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I asked the kidlit agents participating in PiBoIdMo as your “grand prizes” to tell us why they love picture books. Their answers are sure to inspire!
Heather Alexander, Pippin Properties
Picture books are easy to love because they are tiny little windows that offer beautiful glimpses out into the whole, wide, wonderful world, and into hearts like and unlike our own.
Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
I do love picture books! There is nothing more satisfying than to find a picture book manuscript which has been carefully crafted to share a story with the youngest readers. The Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir said that painting is “making love visible” and I can’t help thinking that is why some picture books are so endearing and everlasting. They make the love we feel for our children, our grandchildren, and the children within us very visible. It is a true craft which needs to be learned and practiced. And I honor those who learn this craft and honor children.
Kirsten Hall, Catbird Agency
Picture books pretty much have me wrapped around their finger. I’m obsessed by the story-telling opportunities offered by this highly-visual genre! Picture books (as a format) seem simple at first blush, but they are often in fact quite layered and even poetic, displaying an elegant interplay between text and art. Best of all, picture books are accessible to everyone. You don’t have to be able to read in order to love them. They can be savored for what they offer visually, and when read aloud, until a reader has command over the written word. Simply, what format is better than the first one that takes children by the hand and turns them into book-lovers?
Susan Hawk, The Bent Agency
The best part of picture books, for me, is way words and illustration marry together to create a sum greater than its parts. I love the way art builds meaning in the story, and how the simplest of texts can be full of emotion and heart. I remember so well the picture books that I poured over as a child — mystified and delighted to be invited into the world of reading and books. For me, it’s an honor to represent picture books!
Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
I love picture books because they celebrate a time in our life we all look back on so fondly. I love being a part of helping to create them because we’re creating books for kids who will look back on them for the rest of their lives.
Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
I became a reader because of picture books, and I became an agent because of picture books. They are one of the richest and most influential forms of literature. So much feeling, so many laughs, in so few pages, meant to be read over and over again!
Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
I love picture books because they speak to the quintessential child in each of us. They reach across the gaps of age and culture and language and bring us under their spell. A perfectly-crafted picture book is a full-senses experience that can last a lifetime.
Rachel Orr, Prospect Agency
I love the breadth of story and emotion—from clever and comical, to poetic and pondering—that can be found within the framework of a 32-page picture book. I love the right prose, the visual subplots, the rhythm and rhyme and repetition (and repetition, and repetition). But, most of all, I love them because they’re short.
Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
I love working with picture books because they remind me that the earliest literature we read in life can be some of the most memorable (and the most fun!).
Joanna Volpe, New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.
I love picture books because they’re fun to read aloud, and they’re meant to be read with someone else.They can’t not be shared! Even now, I don’t have kids, but when I read a good picturebook, my husband gets to be the audience. He’s very understanding. 🙂
If you’re an un-agented writer, you might be thinking—do I even NEED a blog? What content should it contain? How often should I post? What SHOULDN’T I blog about?
Well, relax. Deep, cleansing breaths. I asked a few agents what they thought of writerly blogs. Their responses may surprise you.
Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency:
“I don’t have any strict rules or do’s and don’ts. I find blogs are perhaps less useful than they used to be, with the exception of those with large followings. Mostly I go to them, when considering signing someone new, to get a sense of their personality and how they present themselves (whether to fellow kidlit folks, gatekeepers or kids).”
Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency:
“A writer’s blog wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me unless it was wildly unprofessional. First and foremost, when I’m looking at a potential client, it’s all about the writing. But beyond that, a blog or website gives a sense of who that person is, how our tastes and interests might mesh, etc. So make sure your web presence reflects who you are, and that it looks clean and tight and polished. I don’t think they’re essential, but it is nice to put a face and background to the voice I’m reading on the screen.”
Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency:
“I don’t care if an author has a blog or not. But if they DO have a blog, I hope it is lively, interesting, informative, fun to read, and gives a sense of their “voice” and a glimpse into their lives.
Turnoffs: Lots of word-count posts. Constant self-promotion. Complaining about blogging, complaining about the publishing industry, complaining about specific people (your agent or editor, for example)—or “Humblebragging.” Overly political or “sexy” posts (unless you are a political or sexy writer).
If an author HATES blogging and is struggling to find the time or energy…if it is taking away from their work or making them miserable…then they should absolutely not do it. An unused blog, or a blog that is just complaints or self-PR, is so much worse than no blog at all.”
Teresa Kietlinski, Prospect Agency:
“Blogs are absolutely important in my decision making. When submissions come in, I tend to visit blogs first because they give me a taste of the writer’s (and illustrator’s) personality, voice and interests. It also lets me see how dedicated they are to the craft of writing or illustrating. Do they post frequently? Do they talk about topics of interest in the children’s book world? Are they honing his/her skills? What books is he/she reading? Would I like to join him/her for lunch or tea? (the last question for me is the most important). If I do not instantly connect with a blog, chances are I will not connect with the blog’s writer.
