Thank you to everyone who entered the critique giveaway. It was so interesting to read about everyone’s work. The winner has today been chosen at random from the woolly hat and it is (fanfare)…
Rose, please email me your story at lou dot treleaven at sky dot com. I can’t wait to read it and give you my feedback.
Meanwhile, I promised to keep you up to date with the publishing journey of Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip. After acceptance (hurrah!), the next stage has been editing, which took the form of emails from and to my editor, plus the input of an external freelance editor. This has been really interesting and a great learning process.
The first job was to cut several verses which was a little painful but I could instantly see improvements. Apparently in a picture book the less words you can use the better. The words that make the final cut have to work so much harder that they become exactly the right words for the job.
Next to be picked up were inconsistencies and unnecessary areas of the plot. Yes, even a picture book has a plot – it needs a clear beginning, middle and end. The beginning has to jump straight into the action, the middle needs to be absorbing, and if the end can be a bang, a snort of laughter or a giggle of happiness then so much the better.
One issue I always struggle with is finding the right words for the target age group, and there were a few words that needed changing. When you’re writing rhyme, changing one word is not that simple – it can mean rewriting the entire verse. A fun challenge! After two or three rounds of editing, my editor was happy and I was very happy. I could see the improvements straight away. In fact the text is so much better than before that frankly I can’t understand why it was even picked it off the slushpile in that state in the first place!
The next stage is the really, really exciting one – illlustrations. I will blog about that in my next post. Here is a summary of what I have learned so far during the editing process.
- Although most publishers specify a maximum of 1000 words for picture books, there’s a magic number to aim for if you can – under 500. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but too many words on a page can spoil the layout, overwhelm the illustrations and put a child off the book.
- You can spend a day deciding on the right word. Luckily you can be doing the washing up at the same time.
- My publisher (hurrah!) favours 13 double page spreads. Not every picture book is that length (some are more), but if in doubt it’s a useful guideline. That means if your book is a rhyming one, 13 4-line stanzas would be a good maximum to aim for.
- Be prepared to lose a lot of your manuscript in the editing process. You will benefit from it. It’s like polishing a stone and getting all the rough edges off.
- Even a picture book needs to have a plot. If it’s rhyming, try to step away from the ‘poem’ concept and make sure you are telling a story.
- It’s easy to sacrifice meaning and or sense for the sake of a good rhyme. I’ve realised I do it all the time. I need to make the rhyme serve my story, not the other way around.
- Every word is important and has a job to do. You could say writing is making sure the right word does the right job at the right time.
Enjoy your writing and keep submitting!