Pitch Pick # 6 and Oh, Susanna – How Does A PB author Know How Much "Space" To Leave The Illustrator?

Oh, Happy Monday!

It’s March!  So even if we’re at the in-like-a-lion stage, spring is beginning to feel like a possibility 🙂  Here’s a little something to get you thinking spring 🙂

google images

Today, fun of fun, we have the February Pitch Pick to determine which of our talented writers will get to have her pitch sent to editor Erin Molta for critique!

A little refresher:

#1  Dede

Working Title: Summer of ’71
Age/Genre: MG
The Pitch:  When eleven-year old Fiona peered through the broken slat of the caretaker’s shed at the back corner of the West End Cemetery, the last thing she expected to see was a girl about her own age, asleep on the dirt floor. Thus begins an unlikely friendship that carries them through a summer of bullies, a best friend’s betrayal, and a life-changing tragedy. 

#2  Sarah

Working Title: Starstruck
Age/Genre: YA
Pitch: Seventeen year old Katie literally stumbles into Matt’s life one icy January morning. Within two months they’re friends, and in three, they’re dating. But there’s a snag. Matt is a movie star and teenage heart-throb. Katie’s living the dream that every other girl her age has, but the dazzle of having a famous boyfriend only lasts so long. How will Katie cope when the line between dream and nightmare becomes blurred? 

#3  Sharron

Working Title: Sorrysorrysorry
Age/Genre: Early PB (ages 2-5)
The Pitch:  Three frolicking baby giraffes try to find a place to play on a hot and crowded savannah. They find it isn’t an easy task. They run into a troop of baboons, a dazzle of zebras, and a pride of lions. At last, they turn to the river, only to be confronted by hippopotami. Our giraffes find fun and friendship at the end of a long a grueling day.

#4  Jennifer R

Working Title:  The Birthday Bash
Age/Genre: PB (ages 6-8)
The Pitch:  It’s Sylvia’s birthday tomorrow and Stan and Louie have a big surprise party planned. With hilarity and hi-jinks the two raccoons search for Sylvia’s favorite foods in the forest, garages and backyard patios. Will they find what they’re looking for or will the birthday party be a bust?

#5  Jennifer Y

Working Title:  Planet Vacation
Age/Genre: Picture Book (ages 4-8)
The Pitch:  Rose takes a vacation to visit the planets.  Will she get a chance to rollerblade on the rings of Saturn and scuba dive for starfish on Jupiter or will her trip be nothing like she dreamed?
A tough choice as always, made tougher by the fact that February, although a short month, managed to have 5 Wednesdays!
Please cast your vote for the best pitch in the poll below by Wednesday March 7 at 11:59 PM EST.  That way I can announce the winner on Friday after Perfect Picture Books 🙂

<a href=”http://polldaddy.com/poll/5999890/”>Pitch Pick #6</a>
Moving right along, we also have an Oh, Susanna question today.
Darshana asks,
I am a pre-published PB author still learning her craft.
I keep hearing to leave enough “space” for the illustrator to do their job.
In other words, don’t overwrite.
How do you make that call when you are writing your MS.

For example:

“Jay .. ” sighed Mr. Martin. “You could have entered the Academy. You’ll have to wait until next year to try out again.”

Jay’s head dropped and his feathers dropped.   <<< is this needed in text or do I leave it for the illustrator to show?

