I participated in the 2010 NY SCBWI Writer’s Intensive. This is a great opportunity where authors get to sit down at a round table with an Editor and get feedback on the first 500 words of his/her manuscript. The neat thing about this type of set-up is not only do you get personal feedback, but you also learn from what the editor says to others. I had the pleasure of sharing my work with and learning from two Children’s Book editors. Today I’ll share what I learned from my first critique with editor Jessica Dandino Garrison from Dial Books for Young Readers.
What I Learned from Editor Jessica Garrison:
- Restraint is important in prose. Be careful of putting in too much.
- These days if your character is age 14 the book becomes YA automatically.
- A sense of place is important.
- It’s really hard to do anthropomorphic stories in the 8-12 age range. It works for movies, but it doesn’t really work for books. Under the age of 8 it’s okay.
- Picture books have fewer words these days than in the past. Jess wants a picture book to be under 1000 words. A 400 word picture book is a bonus! Less is more!!
- Build the story through mystery rather than setting everything out. Introductory paragraphs that tell too much can be a problem because it’s important to care about the character first.
- For Jess, picture books need to have a narrative.
- According to Jess you may use art notes if they’re really necessary for the story. Be minimal with them. MINIMAL! The best way to present them is to put them directly in the manuscript (not the query) and put them in brackets at a 10pt font, and blue.
- It can be smart to not send your picture book dummy to an editor but mention in your query letter that you are an illustrator and send samples. This gives the editor options should they like your story but possibly not your art. Of course if you’re married to the idea of illustrating your book then send the dummy.
- If you want your book to back-list you should avoid current references. That will help it to become more timeless.
- What does metaphor say about your main character?
Career Tips and Advice from Jessica:
- For tips on writing a good query go and read jacket flaps, it will teach you how to sum up your story in a short way.
- To educate yourself look at the difference between independent stores and big chain stores. Become more educated about where your book fits on the book shelf. Know who your audience is. Barnes and Noble are the books that kids buy (aimed toward the kids) while independent stores can often be geared more toward the parents. Barnes and Noble are often about concept books.
A Little Bit About Jessica and What She’s Looking For:
- Jessica doesn’t spend much time on queries, she really prefers pages. She’s all about the manuscript. But do put some important info in the query – info about you as a writer, plot synopsis, etc.
- Jess is looking for visceral books, but likes everything (PB up through YA). She does like historical fiction but it needs a contemporary twist or edge.
- Jess likes concept books, but often wants them to go further.
Feedback and insight from my second critique with Assistant Editor Sara Sargent of Balzer & Bray.
Jessica Dandino Garrison is an editor for Dial Books for Young Readers. She is looking for picture books, chapter books, tween and teen fiction with commercial appeal and literary heft – in other words, rich, emotionally true, character–driven stories with great hooks. Jessica has edited The Reinvention of Moxie Roosevelt, Panda & Polar Bear, Acorns Everywhere, Spin the bottle, and Doggone Dogs, among others.