Dr Mira Reisberg, US Editor and Director of the Children’s Book Academy, has been involved in the children’s book industry for over 30 years and her session was akin to a treasure chest, full to the brim with gems. Due to an unexpected delay which reduced the session duration, there was only time to delve into the treasures on the Craft of Getting and Staying Published, with inadequate time to examine the tantalising Business gems. However, conference participants can subscribe to Mira’s newsletter, here and receive a PDF of the session slides.
Miras’ tips for success - To be successful you must love and nurture your craft, e.g.:
Attend conferences and events
Read books on the craft
Take interactive courses, especially with mentoring
Join SCBWI and become active in your local chapter
Read lots of children’s books – twice! – once for pleasure, then for analysis
Join a critique group to sharpen your analytical skills and to learn from your group
Be willing to play – have fun, experiment!
Generally, there are 3 types of children’s books:
Plot driven – with a beginning, middle and end, a narrative arc, suspense, problems, obstacles, high stakes quest, etc.
Concept Books – e.g. colours, counting, alphabet, nature. May also have a simple plot.
Nonfiction – very hot in the US currently due to emphasis on STEM. E.g. contemporary biographies with suspense, leading to a pivotal moment, using a plot like structure. (Note: Informational fiction (with invented characters, plots or dialogue) wouldn’t be considered nonfiction in the US)
The Ten Keys!
Pacing – speed up or slow down for different emotional responses, suspense, page turns
Structure – e.g. geographic, time-based, plot driven, circular, switching between points of view
Characters (or nonfiction subjects) – significant or endearing in some way, not all good (or all bad)
Emotion and relationships – make us care, heart of stories
Action – give us movement
Setting – changing this can massively impact your story
Language and Humour – use rich language, be careful not to overdo alliteration, have someone else read it out loud or record yourself then listen.
Voice and Point of View – there are 2 kinds of voice – the author’s voice and the character’s voice/s
Layers with underlying themes – using multiple layers will enrich your story for all ages.
Tips for illustrators:
Try adding other characters to really see the world you are creating
Try changing people to animals or vice versa
Try to create your own unique worlds
Try totally changing the setting
Think about symbolic imagery to add a level of complexity to the stories
Editors and Art Directors often look at how an illustrator draws hands to decide on the illustrator’s skill level.
Steps involved in securing an illustration contract:
Initial black and white character sketches with at least 3 poses showing a range of expressions and movement
2 midsize spreads with one in colour
Thumbnail sketches in a storyboard (show range of compositions, points of view, angles)
Then full size sketches
Then colour samples (tip: a warm palette conveys more emotional warmth)
Mira’s final tips for authors:
See feedback and revisions as fun, creative problem-solving
To keep your writing fresh, draw on your own experiences (dig deep), diversity, culture, etc and be specific when you write (e.g. don’t just say a monster, say a type of monster known of in a particular culture if you are familiar with it, e.g a djin)
If you get stuck, change something, e.g. point of view, setting, time period and see how it changes.
Try to avoid writing outside of your racial culture, unless you do extensive research, have the work vetted and give back in some way to that culture.
Always keep the reader in mind and their needs, language etc,
Most of all, have fun on the journey!
by Cherri Ryan