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by Heidi Kilgras
Congratulations, PiBoIdMo participants. You made it! Give yourselves a round of applause before reflecting on your endeavor—to generate a bunch of new ideas for picture books, the greatest medium ever! Okay, I’m biased; I’m a children’s book editor! But, honestly…writing children’s books. Could there BE a greater privilege? I don’t think so. Knowing that your words and ideas are entertaining children, sparking their curiosity, creating lasting memories, impressions, and possibly a love of words/ideas/reading, or maybe even stimulating an interest in a subject that will influence their lives? Priceless. You are contributing to the literacy of the planet. You are reinforcing a loving bond between parent and child. And, in the simplest of terms, and no less important, you are delighting a child.
There is something I have to get off my chest. Sometimes children have terrible taste! There are some books that I never would have published in a million years. Bad writing, rotten plot, poor rhyme and meter, hideous illustrations.…And yet, for some reason the book is amusing enough for a child to want to hear it over and over. (“Who published this book and how did it get in my house?”) Even if a book doesn’t pass muster with me, at least I get to witness the joy it gives my son. Who am I to judge? Actually, I am one to judge whether books get published or not. And as such, I have a few tips to offer up.
You’ve heard this one before: be “original.” I know…it’s really, really hard to be entirely original. So throw in a twist or two or three to surprise the editor and, we hope, the eventual reader. The importance of originality extends to your “voice.” An original voice can make an editor see beyond a story’s flaws, envisioning the rewrites that you most certainly will have to do that could bring you closer to a contract! Think of your “voice” as your “special sauce.”
Have more than just a good idea—respect the craft. Publishers don’t publish good ideas; they publish great stories, wonderfully written (for the most part—see above. Let’s aim high, shall we?). Show your fascination with language. Ignite this fascination in others. Make the words sing. Aim to make the grown-up reading your book aloud seem like the most talented storyteller ever! The writing’s the thing.
On the other hand, don’t forget to leave some stuff out! You can, initially, fill your manuscript with every idea you had to reflect the story in your brain. Then either you (or the editor) will likely need to take some words out. Consider that the art will show things that are mentioned in the text, and even some things that aren’t. Both text and art need breathing room. Sometimes my favorite part of a picture book is the text that isn’t there, but there is a suggestion of what could be there that the reader’s mind fills in. Here is an apt quote (attributed to both Claude Debussy and Miles Davis): “Music is the space between the notes. It’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play.”
Where the Wild Things Are and Olivia are two great examples of picture books that have subtext flowing beneath the (minimalist) words. Give the reader moments of discovery, moments of participation. Great art considers the collaborator. Your collaborators are the editor, the illustrator, and, ultimately, the eyes and the mind of the reader.
Lastly, have fun! If you aren’t having fun, what’s the point? I hope you have as much fun generating your own ideas as you do when you are reading the picture books that inspire you. The more inspired you are, the greater chance that your inspiration and delight will reach across the space between book and reader and fill him or her right up.
Heidi Kilgras is an Editorial Director at Random House Children’s Books. She also has experience managing a Scholastic Book Club, running a children’s-only bookstore, and being a book-buyer for a chain of stores. Heidi also writes picture books and beginning readers, and lives in Brooklyn, NY with her family.
Heidi is giving away a copy of LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, the book written by Tara and illustrated by Troy Cummings that she acquired and edited.
Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.
This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You will be eligible for this prize if:
- You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
- You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
- You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.
Good luck, everyone!
LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD was an idea first brought to me by my friend and fellow author, Corey Rosen Schwartz.
“I’ve got a title and I can’t do a thing with it!” she exclaimed in my kitchen one day. “I should give it to you; it’s perfect for you!”
“What is it?” My eyes were wide with wonder.
“Little Red Gliding Hood.”
You might think it hyperbole, but my eyes got even wider. (I’m like Marty Feldman, I am.)
“I’ve got it!” And you know what, I really did.
Well, not at first. I started writing notes about the possible project and I couldn’t figure out what Red’s problem should be.
My initial idea was that Red was known as “Riding Hood” but she really wanted to be known as “Gliding Hood.” Umm, terrible.
As you can see by my notes, I had awful ideas, like the muffins for Grandma spilling all over the ice.
(Julie Falatko misread my notes and gave a thumbs up to “mulling spice all over the ice”. And I thought, Julie, that’s far better than what I had. Far. Perhaps I should go far, far away and not rewrite this fairytale!)
But I persisted. Remember that word, perseverance? Yes. THAT.
When my agent submitted the story to Heidi Kilgras at Random House, she was enamored with the idea but thought the manuscript needed more development.
So I revised. And my agent resubmitted.
And Heidi thought it was better, but it wasn’t ready for an offer.
So I revised. And my agent resubmitted.
By this time, Heidi went on maternity leave. And since that time, I have met her most adorable son. I mean, pinch-his-cheeks-forever kind of cute. But back then, I had to wait another six months to get an answer. Folks, that there was tough times.
But yes, an offer came. And after that? An editiorial letter.
So I revised. (Are you seeing a pattern here?)
Yep, you guessed it. Another letter, another revision.
And I still had Grandma’s final line to figure out. That took MONTHS. But thankfully, I finally got it right.
And so now, almost 4 years after I signed the contract, LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD is ready to meet the world. She is released into the enchanted forest today!
Many thanks to Troy Cummings for making her world come alive!
And to Heidi for making me work harder, knowing that I had it in me.
She is available where fine books are sold.
So skate on over to your local bookstore, fast!
Thank you for the support!