Monday, 2 November 2009

SUBMISSION SPOTLIGHT 8: picture book

This is the first picture book submission I've put up for a Submission Spotlight.

 (All illustrations copyright Beverley Johnston)


The 500 word rule doesn't apply for this, so I am showing you the covering letter, synopsis, and half* the text, along with some sample pictures. Please respect Beverley's copyright, particularly for the pictures: you may not reproduce them without her permission and she would be sensible not to give it except in certain circumstances!

(* Beverley sent me the whole text but I have chosen to reproduce only half  -  it's enough for you to judge, especially along with the synopsis.)

Beverley, says in her email to me: 
"The sample cover letter below is taken from the latest one penned for an agent who deals with both fiction and non-fiction. When sending to fiction only agents I obviously omit the proposals for non-fiction books. Looking back at it I'm wondering if it appears too pushy! But then I keep reading about 'self-promotion' so I'm keen to present myself in a positive light as an author/illustrator willing to go out and about delivering workshops and talks to both adults and children."
So, dear readers, what do you think?
________________________________________
Dear xxxxxxxxxx,

May I take this opportunity of introducing my work to you in the hope you will consider representing me as an author/illustrator. I would also like to present some additional information about myself and some ideas I have for developing a range of non-fiction children's art and craft books/sets, which I hope will convey to you my commitment to developing a career as an author/illustrator of both non-fiction and fiction books, and hence why I think you are ideally suited to represent me as my agent. 

As a founder member of the UK Coloured Pencil Society I have already had an art technique book published, The Complete Guide to Coloured Pencil Techniques (David and Charles 2003, which has since been translated into Taiwanese), and I have now started to write and illustrate children's picture books.

Due to the short word count I have attached a synopsis and complete manuscript for one of my picture books, Eddy's New Suit, plus 8 JPEGS depicting finished illustrations and photos taken from the fully working dummy book which is available to view.

Eddy’s New Suit (207 words) is a lift-the-flap novelty book for the 3+ year old age group. The inspiration for this book comes from the special relationship we form as a child with a favourite teddy or soft toy. The format for the book was inspired by the wonderful Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell. I believe the book would appeal to both parents and grandparents (especially Nannies who knit) and because of the resurgence in the ‘make do and mend' philosophy, and a new generation of knitters, the book is also very current in its subject matter.

 In addition to writing The Complete Guide to Coloured Pencil Techniques, I have also written articles for The Artist, The Leisure Painter, and The Artist and Illustrator magazines. I've demonstrated at the Artist and Illustrator Show (Olympia and the Business Design Centre, Islington) and taught coloured pencil workshops at Missendon Abbey Adult Education Centre, Aylesbury. More recently (since having my children) I have delivered a coloured pencil workshop to key stage 3 and 4 children at my local school. I have also exhibited with the Society of Wildlife Artists at the Mall Galleries, London.

Two aims of the UK Coloured Pencil Society include promoting the use of coloured pencils as a fine art medium, plus encouraging children to develop their artistic skills through the use of coloured pencils.  Coloured pencil manufacturers such as Derwent, Faber Castell and Caran D'ache etc are always open to marketing suggestions and often willing to work with artists to produce a range of educational materials, for both adults and children.

Although in the ideas stage of development I am keen to produce a range of technique books for children. Including flowers, cars, animals (pets and wildlife), and the human form, my technique can be adapted to produce fine art or stylised pictures. Projects would be kept small to suit a child's ability and by using easy to follow step-by-step stages children would be taught how to use coloured pencils and improve their drawing skills. Examples could then be used to develop a range of workshops for schools (and to support the national curriculum would combine writing and drawing for both fiction and non-fiction projects).

I would also love to see Eddy's New Suit be developed as an activity knitting set. I appreciate this may sound adventurous (in light of the fact it's yet to be published!) but my research has shown there is an increase in the number of people, including children, taking up knitting through the choice of books and craft kits available on the market. How many of them could resist knitting such a lovely warm jumper for such a well loved bear?!

With regards

Beverley Johnston



EDDY’S NEW SUIT
(Available as a fully working dummy book)
A 16 page lift the flap novelty book aimed at 3+ year olds (could also be developed as a touch/feel novelty book).

Synopsis

Eddy is a favourite teddy who has been cuddled so often his fur has become patchy and worn, so his owner decides to make him a
new suit.

The reader lifts the flaps to discover what suit Eddy is wearing. The bubble wrap suit is, ‘too spongy and squishy’; the holly leaves suit is ‘too prickly and spiky’, and the silver foil suit ‘too shiny and crinkly’.

