Short Story MS vs Picture Book MS: There is a difference.

In CBAY's new submission guidelines which go up to the general public on January 1, we made the following statement:
Please limit your picture book to 1500 words or less. We truly want to see manuscripts that were written as picture books. We are not interested in looking at short stories. Yes, there is a difference.
I had a couple of people ask me what that difference is -- an excellent question indeed.

Now, obviously there are some good short stories that have been made into picture books, and there are some picture book texts that would make good short stories. However, not every tale can go either way. The main difference between the two is, as you may have guessed, in the illustration possibilities.

A picture book is 32 pages long (including the frontspiece and the copyright page) which means there can be as few as 15 images (15 full page spreads over 30 pages) during the tale or as many as 120 (although that would be an extreme 4 images per page which I don't think I've ever seen). Most picture books fall somewhere in between with some full page spreads and some half page or spot illustrations. Some older or classically styled picture books will contain 3/4 spreads with the text off on one side separate from the picture. The actual layout and style of the illustrations is not important from a manuscript perspective. What is important is that there are a minimum of 15 different visual images in the text. In other words, there are at least 15 different scenes for the illustrator to draw.

Let's use fairy tales as an example. There were literally hundreds of fairy tales collected by Grimm Brothers, but only a handful are constantly being reworked into picture books. The ones that are have lots of action and changes in scenery. Take "Little Red Riding Hood." Scenery wise, you have:
  1. Little Red's House
  2. The woods
  3. Grandma's house -- both inside and out.
Action wise, you have:
  1. Little Red being given the basket
  2. Meeting the Wolf
  3. Picking flowers
  4. The wolf sneaking to Grandma's by the quicker path
  5. The wolf eating grandma (or stuffing her in the closet)
  6. The wolf in bed
  7. Little Red arriving
  8. The wolf showing big hands
  9. The wolf showing big ears
  10. The wolf showing big teeth
  11. The wolf eating Little Red (or chasing her)
  12. The huntsman hearing commotion
  13. The huntsman chasing wolf
  14. The huntsman killing wolf (or chasing him away)
  15. Roasting the wolf (or celebration)
As you can see, there is plenty of action and change of location for an illustrator to choose from. This is why this tale makes a good picture book and other fairy tales do not.

So, my advice to you, is to take your picture book manuscript's plot and break it up much like I did Little Red Riding Hood above. If you you've got lots of illustratable action, you are good to go. However, if the entire action takes place around the dinner table and is just great dialog, then you've definitely got a short story on your hands. This is not a bad thing. There are markets for good short stories for younger readers. It just means that you should not submit that manuscript to me as a picture book.


Tailoring Submissions (part 2)

Now last week, I started talking about tailoring submissions. I pointed out that you should make sure you send your work to someone who will appreciate it. What I didn't tell you was how to gauge an editor's tastes.

There are several ways to do this:
  1. See if they've posted preferences anywhere.
    Does the editor have a blog (like me) or is he/she specifically requesting a certain type of manuscript (also like me)? Because that's the best way to know your manuscript is going to someone who will actually look at it if the person says they are actively seeking something.
  2. Check the various children's writers' boards.
    Just because you haven't found the blog post or announcement doesn't mean someone else didn't find it. Look around at places like SCBWI or Verla Kay's site. I know my picture book submission guidelines have been put up there.
However, sometimes you won't be able to find the information this way. Then you'll have to be sneakier to figure out what those finicky editors like. You can:
  1. Ask around.
    Perhaps you know someone who has worked with that editor before. What did he/she tell your friend about his/her preferences?
  2. Read things the editor has worked on.
    This is the method that is least precise, but probably the one you'll most often have to rely on. After all, editors do work on projects they haven't acquire and that might not be to their tastes. I know I have. However, this will be your best bet on getting to know your editor when you don't have any personal or online intel. As I've said before, to find out what the editor has worked on, simply go to any book that is in the same genre as yours and look at the acknowledgments page. A majority of the time, the author has thanked his/her editor. Voila. You now have a potential submission target.
(Now I have acquired picture books in the past, but that was for Blooming Tree which has a very different publishing philosophy. I'm not saying I don't love those picture books. I do. They just wouldn't fit as well in CBAY. A better gauge of the kind of picture book I'm looking for now would be looking at my existing line. After all, it should fit in with the rest of the list.)