My goal as an agent is to work with clients who I like working with. Clients who are funny, interesting, and interpret the mundane stuff in a surprising way. Blogs can give me insight on these qualities. And while websites are important, especially for seasoned authors, they are not always personal.
I would suggest not limiting your blog to “kids stuff only.” Talk about what interests you—but keep it professional in tone. Readers are looking to connect with your personality. Who are you?
Do remember that anyone can read your posts so keep them professional in tone. Do update your blog regularly.”
So it’s clear: if an agent is interested in your work, they WILL Google you. So avoid posting:
- Samples of works in progress (they might be considered “published”)
- A tally of submissions/rejections
- Complaints about rejections, the industry or specific professionals
- Long, rambling posts
- Overly political, religious or controversial topics (unless that is the focus of your professional writing)
Before you start a blog, realize there’s millions of them out there already. What are you bringing to the table? Do you have a unique perspective? Just like thinking of the hook before you write the book, you might want to think of the hook for your blog before you launch into it. (Relatively-newish blogs with compelling hooks: Literary Friendships by Audrey Vernick and Design of the Picture Book by Carter Higgins.)
Or, you can just go for it and post whatever you like. After a few dozen posts, you might discover your niche. Check your blog stats and determine which posts bring in the most visitors. Work in that direction.
And remember, the story’s the thing. No blog will snag you a book deal if your submission is sub-par. So get the manuscript right first, then worry about blogging later…
Or, maybe, not at all.
by Erin Murphy
So, you’ve got 30 picture book ideas. Now what do you do?
Keep them. All of them. Do you have an idea file of some kind? You should. It’s obvious that you might turn to the idea file when you’re casting about for something new to write, but it also can do wonders for unlocking writers block. You never know when some seemingly unrelated idea will be just the thing to add the missing layer to another piece. Sometimes it’s less direct than that; just reading through ideas is a way of getting you out of a stuck place, much like taking a walk or strolling through a gallery can knock you out of a creative rut.
Sort through them to find the most promising ideas to spend more time with. Laura Purdie Salas had some great suggestions about how to evaluate your ideas last week.
Budget time to work on each of those most promising ideas. Not just once, but two or three times per idea before you decide if they’re worth pursuing further. Even if you schedule 20 minutes of writing time a day, you can spend 10 on a new idea, 10 on an idea you’ve already worked on some, and by the new year, you’ll most likely have a couple of solid ideas that are coming together into a real picture book manuscript.
Some ideas seem to have promise, but they resist any time and attention you give them. This is a sign that they need to sit in your subconscious for awhile. They will most likely kick and scream when they’re ready.
After a concentrated creative period like PiBoIdMo, you’ve got a great opportunity to take stock of where and when you do your most creative thinking. Did you get your best ideas in the car while waiting for your kid to come out of her piano lesson? Well then, perhaps a copy of your promising idea list needs to stay in the car so you can keep using that time for best results.
SORT AND EVALUATE.
I’m not talking about evaluating the idea; you’ve already done that. I’m talking about general trends. Try putting all 30 ideas into categories (character-driven, concept-driven, voice-driven, plot-driven; lyrical, funny, quiet; spontaneous-feeling or intellectual…). Are you heavily weighted towards one type of story? Is that your strength? (Or, conversely, are you limiting yourself unnecessarily?) What research can you do about that type of story to help you grow in your picture book writing craft?
Don’t forget to go back to that full list of ideas now and then. Who knows what discarded idea ends up turning out to have legs! Kathy Duval’s I Think I See a UFO, forthcoming from Disney-Hyperion, to be illustrated by the wonderful Adam McCauley, was a nearly discarded idea that found a home at the first publisher we sent it to!
Erin Murphy was born and raised in Arizona, and founded EMLA in Flagstaff in 1999. She works with publishers of all sizes all over the U.S., and has placed clients’ books with every major children’s house in New York and Boston, but she cut her teeth in regional publishing. She began her career at Northland Publishing/Rising Moon Books for Young Readers (a beloved decades-old Flagstaff company that was bought out in 2007), eventually becoming editor-in-chief, and was a member of the board of directors of PubWest, a professional development organization for small and mid-sized publishers in the West.
Erin represents writers and writer-illustrators of picture books, novels for middle-graders and young adults, and select nonfiction. She is especially drawn to strong characters and heart-centered stories. In her spare time she loves walking, baking, kayaking, knitting, traveling, reading (often audiobooks), and powering through her Netflix queue. You can read more about Erin’s tastes and background in interviews here and here. She now blogs at http://emliterary.com/blog/ and tweets @AgentErinMurphy.