Tuesday, May 29, 2012

6 Picture Book Tips from Abrams Books for Young Readers

I recently attended the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Picture Book Workshop in Sterling, Virginia. The conference was geared toward those writing for the youngest readers, but the writing tips transcended specific genres. The conference featured Tamar Brazis, Editorial Director of Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books, as well as Maria Middleton, the Associate Art Director at the same publishing house. Both presented useful information for all writers and illustrators to consider.
 
Tamar Brazis led a breakout session for writers that focused on the theme of friendship in children’s books. Her session included several writing exercises that were meant to evoke personal memories and connections to our own childhood friends. She moved writers into crafting dialogue that demonstrated familiarity and kinship between two characters. Handouts were provided so that writers could conduct a close analysis of a handful of published works that hone in on friendship as a central theme. Among those books were Arnold Lobel’s DAYS WITH FROG AND TOAD and CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG by Mo Willems. This breakout session focused on what Brazis finds important in any manuscript coming across her desk- memorable characters with strong voice, a genuine relationship between characters, and an obvious character arc.
 
A few submissions tips pertaining to Abrams Books for Young Readers were shared during the question-and-answer portions of the day.
  •  They do not accept unsolicited manuscripts in the fiction category.
  • It’s best to query one book at a time in the picture book category.
  • If querying for chapter books, Abrams prefers to know that you’ve thought through a few ideas for books in a series in addition to your initial book.
  • Non-fiction books are open for submissions without an agent.
  • Abrams is focused on art-related non-fiction, as well as historical biographies.
  • In any picture book submission, including more than two main characters is “ambitious.” Not in a good way.
  • A tip heard over and over again- do not submit illustrations with your manuscript or provide your vision on the appearance of artwork. This often becomes grounds for flat-out rejection because they don’t prefer to split someone’s work apart. Abrams reiterated that the art should be left to their discretion.
 
The most important takeaway came from Tamar Brazis in the form of hope. She encouraged all writers to keep submitting their manuscripts, casting a wide net whenever possible. Not long after she received her first lesson in surfing, a literary agent presented a manuscript to Brazis that would later become Surfer Chick by Kristy Dempsey. She made the point that this manuscript personally mattered to her at that moment based on a very specific set of circumstances. She was passionate about surfing as a newfound hobby and was motivated to support this book. She admitted she probably wouldn’t have felt that way just a few years earlier. It just goes to show that getting published can be a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. 
 
Do you have a picture book or a chapter book lurking in your drawer? Or the idea for one lurking in your head somewhere? Have you had a similar experience to the one that Kristy Dempsey and Tamar Brazis had? We'd love to hear about it!
 
Happy writing,
 
Marissa

6 comments:

  1. Great recap, Marissa! Thanks for sharing! : )

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  2. And yes, I've got a picture book ms lurking on my computer. It'll probably never see the light of day, though--lots of classic newbie mistakes in it!

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  3. Why is submitting art a grounds for automatic rejection? That's concerning to me because I'm actually an illustration student, and we see cases in my school periodically of illustrators who pitch projects that are already fully illustrated and get them published. (usually by smaller publishers, but published nonetheless) I can also think of very successfully published authors who illustrated their own work, such as Richard Scarry. I'm not trying to argue with you, I'm just wondering why this particular publisher is so against author-illustrated manuscripts. Even in a case like that, the publisher still makes revisions to the manuscript and illustration...

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  4. Thanks for a great, useful post. I sure wish I could have been there. Do you know if Brazis has published her handouts anywhere or if she would object to someone sharing those?

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  5. Ara, glad to help! I find that after so many conferences, you tend to hear the same tips repeated. But I definitely heard some new ones this time.

    Sgt. Duckie, I very much see your point. It's funny that those examples of author/illustrators haven't come up during Q&A at the conferences I've attended. I'll tell you, I've heard multiple professionals repeat this same piece of advice, though. It's all a matter of chance and talent if you ask me! :)

    Rosi, I don't think Tamar posts her handouts anywhere. I Googled several other blog posts that talked about Tamar giving this same presentation only at another venue if you're interested in reading further tidbits. None of them linked handouts, though. In the 3+ years I've been attending SCBWI conferences, I'll tell you that sensitivity to blogging about the presentations has increased more and more. There have been 4 or more conferences I attended where the opening remarks included something to the tune of "what happens here today stays here today." I understand in some respects, but not everyone has availability and resources to go to conferences. In my estimation, people largely go to network and even if someone blogs about an event later, writers/illustrators will continue attending. Just my opinion, though.

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  6. Ara, glad to help! I find that after so many conferences, you tend to hear the same tips repeated. But I definitely heard some new ones this time.

    Sgt. Duckie, I very much see your point. It's funny that those examples of author/illustrators haven't come up during Q&A at the conferences I've attended. I'll tell you, I've heard multiple professionals repeat this same piece of advice, though. It's all a matter of chance and talent if you ask me! :)

    Rosi, I don't think Tamar posts her handouts anywhere. I Googled several other blog posts that talked about Tamar giving this same presentation only at another venue if you're interested in reading further tidbits. None of them linked handouts, though. In the 3+ years I've been attending SCBWI conferences, I'll tell you that sensitivity to blogging about the presentations has increased more and more. There have been 4 or more conferences I attended where the opening remarks included something to the tune of "what happens here today stays here today." I understand in some respects, but not everyone has availability and resources to go to conferences. In my estimation, people largely go to network and even if someone blogs about an event later, writers/illustrators will continue attending. Just my opinion, though.

    ReplyDelete

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