Running Out of Time

I don't know about you, but I feel like I'm running out of time. Between finishing the 2011 book edits and layouts, getting the websites up, and working on The Book of All Thing's cover, I don't know when I'm going to get my shopping done. Fortunately, I have a gift card to my favorite independent (OK, so it's my year end bonus from BookPeople, details, details) to spend on the people left on my list.

All this has reminded me of something very important that I forgot to mention in my Great Small Press Gifts in Big Stores post -- namely that starting around January 1, CBAY Books will no longer physically be in the stores. You can still get them online, but all of the unsold stock will be returned, never to grace Barnes & Noble shelves again.*

So, if you were planning to purchase either The Book of Maps or The Necropolis in store, like me, your time is also running out.

* I would like to point out that this is just a reality of the book industry. Have you ever heard about a book that's only five or six months old only you can't find it in any bookstore? That's because a book has only 90 days to sell before it is shipped straight back to the publisher for a full credit. Barnes & Noble is very aggressive in its returns, so the CBAY Books, which have been available since early October will be going away for good starting Jan. 1. Only bestselling backlist books earn longterm shelf space at the chains.

For example, Cynthia Leitich Smith's Eternal, which debuted in paperback at #5 on the NY Times Bestseller list can't be found at a single one of our local Austin stores despite the fact that the series is popular and she's an Austin author. Interesting, no?

Personally, I hate the returns system. By the time I've paid my distributor's restock fees and tossed out the books that have gotten damaged in all the shipping, it would have been cheaper for me to just set those books on fire (and not collected insurance money). It's just depressing.

And the worst part, the returns system isn't even particularly good for the bookstores. Why do you think B&N and other bookstores have started stocking so many bargain books and non-book items? It's because those are sold at greater margins but are non-returnable. Stores need those extra percentage points to be profitable. However, I seem to be digressing (and ranting) into a whole 'nother topic. And that should probably be a discussion for another day.


Tailoring Submissions (part 1)

Now, normally when people ask me who they should submit their work to, I point out that they need to send their submissions to someone who is going to appreciate it. There is no point in sending a glorious, future award winning, historical fiction love story to an editor that only works on action/adventure manuscripts and has publicly said that love is a waste of time. That person is not going to like your book, no matter how good it is.

And, I for example, am not going to appreciate your wonderful basic to school realistic picture book featuring all the children as animals when I've asked for fantasy and science fiction.

"But," I can hear you saying, "it's an animal fantasy."

No, it's not. Animal Farm, Charlotte's Web, Redwall, and the Warrior series are animal fantasies. Anthopomorphized animals in picture books are not animal fantasies. They are simply human replacements because some (ok, many) illustrators prefer to draw animals over humans. Toot & Puddle are fantastic, and the Bernstein Bears are classics, and I really wish I could have discovered Chester, but they are not fantasies.

However, don't despair those of you writing about cats or dogs or elephants. I'm not saying you can't submit books with animals as the characters. I'm just saying that they better be pirates or spacemen or princesses or werecats for me to consider them.


My Wishlist (for Submissions)

By now you've probably already looked at the Submission Guidelines for the picture book call in January. And you're probably wondering why I only want fantasy and science fiction manuscripts. Well, the answer is pretty simple. At the moment, that's the niche CBAY has positioned itself in. If you look at our list, all of the books are fantasy or science fiction. So, it makes sense to expand that niche into picture books.

However, when it comes down to it, I really want a good science fiction manuscript. There are very few science fiction picture books, and I would like to exploit that hole in the market. However, it can be very difficult to convey a science fiction world and still have a good story. I'll be excited to see what people produce.

If you want to see examples of books I wished I had acquired (but only saw after publication), here you go:
Of course, I'm not looking for duplicates of these. I'm just sharing with you some picture books I have liked and enjoyed.


Opening for Select Submissions

Starting Jan. 15, CBAY Books will be open for 2 weeks for unsolicited fantasy and science fiction picture book manuscripts. (Sorry mid-grade and teens. Your time will come.)

That's right. After over three years of being closed for submissions, we will be open for only two weeks. After that, I don't know when we'll be open again. It'll depend on how long it takes to go through these. Polish up your manuscripts, give your critique group one last shot at them, and run spell check. It's time to send them out to the world.