Teary-eyed, Jay flew away to the coast.
Another excellent question!
A picture book is supposed to be a marriage of words and art.  The author should tell half the story, and the illustrator should tell the other half.  This means that, unless it is absolutely crucial to the plot for some reason (as in Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse) you do not need to say that the MC is wearing a red coat, or that her hair is blond, or his dad drives a Chevy.  Leave those details to the illustrator’s imagination.
That said, there are some things which are crucial on first reading (for the editor and illustrator to imagine) that can later be cut from the text once they’ve done their job – i.e. once the illustrator has shown it.  An example, from Can’t Sleep Without Sheep, was that in the original ms it said “The hippos waddled forward.  ‘We’re going to need a crane,’ said the sheep.  “This could take a while.'”  Once Mike had drawn the crane, we didn’t need that sentence anymore and were able to go to the funnier, “The hippos waddled forward.  ‘This could take a while,’ said the sheep.”
Another option, to be used sparingly because most editors and illustrators don’t like it, is to include art specs.  This should only be done when something specific HAS to be drawn to make the story work, or when the text is so spare that the reader won’t know what you intend without the art notes.  For example, the text of No Dogs Allowed.  If you scroll down that link on Linda Ashman’s page, you can click on the actual manuscript and see how she did it.
But ultimately, it is your job as author to use the strongest nouns and verbs you can, so that your intent is crystal clear without having to explain.
In your example above, I don’t think you need the part you asked about.  If you go straight from “try again” to “Teary-eyed, Jay flew away…”, you have clearly indicated his sadness with “teary-eyed”and an illustrator is likely to pick up on that and paint his dejection.
But this is where picture books are different from every other genre.  The illustrator might paint something else.  And it might be just as good as what you intended, or even better!
So your job is to tell the story and let the illustrator draw it.
And be forewarned that when your book arrives in proof form, it may not be quite what you expected, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great!
Anyone else who has submitted mss, please chime in with your thoughts.  And illustrators too – what do you like to see?

67 thoughts on “Pitch Pick # 6 and Oh, Susanna – How Does A PB author Know How Much "Space" To Leave The Illustrator?

  1. Rosalind Adam says:

    I agree with everything you've said about words and illustrations working together to tell the story but I have to say that I do submit picture book manuscripts with illustration guidelines. It was something that was recommended to me when I went on a training course and have never heard anyone advising us not to include these guidelines. This could be why I'm getting a lot of rejections at the moment. Thanks for making me think about this.

  2. Tracy Bermeo says:

    As usual, I was torn between two great pitches, but alas I did vote. Susanna, as always, your advice is so helpful. I'll just keep telling myself nouns and verbs, nouns and verbs.

  3. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Thanks for voting, Tracy! And I'm glad if anything I say is helpful 🙂 It's really true – strong nouns and verbs are where it's at! Why say “he ran” if you can say “he raced” “he dashed” “he sprinted” or “he loped” and convey so much more?

  4. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    That is very interesting, Rosalind! Thank you for sharing. Like I said, I also have heard that some editors actually prefer art specs. I guess, like so many other things, it's a question of knowing which editors like what!

  5. Stacy S. Jensen says:

    I finally voted! I hope my vote counts. It's still Super Tuesday (even though we're not part of the contest) here in Colorado. I appreciate the point about some words might be cut during the illustration process. O Susanna is much appreciated no matter what time of the week I read it. Thanks.

  6. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Thanks, Satcy, for voting and for your kind comments about Oh Susanna – I'm so glad if it's helpful. And don't worry – when the poll closes you won't be able to vote – it shuts down – so as long as it is letting you vote, your vote counts 🙂

  7. Robyn Campbell says:

    Ack! I have had so much trouble commenting here. I voted on Monday and then later thought I forgot to comment. It isn't your fault. It is Firefox. Double ACK! I'm finally here. I wanted to tell you how helpful your comment to Darshana was to folks. I know I have struggled with this. (Have I told you this before?) Thanks. Hugging you. 🙂

  8. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    It's partly about feel, Ishta, which is very hard to explain. But don't worry – the more you write the more you'll get it. When I first started writing PBs my mss routinely came it at 2000 words (that will show you how much extra telling was involved!) and now even my first drafts are rarely over 700-800 tops – big progress for me – and usually are under 600 🙂 But this is an area where I think having critique partners or beta readers can really help you. Have someone who knows nothing about your story read your ms and then ask – what do you feel here? what do you visualize there? If they say what you intended, then you've done your job. If they totally don't get it, you may need to rework – but try to get a couple different people's opinions first – one is not a good research sample 🙂 Also (and I'm sure you've heard this before!) study the masters. Look at Jane Yolen, Kevin Henkes, Mo Willems, etc. and try to see how they do it. I hope that helps a little.

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