August 15, 2017

Wordy Picture Books

Have you written a picture book?  How long is it?  Does it run 700 to 1000 words?

The truth is, most publishers want books that are no longer than 500 - 600 words. There are exceptions to this rule and some publishers will accept longer work. Most however, are looking for shorter pieces.

Let's say you love your 900-word book.  Every last word.  But, if you want to get it published, you'll have to trim it down.  It sounds almost impossible, especially if you've got an intriguing beginning, a compelling middle, and a satisfying ending. Where would you even begin to cut? 

That's what I faced with my upcoming picture book Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell. Originally the story was 1000 words. After reading many kidlit blogs and working with an editorial consultant, I learned that a lengthy story might be hurting my publication chances.  So, 500 words had to go.  Yep, half of the story.  Yikes!

The hardest part was trying to figure out what was not essential to the story.  And the answer was:  a lot of scenes in the middle. These extra scenes were funny, but not they did not advance the plot. 

After choosing three scenes to delete, the piece actually felt lighter, no 500 words to bog down the story.  The pace was smoother, like a kid skipping along a sidewalk. I grew to love this shorter version even better than the original.

So where will you cut words?  Read your story out loud.  Then take a look at the middle of your story.  Do some scenes slow the pace?  Remove them and read the story again.  Does it flow faster and smoother?  If not, cut a few more places that seem to bog the piece down.  Read your story again.  Does it have page-turn ability? Excellent!  A 500-word manuscript could make all the difference in capturing the attention of a publisher.

August 1, 2017

Invaluable Advice

Children's Writer's World warmly welcomes a guest post by writer and blogger Jennifer Prevost.

I love it when my friends politely ask, “so how’s that whole writing thing going?” It means a lot that they check, even though I know they don’t ‘get it.’  They wouldn’t understand, but I think you will, even though I don’t have a whole lot to show for it... it’s going great! 

Let me start from the beginning.  One hot summer afternoon a story was born about a little boy named Nathan.  It was one of those moments of pure, energizing inspiration, and the official start to my kid lit journey.  

          For the first eight months, his story was written in rhyme.  In fact, all my early stories were.  Rhyme was the only option I gave myself.  My mantra was “I love rhyme; I can rhyme; I will rhyme,” despite all the signs pointing to the contrary and by signs, I mean, everything I read and two freelance editors advising against it. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a better than average rhymer, but I was in over my head and I didn’t even know it.  Those months are by no means a waste, because I learned a tremendous amount, but I was stubborn. Finally, on April 20, sometime after I was lucky enough to cross paths with Randi, I found the courage to ask for her input.  Guess what she said? Drop the rhyme.  The difference was, I heard it.  I consider that day to be a game changer for me.  I did it, I dropped the rhyme, and forced myself headfirst into my scariest writing adventure to date... writing in prose. 

Since then, my writing has improved dramatically and I’ll be forever grateful for the nudge in the right direction.  Here’s the kicker, the real lesson in it wasn’t that I needed to write in prose.  The real lesson was that I needed to get away from what felt safe and familiar.  I needed the leap of faith that came with making that decision.  I hadn’t ever written in prose, and I didn’t even know if I could.  It was uncomfortable, awkward and difficult. 

Between the versions in rhyme, and my many drafts in prose, I’ve made every text book mistake that novice writers make.  I’ve earned myself rejection letters and a fair amount of creative conflict.  The good news? I can speak the language now.  I have a critique group and critique partners who are quickly becoming dear friends.  I have a few manuscripts that are (nearly) submission-ready.  When I started out, I didn’t have any experience or knowledge on writing picture books.  I do now.  One of the favorite parts of my writing adventure: being a member of the book launch team for Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell.  It’s a wonderful thing, getting to return the favor and celebrate Randi’s success. 

The moral of my story: If you feel yourself stuck in a writing rut, or find yourself hearing advice that feels repetitive, do yourself a favor and try something different.  Take a written leap of faith! There’s a good chance that a different path will hold opportunities you couldn’t have imagined for yourself.  You deserve that chance, and your story does, too. 

Jennifer Prevost is a wife, mom and picture book author of the pre-published variety.  For her entire life, she dreamed of seeing her words in print.  Like so many others, picture books are where she first fell in love with the reading. These days she dreams of creating stories that will help children discover the magic that exists within the pages of a book. Her blog, Magnolias & Manuscripts  provides an outlet for the energy and anticipation that come with chasing a dream and chronicles her journey (hopefully) all the way to published.