Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Getting Published: Picture Books to YA

As I mentioned last week, at the Virginia Festival of the Book I sat in on a panel titled: Getting Published: Picture Books to YA. The panelists, were authors Laura Rennert (Buying, Training and Caring for Your Dinosaur), Deborah Heiligman (Charles and Emma), Bonnie Doerr (Island Sting), Emily Ecton(Night of the Living Lawn Ornaments), and Ruth Spiro (Lester Fizz, Bubble-Gum Artist).

Laura Rennert (LR) is an author--AND an agent (in fact she reps one of our very own!) Buying, Training and Caring for your Dinosaur was actually Laura's daughter's wish. Another thing that I thought was really cool about Laura was this: She submitted her manuscript to publishers under a different name--because she didn't want the fact that she's an agent to impact the assessment she received on her work! She only confessed that she was the author when an offer was made on the book! 

Deborah Heiligman(DH)  writes mostly nonfiction and has published 27 books (5 of which are fiction). She got started by writing articles in Scholastic News--she fell in love with writing for kids. She quit when she started her family but continued writing on her own.

Bonnie Doerr (BD) wrote a "tween" novel called Island Sting. Her passion for writing came out of being a reading teacher. She's a nature fanatic and her her novels celebrate caring, involved, “green” teens who take action with attitude and a touch of romance.

Emily Ecton (EE) is a Middle Grade teacher with a degree in playwriting. She's also  a writer and producer for Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!
the NPR news.

Ruth Spiro (RS) started writing in 2001 as a stay at home mom. Her stories have also been published in popular anthologies, notably The Right Words at the Right Time, Volume 2: Your Turn, edited by Marlo Thomas, and several Chicken Soup for the Soul titles.  She especially loves writing for children, and her picture book, Lester Fizz: Bubble Gum Artist, will be published by Dutton.

Just like at the Science Fiction panel, a moderator asked questions and the panelists answered. I have to be honest--I didn't take a ton of notes during this panel. It moved rather quickly and I didn't want to pay attention to what I was writing and miss anything that was shared. But here are the things that I did capture:

QUESTION: What advice do you have for getting published?

LR: Do your homework--present yourself professionally. A good place to do that homework? Publishers Market Place.

BD: Be determined and persistent. Develop thick skin.

DH: Work on your craft. No matter how many contacts you might have in the industry, you still need to write the best book possible.

RS: Get out there as much as possible. Get involved. Go to signings. Meet as many people as you can.

EE: Read in the genre you're trying to write.

QUESTION: Do you need an agent to get published?

LR: Fewer publishing houses are accepting unagented manuscripts these days. Agents help a lot with the editorial/revision process and they have good contacts in the industry--a business that's constantly growing. Agents work not on one book, but on your entire career.

BD: Doesn't have an agent, but wishes she'd had one. She is happy with her publishing company though--she had a lot of say in her book's design.

RS: It is possible to sell without an agent. Especially if you meet editors at conferences--she has a list of editors who are willing to read her work. However, she's thinking about searching for an agent because it's much easier to make writing a career if you have one.

DH: Her agent kicks her butt! Agents are incredible support systems.

QUESTION: Something about Picture Books...

LR: Picture books are created for ages 0-9. Words and pictures play an equal part.  90% of fiction picture book authors have nothing to do with the artwork. Currently, the sweet spot for picture books that are selling are for ages 4-6 (400-1000 words). Picture books say a lot with a little.


Nancy Lamb: The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children (Especially good for word count guidelines.)

Thomas Nelson: Writing a Winning Book Proposal (Click for a free download!)

Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) Website--questions to ask potential agents

Predators and Editors Website


All of the panelists spoke about the benefits to attending conferences. Making contacts in the industry and branching out can really put you on the right track toward publication. Of course, you've got to have a great book too =)

PS I found the images on the authors' webpages!

♥ me


  1. How fun that you got to go to this! I'm a secret admirer of Laura Rennert. She represents three books I absolutely love. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. That sounds like an interesting, informative panel. Thanks for sharing with us!

  3. *sigh* bad news for those of us who don't have the time/money/confidence to go to a conference. :(

  4. Oh, I'm so jealous. How I wish I could do more. I keep thinking I should wait to query until I've gone to a few conferences or to events like this. Ugh, so much uncertainty. But thanks for all the info, chickie. Good stuff.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I live in VA, but didn't find out about this conference until the day of. :(

  6. This post is buried treasure, Sara! Thanks for the fabulous info and for the links. :-)

  7. So much great info in one post! Thanks for the links! Aweomse!

  8. Okay, I KNOW I'm not supposed to be blog hopping, but...but...you had Laura advice on your blog and we all know what a pathetic fangirl I am!!!!! :)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing and um...yeah...Laura wasn't kidding when she talked about agents helping with editorial and revision. Wowza I have some work to do. Diving back in...

  9. I loved this panel! and Deborah and Bonnie were a hoot.

  10. Awesome advice! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Very helpful answers! I'm impressed you managed to take notes at all. Great job :)

  12. So nice of you to share all the bits of wisdom you acquired. Thanks!

  13. awesome info. andn I love the fact that Laura Rennert submitted under a different name!

  14. Hi, Sara-
    I happened upon your blog post and loved reading about our panel! You did a great job of capturing and synthesizing the most important "nuggets" of advice.

    A quick note to those who mentioned the financial barriers to attending conferences: Start by checking out local ones, SCBWI and beyond - many are low-cost or even free. The big ones in LA and NY are pricey, but you can definitely find ones closer to home that may be do-able. Also, scan local newspapers for book signings and other events at bookstores. You never know who you may meet!

    Best wishes for a fun summer!

    Ruth Spiro


Yay! I love when you have things to add :)