Saturday, July 25, 2015

Kidlit Summer School!

Have you heard about Kidlit Summer School? If not you should head on over! This summer they're focusing on plot. You need to register to join. But it's free! The faculty is amazing you'll definitely want to check out what they're offering.

Besides some amazing authors and illustrators, editors and agents are participating. I know it's short notice but my fabulous agent, Sean McCarthy will be doing a pitch critique session on Monday. You have to register by tomorrow morning to participate live (sorry for the short notice!) but by it looks like you can still listen in if you register later. Sean gives the best advice and you can learn a lot by listening to pitch critiques so I highly recommend taking part if you at all can!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

How to Format Illustration Notes

I recently talked about illustration notes and when you should and shouldn’t use them. Today I’m going to share with you how to format those notes. But first, some rules:

·         Keep your notes simple
·         Do your best to make your illustration notes flow with the story so you don’t interrupt the text
·         Don’t use colored text for your illustration notes (or any of your manuscript for that matter)
·         Revise, edit, and proofread your notes as you do the rest of your manuscript. This includes reading them out loud
·         Never use illustration notes to dictate anything that isn’t crucial to your story. Ever. The illustrator is a partner in your book and will put their creativity to work from what your story brings to their mind. You have to trust in this

Okay, no matter how much we writers try not to use them, sometimes illustration notes are necessary. You definitely want them to be formatted in an easy to read and understand way. They shouldn't take center stage or be overpowering. They should be there because they must.

There are a few ways that I have formatted illustration notes in my picture book manuscripts. Almost every time I simply put them in italic parenthesis in line with the text like this: (Illustration note: Jim is a dog.) Placement is important. You want to put the note by the text that the illustration needs to make clear but you don't want to break a sentence or paragraph up and make it choppy. I usually opt to place the note at the end of the paragraph.

When I’ve had manuscripts that contain italicized thoughts I have bolded my illustration notes instead of italicizing. This seemed to not be too overpowering since there were only a couple of notes amongst a lot of text. I suppose you could use ALL CAPS if you wanted as well but I suspect that might be a bit overpowering. Take a look at overall manuscript and decide on how it works best aesthetically. 

If you have one overall illustration note for the story that needs to be told a good place to put it is right up at the top right corner header on your manuscript under your word count. (If you don't know how to format a picture book go here.) I have seen it said to put the note in your cover letter but if readers need to know that information for your story to work (which I assume they do otherwise you shouldn’t be using the note) you want it on that manuscript. Things get separated, may not be read at the same time, etc.

Of course you could use other words besides "Illustration note" such as Illustration suggestion, Art or Art note. You could use [brackets] instead of parenthesis. The basics are not too big of a deal. What is important is how and when you choose to use illustration notes. Choose wisely! Any questions?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Using Illustration Notes in Picture Book Manuscripts

             You may have heard that using illustration notes in your picture book manuscript is a big no no. Why? Illustration notes can get a bad rap when writers are too heavy handed and try to dictate illustrations. The thing is, picture books are a visual medium. While it is best to use none or as few illustration notes as possible there can definitely be things conveyed in your story by the illustrations that aren’t part of the text. Sometimes, as writers, we have to give a clue as to what is happening in the story when it can’t be taken from the words. So when is it okay to use illustration notes?

When something critical to the storyline happens that is not evident in the text. This means that if an agent, editor, or illustrator is reading your manuscript that the image your words will bring to mind is different or even opposite of what you have said.

For example: You’re text says, “Meredith put the book back nicely onto the shelf.” But really, Meredith does not put the book onto the shelf nicely at all because there’s going to be a catastrophic book pile up that comes crashing down and it is all Meredith’s fault. Perhaps this scenario could use an illustration note. Perhaps! It depends on what else you have happening in the story.

Or maybe Jake put his very best clothes on because he has something important to do, but yikes! He has put on two different colored socks and is going to be very embarrassed when he sits down for his recital and people start to laugh. He doesn’t know that his socks are two different colors, so the text doesn’t say it. This might be a good place for a note, depending on how the story unfolds, of course.

I used an illustration note in my manuscript for Bedtime Monster because Dad being a bit of a monster himself wasn't evident in the text. At all. Would the editor and illustrator have known that (spoiler alert!) dad had a tail at the end of the story? Definitely not. I put in a very simple, straight to the point note: (Illustration note: Dad has a tail.)

Some of my picture book manuscripts have a lot going on visually that is not hinted to in the text so, yes, they are a bit illustration note heavy. This has been fine with my agent and with editors. They need to see a complete story and sometimes I need illustration notes to make the story complete. Others of my manuscripts have no illustration notes at all. The story doesn't need them. Each manuscript is different. You have to choose what is right for each one.

  • Hint: Let the manuscript with notes rest. Read it through without the notes. Do you still see places you need them? If not then take them out. Read the manuscript with the notes. Are they 100% necessary? If not, cut them. Be brutal!
  • Another hint: Have your illustration notes critiqued right along with your story. It can be eye opening to have someone who is not close to your story as you are give their opinion on your notes.

No matter what, I work just as hard on my illustration notes as I do the rest of my manuscript. I revise and edit them, putting them to the same rigorous test as I do the rest of my words. You should too.

For do's and don'ts and how to format notes in your manuscript click here!