And right now, the only place to find the link to the submission guidelines is here. I haven't put them on the general CBAY site (although you can access the general site from them.) I'm making the announcement here first, and then at the beginning of the new year, I'll post them to

So, between now and Jan. 15, I'll be doing lots of posts about submissions, submission formats, my manuscript wishlist, and the like. It's going to be a writing party!


Great Small Press Gifts in the Big Stores

During this crazy shopping time, we all need convenience, and it's hard to be much more convenient than a Barnes & Noble this time of year. So, I've put together a list of mine, and other small press books, that you can currently walk into pretty much any Barnes & Noble and buy right off the shelf. It doesn't get much more convenient than that.

And if you plan on making a special trip, click on the book's title to see if the book is in the Barnes & Noble nearest you.

From CBAY Books:
  • The Book of Maps by David Michael Slater -- Although this is the third book in the series, you don't have to have read the first two. The twins start on a whole new adventure in this one as one of the oldest demons comes after them. There's a lot of action in this one, and you might just find yourself biting your nails as everyone in the world seems to be against the kids.
  • The Necropolis by PJ Hoover -- This is the final book in The Forgotten Worlds Trilogy, and I have to say, it's the best one yet. From an editorial perspective it's great to see how the author's writing has grown, but from a kid perspective, the book is just cool. Lots of exciting stuff happens, there's some more time travel, and we finally get to see what's happening in Atlantis. Like I said, cool.
From Tanglewood Press:
  • The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn -- The New York Times #1 Bestseller (pretty good for a small press book) is always a great gift. Dealing with separation anxiety, this picture book is good whether a kid is starting school or daycare or even going to stay at Grandma's for a few days.
From Barefoot Books:
  • Yoga Pretzels by Tara Guber -- A fabulous collection of yoga poses suitable for even the youngest yogi. These come on large flashcard sized cards so that you can always see exactly what it is you are working on.
(My list isn't longer because I had trouble finding small press books in Barnes & Noble stores. Nearly every presses full catalog is carried online, but it was hard to find them physically in the store. Show your support for small presses in big chains. Next time you're in a Barnes & Noble, purchase one of these books.)


Papering Over my iPad

I'm a techno-geek. There's no arguing that. But I'm bad about buying gadgets that I use for like a week (like that ereader I've got around here somewhere) and then never picking it up again.

So, it took me awhile to convince myself to get an iPad. Fortunately, the thing is pretty cool, and if nothing else, I'll probably use it for quite some time as a car TV for my son for roadtrips. (Although if I have to listen to Elmo's squeaky voice for another minute in the car, I'm not sure I'll be rational enough to be held accountable for my actions.)

However, being said techno-geek, one of the first things I had to do was design new wallpaper for my iPad based on various CBAY Books. Since I was working on The Amulet of Amon-Ra website at the time, I made paper for it first. And now, since just this very minute I finished that site, I'm now sharing my techno-geekiness with everyone.

Screenshots of my iPad:

And because you can also hold it horizontally:

Nope, I'm not a geek. Not a geek at all.

Want to show your Amulet pride? You can get the iPad/iPhone background here.


Getting Back on the Web

So, as part of my new trying to get the blog going again, I've decided to start posting about everything I think of. Like yesterday, I posted about the new Incarceron movie.

I must say this is greatly helped by having a new iPad toy. Yesterday I was able to do that post while baby took a bath. I would never dare take my laptop anywhere near the baby and water. I shudder at the thought.

So, as my first real publisher post in a while, let's talk about this blog. I've given it a new look as you may have noticed. Please tell me what you think (good or bad). I am not emotionally attached to the look of the blog in any way, so if you don't like it, I won't be offended to know.

Also, let me know what you are most interested in reading about, and I'll try to do more of that. What is more important: writing tips, marketing tips, editorial process, what? I always appreciate feedback.

Incarceron Movie?

At the beginning of this year, I read the book Incarceron, book I thoroughly enjoyed. I thought it was a great example of world building as well as alternating points of view. As we all know switching points of view, even in a teen novel, can be tricky business.

So, it is exciting to see that it may be made into a movie starring the Taylor from Twilight.

I am currently interested in all things books-to-movies since The Book of Nonsense has been optioned for development into a movie. The details as I know them are here. I'm not involved in any way since I don't hold any of the film rights, but it's still exciting to watch.

Who do you think should play the twins?