Monday, September 21, 2009

Shorter, Longer, and Never

Say a person has a fun middle grade book, but decided to break it into many picture books instead. Both make the author happy. The author isn't sure which format would make agents and publishers happy. Should author mention it in any way in a query? Like..."This picture book is first in series of many episodes with this character..." in hopes that they could assume it could be changed into a chapter book? Probably not, right?
I can't quite get past your first sentence.
You broke your middle grade manuscript into many picture book manuscripts?

Point 1. Picture books are not just shorter.
They're for a younger audience. Which means the writing and pacing and voice are different. I got a picture book manuscript just last week that clearly had chapter book voice and pacing. The author wanted to do a series of picture books. I said no, and I wondered if the author knew how to write for either age group, since she doesn't seem to see a difference between them.

Point 2. Middle grade books are not just longer.
If your middle grade book was that easily chopped up into picture book-length stories, it must have been a hell of an episodic book-- a collection of short stories, in fact, rather than a cohesive narrative.

Obviously, I can't tell for sure about your work, since I haven't read it. But from this description, I would have strong doubts about it working as a picture book or as a middle grade novel. Take it from me, they are not equal possibilities for anyone's manuscript. One or the other age group is going to work better, and you will be a stronger writer when you figure out which one.

8 comments: said...

Speaking of age-appropriate writing, would you consider running through the age/book categories in current "children's books" publishing? The two you did in this post are helpful.

I have just come upon your wonderfully honest and insightful blog, but I am unsure what age-groups publishing you work with. As an editor, do you work with MG or YA?

Christine Tripp said...

Writing for a PB is not as simple as just chopping up a MG novel (or, as some might think, dumbing it down, shudder!)
It's like saying to an author, just add some MORE words and make your MG a YA! PB authors are keenly aware of the illustration and how much of the story the art will tell. MG chapter books are not written with that other author (the illustrator) in mind. I hate when it's assumed that, by "shortening" a manuscript, it becomes a PB. It implies PB's are at the low end of the totem pole.
I will not say it has never been done, but it is not as simple as leaving out words here and there. Unless the chapter book missed the mark on it's intended age group, most times it would require a complete rewrite to address a younger crowd, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

What about the reverse? Although I'm not the person with the original question, my husband and I co-write books. We recently attended a conference where a picture book editor suggested we extend the manuscript to a Chapter book. She had some very positive things to say, but does not handle chapter books. Is that a "nice blow-off" when a professional makes such a suggestion?

Thank you for your time and consideration.

nw said...

When an editor suggests turning a picture book into a chapter book (or anything into anything else), what she means is that, in her opinion, you are going for the wrong audience and your topic, tone, treatment or whatever would be more suitable in a different form.

That doesn't mean she's right, or that other editors may not disagree. I've had editors tell me to extend a picture book because they thought it was more appropriate for older readers, and then had a different editor buy the ms. as a picture book.

But that sort of advice is different from the questioner, who thinks the same book would work just fine as either a picture book or MG.

Nancy Coffelt said...

Thank you for talking about the pacing of PBs. For me it's hands down the hardest part of writing the blasted things.

And Christine, I completely agree with you about PB authors keeping (or should be keeping) the illustrations in mind. You still need to show; don't tell-but you also have to make sure you're leaving plenty of that "show" for the illustrator.

I'm wishing my word verification was a real word: calickle

Maybe I'll write a PB using nothing but word verification prompts.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I've been imagining some of my favorite MGs broken up into picture books...

The Book of Three?
The Dark is Rising?

heck, for less darkness...

I can't even imagine how making chapters into PBs would WORK. Unless by PB you meant a "graphic novelization released in a serial format before eventually being bound and sold together......"

Sigh. Questions like this always make me want to tell the author to spend some serious time READING.

Though, I have to admit that these days, at least in the library, the line between MG and YA is pretty fuzzy. In fact, Jessica Day George's Dragon series is in BOTH sections! As is a lot of Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley.......

Anonymous said...

Forgive me for going off-topic, but I kind of agree with GhostFolk...a refresher on different types of books and their target audience would be nice here. Particularly with regards to easy reader books (is that even what you call them?) vs. chapter books vs. middle grade. I'm wondering if a current project of mine (a middle grade novel) might do with a rewrite to shape it into more of a chapter book for a younger audience, but I'm finding so little information out there on writing chapter books. Maybe this isn't an area that you work in, but help for the perplexed would be great!

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