Hearing industry pros talk about book publishing always proves valuable. Time and again, the news is heartening even if the hurdles are high: Agents, editors, and publishers are all looking for wonderful, page-turning stories that will transport them. Isn’t that what we all want from a book we love?
At a recent panel co-sponsored by The New School and the SCBWI, three children’s book agents offered insights and craft tips we can all use to sharpen our stories:
Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary: To push your manuscript from “good” to “better than good,” you need a strong voice that’s attuned to your readers and strong pacing. Finding a balance between showing and telling is key: Stories with a “telling quality” can create a distance between the reader and the main character. While a story has to keep moving, don’t let pacing get in the way of your story: Create quiet moments where characters can reflect and show their emotions. Frame your chapters with care; use cliff-hanger endings to keep readers asking, “What’s next?”
Heather Alexander, Pippin Properties: Guard against telling readers information they should be able to discover themselves through action and character. Read through your draft with an eye toward eliminating repetition: Readers don’t want to learn the same thing twice. Rhetorical questions often have a hollow ring and rob readers of the chance to ask them on their own.
Alexander Slater, Trident Media Group: Editors buy books when they can’t stop turning the pages. An irresistible first sentence with rhythm and music is worth all the effort it takes to craft. Your opening should be like a short story: It should stand on its own. Every word matters: Be economical and urgent. Engage the reader in the action right away; convey what’s at stake early in the story. Voice is key to a story well told: it expresses originality, sympathy, urgency, desire. Find a voice that’s fresh and unexpected.
A few final tips: Polish and repolish your manuscript until it’s the best you can possibly make it before launching your submissions. Keep your query letter concise: 200 to 250 words. Don’t give your whole plot away, just reveal the first act. And write on!