cute and smart and came off as a very wise editor/businesswoman. As a stay-at-home-mom, who often feels unorganized and unworldly, my hat goes off to her and other career minded young ladies like her.

She began her lecture by giving us an editor’s-eye-view of the process of making a picture book.

1. Receives manuscript. LOVES it!
2. Takes manuscript to the editorial team and publisher.
3. If all is a go, she then discusses the manuscript in an acquisitions meeting. Here she will compare your book to similar titles and their sales. She has to come up with projected earnings. At this point she is a champion for your work and puts a lot of labor into putting it through to contract.
4. Once acquired, she will start to look for an illustrator. Usually, by this time she has a vision in her head and may already have someone in mind. However, a lot of time is spent conferring with the art director.
5. Sketches arrive and layout is planned. Again, this is done together with the expertise of the art director.
6. Neither author, nor editor have a lot of say on the final cover art. This is strictly a sales and marketing decision and they get final say.

A lot of time was dedicated to a question and answer period and because of this, my notes are rather short and sporadic. Although I learned a lot by the Q&A, (Including the answers to a few of my queries) I was too preoccupied by the exchanges to write them down. But I’ll share with you the little bit I recall.

Ms. Tripathi was asked about word length. Although she stated she does not look for a specific count, she did point out that most of today’s best sellers incorporate a short one. This is probably due to the fact that PB’s are read by adults, not children, and make for a quicker read at the end of a busy day. Keeping this in mind, remember that picture books absolutely MUST appeal to children, but should also appeal to the adults reading them. After all, what parent wants to read and reread a book they dislike ten or twenty times over?

For you rhymers, please know that picture books in verse are not dead. The problem is that too often manuscripts of this sort incorporate bad rhyme. It is a very difficult thing to do and do well. Like most editors, Ms. Tripathi shudders at the thought of receiving these kinds of submissions. However, if you have GREAT rhyme, (And make sure it is really, really great.) then she will be happy to see it. Otherwise, she likes manuscripts that are funny, quirky and truthful. But keep in mind, if you are not a conference attendee, Simon & Schuster does not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 FEEDING THE MASSES by Bonnie Bader

Bonnie Bader, Editor-in-Chief of Grosset and Dunlap, and Price Stern Sloan, two imprints of Penguin Young Readers Group, shares her expertise and give us the low-down on these books that extend beyond traditional trade outlets.

She began by sharing with us the definition of “mass.” Of course, there are many definitions of the word, but the one that worked best for this discussing is that mass simply means; a huge amount.

Mass Market books sell to the traditional bookstores like Barnes & Noble, Borders, ect. . .
They also sell to mass markets such as WalMart, Target, BJ’s, ect. . .
And let’s not forget our favorite independent bookstores like Quail Ridge Books who runs our conference bookstore year after year.

According to Bader, the economy hasn’t really hurt children’s publishing. In fact, children’s books are doing well.

Bonnie then spoke about the kinds of mass market books her company publishes.

1. Licensed Publishing.
This includes tie-ins to movies, tv, dolls, games, ect. (Strawberry Shortcake, Max & Ruby) *Writing for licensed properties is a good way to get your foot in the door.

2. Novelty
This includes pop-ups, lift-the-flap, touch & feel, ect.
(This line is looking for holiday books.)

3. Levelled Readers
Books like All Aboard Reading or Step into Reading.
(Presently her company is working on a new program and is in need of writers for new readers.)

4. Series
Short, fast-past adventures with lots of dialog
(Always looking for good series. Send proposal w/ log line (A quick explanation of what makes your series stand out.) and ideas for the first three books along with the first three chapters of book one.)

5. Inexpensive picture books
(Such as Periwinkle Smith and the Twirly, Whirly Tutu)

Ms. Bader oversees a group of eight editors who actively acquire a wide range of books. She is always looking to hire writers to work on a “for hire” or “royalty” basis. Grosset & Dunlap does not accept unsolicited manuscripts but does review queries. Please check their website for further guidelines.

Keep a watch for the next installment of SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 featuring Namrata Tripathi, Executive Editor of Atheneum BFYR. COMING SOON!

Monday, September 21, 2009


In July, during my annual pilgrimage to my beloved Massachusetts, I had the opportunity to visit The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. I had heard many good things about it and being a picture book writer myself, I was in a hurry to see what it was all about. Add to the fact that THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR was an early favorite of both my children and wild horses couldn’t keep me away. From my little hometown of Ware, the trip to the museum was a short 20 minute drive through the country with a quick stop at Atkins Farm for bakery delights afterward.

The Eric Carle Museum is built on property once owned by Hampshire College. Although it looks like the museum may be part of the campus, it is not. Founded by Eric Carle and his wife Barbara, the museum’s location was chosen due to the proximity of the area where the couple made their home for nearly thirty years. It is the first full-scale museum in this country devoted to picture book art.

We arrived just in time for my two-year-old to participate in Story Time which was being held in the museum’s wonderful library. Of course, my shy little dickens pushed her way through the crowd to sit cross-legged in front of the presenter where she immediately got involved in the interaction, then clapped wholeheartedly when a guitar suddenly appeared.

Afterward, we scurried to the exhibit halls where we were delighted by the magnificent art of Tomie DePaola (DRAWINGS FROM THE HEART: TOMIE DEPAOLA TURNS 75, July 3-Nov. 1, 2009) and Ernest Shepard who illustrated the classic Pooh books written by A. A. Milne (THE WORLD OF POOH: SELECTIONS FROM THE PENGUIN YOUNG READERS GROUP COLLECTION, May 15-Nov. 1, 2009) But by far, our favorite was 80/40: CELEBRATING THE BIRTHDAYS OF ERIC CARLE AND THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR. (Feb. 10-Aug. 30, 2009) Even my little one was enthralled with the early renderings of this famous and well loved book. Did you know the original draft was called, “A Week with Willi the Worm”? It was Mr. Carle’s editor who suggested he change it to a caterpillar and the book evolved from there to sell more than twenty-nine million copies!

Our next stop was to the Art Studio where our little group sat at a table and was given paper, brushes and paints to create our own water color masterpieces. Inspired by the prior exhibit I painted a lovely butterfly while my daughter designed her own Picasso. Apparently the activities and materials in the studio change regularly and are inspired by the present exhibitions. It was a difficult task to remove my child from the studio and after prying the paint brush out of her hand I managed to usher her into the gift shop on a bribe that I would buy her her own set of museum paints. Needless to say, I did so and also splurged on a few of my favorite classic picture books as well: THE LITTLE HOUSE, MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL, and MAYBELLE THE CABLE CAR all by Virginia Lee Burton, as well as THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf.

All in all, I found the Eric Carle Museum to be a refreshing and enlightening place for a struggling picture book writer such as myself to spend an afternoon. If I still lived in the area I would absolutely take part in the many events and activities offered there on a continual basis. From ‘MEET THE ILLUSTRATOR’ activities to workshops and classes, this is the perfect stop for anyone interested in being part of the picture book industry or those who are simply in love with the craft. But be forewarned, unless you are partial to picture books, are a devoted fan, and delight in this genre, you may not find yourself duly entertained. In fact, although my daughter and I had a most enjoyable time, my comrade and her nine year old remained uninspired. In fact, I think I may have heard the word “boring” used once or twice. Suffice it to say, I could see their point. This isn’t a fun-filled, interactive museum and for those who are non-bookish folk there could be a problem maintaining interest. But like everything else, what appeals to some, may not appeal to others. As for me, I give the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art five very big thumbs up and highly recommend it to all my like-minded colleagues. Go check it out!