None are right until the last flap, when he receives a very special woollen suit from Nanny. Which is just perfect!

Text (first 8 pages  -  half the full book)

Page 1-2
Eddy the Teddy’s my favourite bear,
but I’ve cuddled him so often his fur’s all patchy and worn,
so I’m going to make him a brand new suit!

Pages 3-4
I make him a suit out of . . . cardboard and tape.
But it’s too stiff and sticky,
so I take it off.

Pages 5-6
I make him a suit out of . . . grass and string.
But it’s too scratchy and itchy,
so I take it off.


Pages 7-8
I make him a suit out of . . . feathers.
But it’s too fluffy and tickly,
so I take it off.

(final four spreads supplied, not shown)

Note from NM  -  this next pic is not the suit of feathers, but the final pic

Comments, please, expecially from any published pic book writers out there.
Meanwhile, the Blog Baby announcement cometh  -  be here on Nov 4th!

18 comments:

Marisa Birns said...

I think that it would be more effective if the first thing the agent reads is the hook, rather than personal intro. Agent should know right away that Eddy's New Suit is a picture book for 3+ crowd, and that due to word count, synopsis and complete manuscript, etc....

Then second paragraph could be about inspiration and who is target audience.

Lastly, the credentials. Though I don't know if in a query for one project, one should mention all the ideas for future projects. The thing is to get everyone on board with the book, then have discussions about future.

Love the teddy and the fact that he's becomes so worn over time. Reminds me of the Velveteen Rabbit.

Good luck with your project.

Flixton Mum said...

I know nothing about writing lift the flap books, but we do own an awful lot of them and Dear Zoo is one of our absolute favourites.

Is that directed for the 3+ market? My 3yo does like it, but only in that she attempts to work out what the letters are it is my 1yo who is more interested in it. I would say it is more 1+.

I like the teddy idea and he looks adorable. I could see both my children imagining playing with him. The text sounds very much like Dear Zoo, but it doesn't scan quite right. Certainly not the opening page. As a mum who is going to have to read this over and over and over again it has to be easy to read and trip off the tongue.

Also, I appreciate that not all the text has been reproduced, but is Eddy nanny's teddy? I didn't get that from the bit that was reproduced here, it could just be me being a bit slow, it is after 7pm.

David J Griffin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David J Griffin said...

Hi Beverley

I'm not a parent (sadly) but I'm sure if I was, I'd buy this book for the little one, really. I think it's quite delightful with attractive and professional illustrations and a lovely text which encourages young children to think, apart from entertaining them.

I've gleaned that a query letter for adult fiction should be no more than one page; your query is obviously fitting on two, if not three pages, but...I found it so interesting, the length of the letter didn't worry me (although I'm no agent of course, who might think differently).

Yes, I think this is excellent for a young child (perhaps even younger than 3?) and despite the brevity of the text, would be wanted to be read to them over and again, I think. Your idea of "touch and feel" with real fur is a good idea (in fact, I thought it was real fur looking at your teddy illustration; I had to see the picture actual size to check it wasn't! So I had the same idea there).

As much as I know, a child's book needs to be attractive, not only to the child, but to the parent/grandparent buying it. I think this does both.

I wish you every success in finding agent representation.

DOT said...

Tough, tough market to break into.

As one who used regularly to see illustrator's portfolios, I think the letter over-explanatory to the point of being defensive. The work must speak for itself.

I am not in the publishing business. My untutored view, therefore, is Beverley must decide whether or not she is staking all on this single book, or if she wants to get on the list of a publisher as an illustrator of children's books.

If the latter, then she needs, I guess, to use this as a platform to show her talent in different forms, for she is, indubitably, talented.

Nicola Morgan said...

Flixton Mum - you are right that the text doesn't scan or trip of the tongue. As an illustrator, clearly Beverley has talent but the words need much more work.

Personally, I think Beverley should push herself as an illustrator. From that could come opportunities to create a complete book herself, or work with an editor, but the voice is not strong enough here.

The words for a picture book are incredibly hard to get right. A publisher won't take a book on the basis that it looks as though a grandparent or parent might like it, because it will have to pass the scrutiny of many experts in the field, particularly booksellers, before it gets to grandparents / parents. The concept is on the surface fun and interesting but when you think about it closely you realise that the concept's main aim is to showcase the illustrations and the idea of art and craft - not the story. The story must come first. Beverley, if you can get the story to come first and the illustrations to serve the story, you'll be onto a winner. I am sure this style of art has a real place and you could go far with it - but on the back of a beautifully written story (which - sorry - this just isn't, much as the idea is sweet and engaging). That's a tough message. oops, I'm running out of time - I'll come back to elucidate later if necessary...

