Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pointers from the Pros: Gail Langer Karwoski Chats about Children's Books

"Pointers from the Pros" gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.

**I'm bringing over some of my series posts from my old blog, so this is a blast-from-the-past post for those of you who have been with me since Wordpress.**

I spoke at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in beautiful St. Simons Island, Ga., in June 2010 and took copious notes at the sessions.  Although I couldn't go to all the faboo classes, I'm sharing some tips from some of the ones I was lucky enough to attend.
Here is what fantabulous children's author Gail Langer Karwoski* had to say about (younger) children's books.
THE BASICS OF CHILDREN'S BOOKS
  • The characters should be around the age of the reader (or slightly older).
  • The settings need to be appropriate for kids.
  • In the current market, as opposed to the books you grew up reading, the words are now simpler & the text is shorter.
  • It's so competitive; be the rule, not the exception---or you won't get published.
TYPES OF (YOUNGER) CHILDREN'S BOOKS
  • Picture books:32-pages, with pictures on every spread
    • Can be fiction or nonfiction
  • Board/cloth books:16 pages or less, simple & short, made to last through wear & tear
    • Most are developed in-house (not ideal if you're trying to break in).
    • Many are redesigned classics.
  • Concept books:explain a concept rather than telling a story
    • There is no absolute beginning/middle/end; the order of the pages doesn't matter; each spread can be a vignette (her NF books are like this).
    • These are considered showcases for illustrators.
  • Novelty books/gift books:things such as pop-up, scratch & sniff
    • Not built to last
    • Schools & libraries don't buy them
    • Expensive to produce
  • Picture storybooks:generally intended to be read aloud to children (ages 4-8)
    • Vocab appropriate to subject and age---*adult* is reading it, so it can include words like "triceratops"
    • 32 pages---some longer, for older kids
    • Some used as unit openers (for older kids), to be read by the kids themselves
    • Separate from the other book types and not popular sellers (other than in schools & libraries)
    • Some are longer picture books---biographies, for older kids (3rd-4th grade)
  • Easy readers/early readers: meant for kids to read themselves, as transition books
    • Usually < 200 words---sometimes even < 100 words.
    • Very specific guidelines & very formulaic (many pub houses even have word lists to use for these).
    • Usually assigned by the publishing companies to writers.
WRITER/ILLUSTRATOR RELATIONSHIP
  • Most picture books begin with the story, unless you have a legal relationship with the illustrator (it's you, your relative, your spouse).
  • If there's no legal relationship and you're trying to suggest an illustrator in your proposal, it's like a siren screaming "AMATEUR" (=rejection).
  • Many times, pub houses will pair a newer author with a more established illustrator to increase the book's chances of selling.
  • If you can do both (you don't just "doodle"), you should; just make sure your proposal is professional.
  • Many agents want author/illustrators (because it's less people to pay and more of a cut of the money for them).
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