Today, we welcome Elizabeth Law to the Eastern Penn Points Cafe. Elizabeth has worked in children’s and young adult book publishing for 30 years as an editor and publisher, and now works as a publishing consultant, and with writers on their WIPs. If you were at our recent Grow Your Book from Seed to Sale SCBWI event, you already learned tons from Elizabeth, but in case you couldn’t make it, I invited her to stop in for a blog chat. Though we usually find a cozy booth around here, today we’ve got the floor wide open! So, come on in and ask your questions….Elizabeth’s here to chat!
Lindsay: Hi there, Elizabeth, and welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Cafe! What can we get you to drink?
Elizabeth: Coffee, always coffee.
Lindsay: So, I know our readers have tons of questions about the publishing industry. We’re sooo glad you’re here! I was wondering if you would share your editorial opinion about some key ingredients to a successful picture book? How about MG? YA?
Every book, whether picture book, mid grade or YA, has to have something at stake for the main character that we, the reader or listener, care about. We have to connect emotionally! If you are writing nonfiction, your book still needs to tell a story that we care about. Look at the work of Susan Campbell Bartoletti or the collaborations of Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet to see what I mean.
And now for a few specifics. When she was the picture book buyer at Borders, Ruta Drummond used to say, “Customers pick up a picture book because of the image on the cover, but it’s the story that has a child ask to hear it again and again.” Watch out for picture books where you haven’t caught a listener’s interest with the problem or obstacle right at the beginning.
In middle grade, one tip to keep in mind is that less is more. Young readers pick things up very quickly.
If your main character walks home after school every day with her best friend, and one day her best friend goes to another kid’s house instead, your reader understands what that means and the feelings your character has about it. You don’t also need to say, “Alice felt sad, and angry. Why did Mary go home with Lenny, and not with her?” Just show Alice not feeling like eating her after school snack, or slamming the door to her bedroom, and that’s plenty. (Another way of saying this: SHOW how Alice is feeling by her actions, don’t TELL us.)
For young adult books, don’t be afraid to be intense—just like teenagers are.
An emotional reaction that could seem like overkill in a middle grade novel might be the tip of the iceberg in YA! Your character can be very angry, or burn for another character, or desperate. Just remember we also need a plot. At the same time, don’t try to be what you’re not and follow trends, either. Write the story that you have inside you, that you’re passionate about, and the rest will follow.
Lindsay: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about time frames.
I talk to a lot of writers who are biting their fingernails, waiting to hear back from agents and editors. We want them to know we are excited, but we don’t want to get too pesky. So, to be polite and professional, when should a writer nudge an agent or editor after submission (assuming their web site doesn’t tell us)?
When should a writer assume it’s a no?
Elizabeth: Oh, goodness! I am sorry for everyone’s pain, and even worse, I know I’ve occasionally been the source of it. A brief answer is, “send a short, polite follow up at 8-10 weeks, and re-attach the submission (making everything as easy as possible for the person on the other end).”
I wrote a blog entry last year on exactly this question and it includes specific advice for several scenarios. Click here to read.
I think waiting and wondering about what’s happening to your manuscript is one of the toughest challenges on the road to publication. Editors and publishers need to own up to how much we keep writers waiting. And writers need to take their careers into their own hands, to follow up and to move on. (Again, see my blog entry!)
Lindsay: Now let’s open it up to the crowd. Got a question for Elizabeth? We’ll take the first 20-ish questions posted in the comments and Elizabeth will reply to as many as she can. (We can’t promise every question will be answered!)
Elizabeth: I’m really looking forward to this, Lindsay! I love talking about the kid lit biz, as we sometimes call it. Ask away!
Lindsay: Thanks so much for agreeing to regale us with your wisdom, Elizabeth!
Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @ELawReads, and learn more about herand her services by visiting her web site!