One of the amazing benefits of becoming part of the Twitter community as a writer is hearing the latest news about contests and other opportunities to connect with agents and publishers. I’ve quickly become a fan of “Twitter Pitch” fests such as #PBPitch and #PitMad and will post about them another time. Through contests like those, one has a relatively risk-free way to get your ideas out there and potentially attract the interest of an agent or editor. While I do get requests from those occasionally, I also generally make several new Twitter connections (both people I follow and new followers) on a Twitter pitch day, connections through which I learn even more about the industry and about more upcoming events. It’s a great cycle.
It’s through one of those connections that I was recruited to be on a team for FicFest, a new writing contest headed up by Tiffany Hoffman. The goal is to put some amazing writing in front of a huge group of agents. There are 5 categories: Picture Book (PB), Middle Grade (MG), Young Adult (YA), New Adult (NA), and Adult (A). For each category, there are three teams of three mentors (one team leader and two team members). I won’t duplicate all the submission information here, because Tiffany’s blog has a ton more details plus it’s worth reading the comments for more questions. So just go HERE to read more about how to submit, but do it quickly– submissions are only open for 2 days starting at 12.01am Sunday, April 24 (tomorrow!).
If you haven’t clicked over to the FicFest blog yet, bear with me for a little bit, just in case you’re planning to enter in the PB category. My team is “Team Greece” (the overall theme is “World Tour”– I had originally campaigned for us to be Team Austria, but our leader is of Greek heritage, so Greece it is!). There’s a lot of talk about the “wish list” for us as teams, since we will be mentoring our contest choices for a month or so. In the end, we have to keep in mind what agents are going to want and what is currently selling in the industry more than what we personally would like to read. So, I’m doing a bunch of research into our great list of agents and in the industry in general. But my tastes aren’t really all that different from the industry as a whole– so here is my “Simple Six” list of things that have set apart some of my very favorite recent picture books:
- Make me laugh: Kids want something that they will request over and over again, and usually that means something they laugh at. One of my favorite recent examples is Drew Daywalt’s “The Day the Crayons Quit,” although there are many others.
- Make me cry: While I can’t say that kids are going to love crying at your book, making a mom cry while she reads it will probably guarantee she recommends it to someone. My favorite “classic” for that is P.D. Eastman’s “Are you my mother?” (Don’t get me started about “I’ll love you Forever” — no offense to the author, because it’s a lovely sentiment and all, but I can’t stand that book, probably because I could never get through it without crying– you want some emotion, but that one is way too much for me). My favorite recent book in the emotional category is “Red: A Crayon’s Story” by Michael Hall. For more info on why, see my earlier blog entries. (Or just read it).
- Break the Fourth Wall: Books that play with the conventions of the book are always fun. Julie Falatko’s “Snappsy the Alligator Did Not ask to be in this Book” is a brilliant example of biplay between narrator and main character.
- Rhyme…WELL: I started my writing “career” at the age of about 5 as a poet and have been creating poetry ever since (my PhD was in German Poetry). It continually bugs me how many people persist in thinking that a poem is either a disconnected stream-of consciousness, the more cryptic and un-intelligible the better OR a series of lines where the last word rhymes. It’s the latter which can really make your teeth hurt when it becomes a picture book. You’ve just GOT to know your meter and rhythm if you want to write in rhyme. Most people in the “industry” will advise you away from writing rhymed picture books because it’s really, really hard to get it right. But there are still plenty of them published for good reason– when you get it right, it’s glorious. One of my favorite recent examples is Josh Funk’s “Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast.” He’s also written a lot about how NOT to write a rhymed PB, so he’s worth checking out.
- Write what only YOU can: I was so thrilled to read all the amazing pitches for the recent #DVPit twitter fest for diverse voices and themes. It was great to see folks from all types of backgrounds sharing stories unique to them– whether that was diversity in religion, disability, gender, etc. My favorite recent example is Alan Rabinowitz’ “A Boy and a Jaguar” about a boy who stuttered (though miraculously not when talking to animals) but overcame it to become a wildlife conservationist. It was inspiring and compelling, but most of that impact came because the voice was so authentic.
- Finally, do something different: I’m going to come back to Drew Daywalt’s “The Day the Crayons Quit” here. Honestly, who would have thought about a picture book in which the crayons are writing letters to their owner? There’s no single main character, there’s no real “stakes”, the characters are anthropomorphized objects, there’s not a real arc to the action..in short, it breaks all the rules. But it’s such an overwhelmingly COOL concept I just can’t resist it. It’s one of those lightening bolt ideas where once you get it, the book probably writes itself– and I’m hoping to get one of them soon because I really don’t know what my next book will be about….
So there you have it: Six guidelines for the “perfect” picture book. Your mileage may vary, of course. And I’m not an agent. But it definitely helps to define what YOU like before you start thinking about what you’re going to write.
And then, if you happen to have something that you love and you feel strongly about, send it to us at FicFest tomorrow. We’re really anxious to read it!