Barb said...

Sorry, but I can't offer anything from a critique point of view as I know nothing about writing for children.

However, as a doting auntie, I would certainly buy this. It would also be such a lovely present for other people's children. I love how tactile it is. What a wonderful book!

Melinda Szymanik said...

The picture book itself looks great and its nifty to tie it in with the whole crafty side of things. My children loved lift the flap books of all kinds. Nannas would love it and they are so often the book buyers for the very young.

The letter itself seemed way too long ( I stopped reading before the end)and it seemed odd to open by telling them what you planned to tell them. Thats a whole paragraph used up already on introducing the rest of the letter.

I found the letter a bit confusing too. It felt like two query letters in one and I thought it would be better to separate out the pb submission and its associated knitting thing from the non-fiction coloured pencil how-to-draw proposals and give each thing a chance to shine individually.

Best of luck

catdownunder said...

I really like the pictures but I am less sure about the words. They do not, as one small reader, once put it to me, have "bounce" or rhythm.
Nanny doing the knitting is cosy and comfortable but it is also a stereotype. Could someone else make the final suit? It might have even more impact.

Clare said...

My comments come solely as a reader with no specialised knowledge of this field but I agree that the text lacks that special "something". (Sorry, that's not very helpful - it's just that some books, when read aloud, demand to be re-read and re-read and this piece of text, FOR ME, lacked that repeatability.)

I LOVE the illustrations - there's no question of your talent there.

That said, I thought Eddy looked very familiar because the concept of the worn teddy has been used many times - currently there are many Tatty Teddy look-alikes in the shops, some of whom come with their own knitting patterns.

Your illustrations look very professional so I'm sure you'll find a market for your talent - good luck!

Jane Smith said...

I love the illustrations which have been shown here, and bet that publishers will see them and want them. They are just delightful.

The query letter, though, went on far too long and wasn't focused enough. Too much incidental detail, too much rambling round the houses, and not enough about the book.

I hope that Beverley isn't upset by my comments. I'm sure she's aware just how much effort it's taken her, over years, to become such an excellent illustrator; well, that same amount of work is required to become a good writer and I don't think she's there yet.

I'm with Nicola: Beverley should present herself as an illustrator. If a publisher takes her on then it will pair her with a writer and all will be well.

I look forward to seeing the resulting book on the shelves because those illustrations are just gorgeous.

Elen Caldecott said...

I agree with the comments so far both about the lovely illustrations and the text being a bit flat.
I just have a question about your format. I just want to check that by 16-page book, you mean a single signature, so you have room for all the added extras. I'm sure you know about this, it's just more usual to tell an agent/editor how many words your picture book is, not how many pages it has, as that is the publisher's decision.

Anna Bowles said...

Hi Beverley,

I’ve worked as an in-house editor on touch and feel (amongst other things) so I’m very familiar with this kind of project. Here’s a list of my reactions; they are broadly negative I’m afraid but please consider this less as discouragement and more as a list of insider tips for reference on future projects.

* Concept-wise, it’s a clear a rip-off of the Usborne ‘That’s not my..’ series.

* It’s not really clear what age it’s aimed at. As another commenter says, touch and feel is generally for very, very young children, but the ‘knitting a suit’ concept is several years older and the presentation - an old-style teddy bear on blank white instead of kid-friendly bright colours – reminds me more of an adult nostalgia or how-to book.

* As touch and feel, the book would be impossible to produce for two reasons. Touch and feel is expensive to make – someone, probably at a printworks in China, has to stick it together by hand – and Eddie’s suit covers half the page. The publisher will want to have the material area as small as possible to save money. The other issue is safety – there are dozens of safety restrictions on what you can put in books that are likely to be chewed by very young children, and feathers and wool will fall foul (to be safe, it must be impossible for the child to detach anything from the page).

* As a lift-the-flap book, each page is too samey – the same illustration and the same action. That said, having the same flap on every page makes the book cheaper to produce, but there would need to be a really clever justification for it. Also, parents want to feel they’re getting as much for their money as possible, and a repeated illustration doesn’t imply value for money.

* In order to justify the expensive set-up costs for a novelty print run, a publisher will want to print as many books as possible. They generally do this by printing, say, a series of half-a-dozen books at once. So there would need to be five (complementary yet diverse) companion books to make Eddy affordable.

