Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Interview with Harold Underdown- Part III

In the spring I published two interviews with Harold Underdown, children's book editor and children's publishing maven. In Part I he answered general questions about writing and publishing for children. In Part II he answered questions from illustrators. 

Here in Part III, Harold answers questions specifically about crafting picture books. 

Question:  Recently I heard Tracey Adams of Adams Literary talk about how the industry standard for picture books is now moving to being geared towards 3-5 year olds and of course, much shorter word counts. But K-8th grade teachers all use longer picture books in their classrooms. Is there no room in the market for longer picture books?

Harold: Yes, longer picture books are still published. Tracey is reflecting on the reality that the larger publishers have largely abandoned the school and library market, and are seeking material that will do well in bookstores (also known as the trade market). She's an agent and so she wants material she can sell for a good advance. That is the kind of picture book she describes. But Holiday House and Charlesbridge and Boyds Mills and Whitman, to name just a few, still publish for the educational market.

Question: When writing a picture book manuscript, how much information and/or details should a writer include that could wind up being shown better in the illustrations? With word counts being so low, should an author bother giving much description of the setting or how a character looks and just leave it up to the illustrator, or should that be included in the manuscript?

Harold: I regard it as good standard picture book writing practice to leave out the words that just aren't needed. This serves a dual purpose, since it both reduces word count and leaves an opening for the illustrator.

Question: Should a picture book writer include illustrator’s notes in their manuscript? What if they want to have a wordless page? Should that be noted?

Harold: A writer can include a short note in the manuscript, perhaps in brackets. However, I would warn writers about features like this--don't make your story too dependent on them. The story should still work even if the publisher or illustrator doesn't feel that this is a good place for a wordless spread, and that decision will be, in the end, theirs to make.

Question: A panel of agents and editors at a recent conference was asked if a writer could continue submitting after receiving a few rejections. The agent basically said, if I've rejected you twice, you probably shouldn't submit to me again. The editors seemed to be nodding in agreement. How does anyone ever get an agent or publisher if you're not supposed to submit with new projects more than a few times?

Harold: I think that to answer this question you have to understand the context that that agent was assuming. She's assuming an actual correspondence with an author, not the case of someone, as is often true, who starts submitting early on in their writing development and sends out a number of manuscripts before reaching the point at which an agent or editor sends a "personal rejection." Here the agent is assuming that someone met them at a conference or impressed them with something in their submissions, and they've written to the agent. And written to them again and perhaps again. I don't think the agent is suggesting a three-strikes-you're-out situation, but more of a practical rule of thumb in a certain situation.

At that point, if a writer isn't hitting it off with an agent, it might be time to take a break, and perhaps come back at some point in the future. 

·    People writing picture books would do well to get Ann Whitford Paul's "Writing Picture Books.” here's a review that I wrote: http://www.underdown.org/writing-picture-books-review.htm
·       For advice about creating illustrator’s notes in a manuscript, writers should consult this article: http://www.underdown.org/picture-books-illustrations.htm

Thanks, Harold, for generously sharing your publishing wisdom with us in this series! 
Three years ago Harold taught me to probe more deeply into what my
 main character wants at the Highlights Writers Workshop


Anonymous said...

Great advice, all around. Thanks, Carol and Harold!

Linda Phillips said...

Great info and i like your new format, too!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Donna and Linda. Lori held my hand last night while I fooled around with the design. I've wanted to do it for awhile but thought it would be harder than it actually was. Takes a young person to show us that somethings aren't as hard as we anticipate!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Hey, love the new look! And the interview was educational as well. Thanks to the both of you.

I'm so grateful that there are still publishers who provide for the school and library market!

Jean said...

Thanks, Carol. Looks like I'm buying another book about writing books--picture books, that is.

Thanks a bunch.


CL said...

I don't know why it took me so long to read this :) But thank you so much for including my question! Great interview, and I appreciate the helpful info.

Carol Baldwin said...

I can imagine it took awhile to read this blog. We are all inundated with information from all over the place AND we want to write/illustrate! Glad you finally had a chance to read it and liked it!

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