A couple of weeks ago, I attended Editor’s Day in Lexington, Kentucky. Editor Maggie Lehrman of Abrams Books gave aspiring authors tips for making a picture book stand out. Ms. Lehrman stressed that an author must find a unique voice when writing a picture book. Voice is a combination of word choice, attitude, point of view and tense. She also mentioned that a picture book should be fun. She suggests reading the text with a kid's perspective. She agrees that it’s not easy (as I and many other writers know) to find a publisher for a picture book. A picture book has to be passionately loved by the entire editorial board, not just the acquisitions editor. On top of that, a picture book has to be marketable.
During the one page critique session, Ms. Lehrman reminded everyone that picture books are for a very young audience, 0 – 6 years old. That means that my picture book Maggie and the Third Grade Blues needs a slight title change. Young readers may not relate well to a third grade character. I’ll also have to tweak the text—just a few words here and there to bring it down to the appropriate age level. Afterward, I hope to send it to Ms. Lehrman at the end of summer. Like many editors, she only takes submissions from conference attendees.
My Editor’s Day experience was amazing and in some ways, very similar to the Editor's Day that I co-hosted two years ago. Both conferences allowed me to get to know the personal preferences of two New York editors—the kinds of books they like to read for fun and the submissions they want to acquire for their publishing houses. I encourage you to consider attending a conference, too. You will learn valuable tips and meet other writers. Moreover, attending a conference will allow your submission to float to the top of the slush pile. It may offer you the opportunity to submit to editors who normally respond only to agented writers.