* Because of all the above, publishers almost never take on novelty book ideas from outside. Almost invariably they will decide what kind of format, age group and price point they want a book to have, then commission someone to illustrate it. The writing is likely to be done by the editors to save money (many thousands of copies of mine are out there on just this anonymous basis).

So… while your dummy does have its charms (Eddy himself!), there are too many practical obstacles for the project to be viable. I’m afraid I think you will be wasting your time if you try to sell it. (I hate writing that! But I hate seeing talented people charge up blind alleys too.)

What you could do, if you really do want to work on novelty books for this age group, is have a think about the format requirements I’ve listed above (the ‘That’s not my…’ series is the gold standard; every page is so different, and yet so reliably the same) and produce some sample illustrations that meet them, then submit them as part of your portfolio to an agent. If you can show you understand the format, then along with your illustration talent that should put you in a strong position to get commissions.

OK, I’m off before I start thinking I should be trying to buy the Pen2Publication: Novelty Department franchise rights! I can see from some of the comments here that it’s not something everyone knows about – I even have to contradict Nicola and say this is, in technical publishing terms, definitely not a picture book. A “picture book” or “picture flat” is the standard 16-page narrative-and-illustrations format. Anything with, so to speak, bits stuck on is known as a ‘novelty book’ or by the name of the format, such as ‘lift the flap’.

Anonymous said...

Well, first, Anna seems to have the depressing habit of knowing what she's talking about, so I'd be guided by her. (And Anna: has anyone done the Talking Heads version of a 'This is not my ... ' book?)

But second, I've spent the past few years reading way, way too many children's book to my kid. And maybe the text is flat and doesn't scan, but it's easily as good as 90% of the stuff we've bought. I always read -about- the crystalline perfection required to sell a picture book, but haven't seen much evidence of this is the bookstore.

3+ is way too old, though.

And your letter is ungodly long.

Dear Agent:

Eddy is a favourite teddy, cuddled so often his fur became patchy and worn, so his owner decides to make him a new suit.

The reader lifts the flaps to discover what suit Eddy is wearing. The bubble wrap suit is, ‘too spongy and squishy’; the holly leaves suit is ‘too prickly and spiky’, and the silver foil suit ‘too shiny and crinkly’.

None are right until the last flap, when he receives a very special woolen suit. (Nanny? I'm USian, but that reads v. strange to me.)

I'm a founder member of the UK Coloured Pencil Society, and the author of The Complete Guide to Coloured Pencil Techniques (David and Charles 2003). I've also written articles for The Artist, The Leisure Painter, and The Artist and Illustrator magazines.

Eddy’s New Suit (207 words) is a lift-the-flap novelty book.

With regards

Beverley Johnston


Proe

Thomas Taylor said...

I agree that the letter is too long, and the story a little flat. However, despite that last point, I don't think you would be wasting your time submittimg this because it still serves as a showcase for your very finished illustration style.

As a picture book illustrator, I've often been told by publishers 'don't worry about the words, we'll help with those, just get the concept and pictures right'. I won't pretend this is a good thing though.

Nicola Morgan said...

Thomas - as a picture book illustrator, you wouldn't have to worry about the words, because in that context you're not the writer. However, Beverley is offering this as writer-illustrator. My strong recommendation is that she needs either to submit her illustrations (along with some others from different ideas) as an illustrator, or get the book concept and words really strong.

Anna - thank you for all the important information. Don't worry, having worked myself on novelty books and several types of book for young children, I know the difference, but "picture book" is the generic term I wanted in this context, without going into the details (which you so neatly and corectly did). I'm a writer and I wanted to focus on the words as a story that would work for young children, whether novelty or pic.

Beverley - are you out there?! The consensus is that you're a really talented illustrator, but that the words need work (and you need to acquire knowledge about acceptable formats and processes for books for the very young) if this is to work as your book. Does this make sense? We love your pictures!

Beverley said...

Hi Nicola!

I'm out here! And I'm so overwhelmed (in a positive way!!)

To be featured on your blog is a tremendous boost to my confidence. It's a strange feeling, being 'exposed' in this way, but how else would I know if what I'm trying to achieve is indeed, achieveable?

All the comments are SO welcomed. I will sit down and digest them all over the next few days, and take everything on board.

But I'm sitting here with a grin on my face because my work is at least being 'seen' by people other than close friends and family!

Thomas Taylor said...

Just to clarify, I was talking about projects when I was both author and illustrator. the point being that in some picture books the concept and visual style of the book can be more important than the finish of the text, at least in the minds of some editors. If Beverley's idea was a 'wow!' concept with a fresh new illustration style, I'm sure an editor would be prepared to help with the prose.