My second SCBWI meeting here in Auckland proved to be very interesting, even with a TV monitor silently going, I found our guest, Christine Dale of Dahl Design captivating, giving insight into what publishers want from a writer, offering titbits, laugh out loud moments, examples and along with regular interaction with Frances, proving that not only were they long time work mates but friends as well, made this a very enjoyable afternoon.
Having driven across the shore on what was one of our best days, weather wise we had had for the past week, I parked down the road from the library, walked in to find the sun streaming in the windows and Frances and our guest speaker Christine already chatting away. After setting up. Frances opened the meeting with the usual formalities and then introduced Christine. For the past 25 years Christine had worked as Production Manager and then as Publishing Manger for Scholastics Publishing, and in 2005 founded the Dahl Design in order to provide diagrams for Scholastic’s history series. With the Dahl Design, and after retiring from Scholastics, she now designs for publication, specialising in picture books, among other things, holds workshops, mentoring and assessments on manuscripts ready for publishing.
I was grateful that she managed to answer all questions including mine, such as what makes an eye catching cover letter. Christine explained that one should state where the idea came from, for if your manuscript is felt worthy of selling to a publisher, it is how you came by the idea that she would use to sell it, and if it is based on true events this is also a big plus. Your story should be charged with emotion, amusing, strange, and eyeball, edgy, giving the publisher information and grit from which to market the story. It is the sale line, the buying line….the idea from which the story came from,(confirming what I have heard before), never stating you have a series, as a publisher usually wants only to sign up for one and lastly, make it clear and to the point in three paragraphs. Roughly … Hi, how it came about, …What it is, resources to compare by etc……. And hope you liked it, contact info etc.
Emphasising strongly that the first page of a story should hook the reader, there is no need to be descriptive as the reader is not needing to know what is in a room or what the view is like. Remembering that you are writing for a child be it age 2 years or 10years, they are more interested in the story. The story must have action and move right from the first page. Characters need to be involved providing fodder for illustrations. As Christine so rightly puts it…selling a children’s book is so much harder than an adults, as before a children’s book gets into the hands of its reader it has to be sold to an adult. When you think about it, the journey it takes from writer, to editor, agent, illustrator, publisher, distributor, and to the bookshop, to the buyer … the parent, each one has to like and want your book, before it gets into the hands of the intended reader… the child.
During her talk with us there were many interesting insights that I was unaware of. While I know one must never give up on your manuscript just because it had been refused, and reasons could be that a publisher may have already one of similar storyline already being distributed, or that they were not looking for that type of theme at that given time, there was also the financial viability involved and a publisher would often go for the least requirements, bells and whistles, needed to sell the book. From the time a contract is signed to the actual completion of the book, be prepared to listen and learn as not always what you perceive the illustrations or the finished product to look like, the style, amount of text, page breaks, information on jacket flaps, indeed even the finished product will have changed many times, before it is ready for the bookstores.
I was taken aback by the difference between New Zealand and American publishing criteria. One of our writers shared that her book originally had children playing with metal objects creating musical sounds, but this was not acceptable by American publishers as it was deemed children could hurt themselves, so the objects had to be plastic and hence the story altered slightly. In New Zealand it is normal for children to run around in bare feet while it is a no, no, in the American publishing world,, and in England they will often use animals as the protagonist, so as to avoid worrying about whether a child had shoes on or not, or whether it would hurt itself. Also the same with lollies as it was regarded as unhealthy, one writer shared that in her storyline, a lolly was stuck in the false teeth, but the sweet had to be changed to a healthier substitute, so as not to encourage children to eat so many lollies. So one must always be aware of what criteria may need to be included and be prepared for changes. In New Zealand we pride ourselves on our multicultural influence, but so often it can be overlooked when writing or illustrating children’s books. Surprisingly it is the children who pick it up. We were told of a story of the television add for walk timers that were being given to schools as a promotion for this product. When a child of ethnic background was asked if he wanted one he pointed to the add stating that he did not think he was allowed one as there was no coloured child in the add. How could we have not seen this oversight, therefore we must always be aware how a child would react, feel and think about our writing, our illustrations. The words LISTEN and LEARN rang clear as Christine continued.
Once a book has been published, there is no doubt there is more work to be done. Be prepared and willing to go anywhere, schools, radio interviews, stores etc…. and keep WRITING…
The meeting finished with Frances touching on my impending visit to the 40th SCBWI in LA. She attended two years ago and found it all inspiring and overwhelming, the size of the American publishing world. There is lots to listen and learn and glean from, so relax have fun, enjoy…… oh and grab the flyers, you never know where one could lead to….
This is Christine’s website….http://www.dahldesign.co.nz/ , as I said before, this was a thoroughly interesting afternoon that gave me a lot to think about, in persuing my dream as a writer.