Friday, January 21, 2011

Writing Picture Books Tips From Rubin Pfeffer at East/West Literary

I recently had the good fortune to attend a workshop at the Florida SCBWI conference led by Rubin Pfeffer. The workshop was called, "The Art (or Science) of Picture Book Submission."

Mr. Pfeffer started by telling us it's a tough market for picture books. One reason is the number and quality of good chapter books. Kids are simply graduating to chapter books earlier, which is why editors are looking for brief picture books written for the very young.

Mr. Pfeffer shared a story about a picture book he recently sold called A PRESENT FOR MILO. After he made the rounds of New York houses, he simply could not sell this book. Because Mr. Pfeffer is a champion of e-publishing, he had an "app" made of A PRESENT FOR MILO. The electronic version led to a print book deal. He opened my eyes to the possibility of a print and e-version actually complementing each other.

The following list is the criteria Mr. Pfeffer uses to evalutate picture book submissons. He credits the list to his dear friend, Andrea Welch at Beach Lane Books. A manuscript doesn't need all of these, but it should have several of them.

1. Who is the manuscript for? Is there a clear audience?
2. Is the manuscript emotionally engaging?
3. Does it meet a special childhood emotional need?
4. Is there a highly creative concept, structure, or execution?
5. Does the manuscript use clever, evocative language?
6. Is there a compelling narrative arc?
7. Does the manuscript have strong pacing? Fun page turns?
8. Wordcount...Keep it down! Has the author left enough room for the illustrator to bring it to life?
9. Are the characters memorable and relatable?
10. Is it a story kids will want to hear again and again?

I was thrilled to meet Mr. Pfeffer, and proud that I'm represented by his partner at East/West Literary, Mary Grey James.

I'd love to hear if these tips help with your picture book submissions. Happy Writing!


  1. Great list, Shannon. Thanks for sharing. It's always good to have another way to check our work, especially in this tight pb market. Best wishes to you on your own writing and submissions.

  2. Thanks, Evelyn. I could use a dose of good luck and I'm wishing you the same.

  3. Great post Shannon. A good reminder of what our picture book manuscripts need.

  4. Thanks! Mr. Pfeffer was very interesting, especially his take on how electronic publishing can complement traditional routes rather than replace it.

  5. I receive so many picture book submissions that I love, yet there is an equal number that fall far short of what I'd call "engaging."

    I wish all writers, editors, and publishers considered this list!

  6. You're exactly right. The list gives me clear guidelines to aspire to!

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