Thursday, January 21, 2010

Michael Stearns- He Had Me at Hello

Okay, not sure why I am so obsessed with Michael Stearns.

1) I already have a literary agent. And a good one at that.
2) I already have a husband. No complaints about him either.

But I am totally in love with this guy's article on Agenting Picture Books.

I want to send it all my talented writer friends. Not to mention all the people out there who think that just because they were once a kid and they know how to form sentences that they are qualified to write a picture book.

Michael Stearns captures it brilliantly:

A really great picture book is a difficult art to pull off. I’m deadly serious when I use the word “art” here. That’s how I view a great picture book. It is about grace and the right words in the right place—much more akin to poetry than mere storytelling.

He goes on to explain:

It is rarely obvious in a well-written picture book draft what, exactly, is missing. The prose may read well enough, the story may have a beginning, a middle, an end. The punctuation may be in all the right places. The images called to mind may be original and fun. And yet, something about the manuscript is off. Perhaps the concept isn’t quite “there.”

So in some cases, the agent reads the manuscript, ponders it, sets it aside to marinate. Comes back to it a week later, rereads it, ponders it, makes a few notes. Keeps doing this until something unlocks. Because seeing the “fix” that will give a good manuscript heart, or finding a way to cut out half the words without cutting out the soul of the story—is hard work.

So, if you don't LOVE picture books. If you don't enter a bookstore and head directly to the PB section (without your kids). If you don't feel like you are destined to write them and no other career could possibly be right for you. Then stick to being a dentist. (Or a fourth grader).

Or pick a different art form.

And if you're looking for an agent (or a husband), head on over and read Michael's article in its entirety. You might fall for him, too.

19 comments:

Rebecca said...

Picture books are an art form. And art is subjective. Which explains why there are so many that I think are awful!

I have read that article in its entirety. Good stuff!

jdcoughlin said...

I don't write picture books, but I love them, especially when they're really cookbooks masquerading as picture books. Those are my favs.
Thanks for pointing out Michael. Great article.

Karen said...

Thanks so much for this post, Corey! Firebrand's definitely on the top of my query list when I start agent submissions.

There's something magical (no other word to describe it) about a PB that works.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Thanks so much for this! I've been a Michael Stearns fan for a while, but I haven't read this article. Can't wait! :-)

Corey Schwartz said...

Cookbooks masquerading as picture books? Hmm... I'll have to be on the lookout for those!

Hilary Wagner ~ Writer said...

Corey,

You are too cute and I'm glad your hub is okay with you "love affair" with Michael Stearns. He clearly knows the publishing industry inside and out and he combines great insight with wit and humor. What could be better??

My debut, Nightshade City, started as a picture book. Two creepy pages in I realized it was going to be a novel. I am NOT a picture book writer. I will leave that to the PB experts--case in point--YOU!!

xoxo -- Hilary

Karen said...

Oops! Thanks for the heads-up, Corey. I actually attended a SCBWI conference last fall right after the switch happened, and one of his Upstart Crow associates attended in his place.

Corey Schwartz said...

Oh, wow! Hilary, that's an interesting story. Would make a great guest post!

Elana Johnson said...

Yeah, I'm with you and MS. I don't think I have the smarts to write PB's.

:)

Katie said...

What a great post! And I have tried to write them but gave up. Novels are MUCH easier.

Kim said...

Oh, I can't wait to read this article. I'm saving it for when the ballerinas are in bed later tonight.

Thanks for sharing!

J.A. Palermo said...

I am totally envious of PB writers. ANd nothing makes me happier than a picture book earworm -- hen I can't get a refrain out of my brain!

Amy Tate said...

I totally relate with this post. The first time I heard Michael speak was at Hollins about three years ago. He was still at Harper Collins back then. He is so brilliant yet at the same time, so "nuts and bolts." I heard him last year in NYC too. However, I wonder what it means when I write middle-grade fiction but STILL hang out in the PB section without my kids. Hmmmm.

taralazar said...

Yes, yes, yes. This article is worth reading over and over again.

Christina Farley said...

Great post. I'll have to check out that link. I've also heard great things about him as an editor.

Lisa and Laura said...

I am not even remotely talented enough to write picture books. A clever story where every word counts? We just took out 12,000 completely useless words from our manuscript. I am so not PB material. But I love reading them!

Shelli said...

he's awesome!

Kelly H-Y said...

Thanks so much for this post and link, Corey!

Kristin said...

I loved this post and his article is great.
I lol'd at your the end of your post. I head straight to the PBs and MGs on date nights w/ my husband (who is a dentist.) ;)