I have heard the BIG question posed at EVERY writer's conference I have been to that included picture books.
I have been asked the BIG question numerous times by many aspiring authors and illustrators and never really had a good answer because it is subjective and depends on the editor in question.
I have however answered it before after hearing an agent say, "It is much easier for an editor to dismiss the work if they like the illustration but not the story or vice-versa. It is just simply easier to reject it and move on to the other thousand submissions. Poor pity for the really awesome story that never gets a chance because the illustration just isn't up to snuff..." I even heard an editor say, "How does one accept you and reject your spouse or best friend? Just easier not to hassle with it. There are too many people competing for the same prize. Sometimes it is much easier to find what should be rejected than what I am going to spend the next two years trying to sell."
Okay, that makes a lot of sense, "BUT MY PROJECT IS UNIQUE AND DIFFERENT! SURELY THIS DOESN'T APPLY TO ME?!"
Thursday night, the best answer in my estimation to the BIG question was given by an editor who really, really, really knows her stuff. After all, she is largely responsible for the other two guests joining a very enviable and elusive club of people: those who have won the coveted Newbury and Caldecott. Dinah Stevenson, VP and Publisher of Clarion Books, a division of Houghton Mifflin, was asked the BIG question after Linda Sue Parks and David Weisner gave excellent presentations about the process of taking their ideas through many drafts, false starts and successes to becoming very enjoyable, readable, interesting and exciting books (see Weisner's video below and get yourself a signed copy of his new book ART AND MAX at The Tattered Cover! It is an awesome book and will surely secure Weisner the fourth Caldecott, you heard it here first!)
SO, at the Tattered Cover near my home twenty three of us (three of us being Tattered Cover employees) sat listening to a Newbury winner, a three time, record setting Caldecott winner and Dinah Stevenson, editor for both of them. HOW FORTUNATE FOR THE FEW OF US WITHIN SPITTING DISTANCE TO GET TO ASK MORE THAN ONE QUESTION AND HAVE PERSONAL INTERACTION WITH THESE THREE GIANTS OF OUR WRITING COMMUNITY.
(Now, allow me a slight aside)
MY BIG QUESTION THAT NIGHT WAS; "My gosh, where is everyone?" I mean if an Oscar or Emmy winner was there FOR FREE to mingle with, the place would be packed and jammed tight. Here we were truly in the presence of a sort of genius in all three panel members and it was largely ignored? Well, as my mother used to say when I turned up my nose to something I now would give my eye teeth to have for dinner, "Oh well, good, there is just more for the rest of us!"
(Even though I was taking notes on my ipad during the night, I did not transcribe the specific conversation, therefore allow for the fact that what I say was said, just not exact. I am not in the business of putting words into other's mouths... wait, that is my business, but only in my fiction...)
When asked the inevitable BIG question, "Is it a good idea for an author to send his or her manuscript with illustrations?" Dinah, David and Linda Sue Parks glanced at each other with a look of knowing. Dinah said, "No! One of the biggest thrills I get as an editor is marrying my image of who would best represent the author on paper, and the discovery process is what I love. It is FUN to watch the process..." The persistent person with the question (with an obvious agenda, in that she probably already had her sister-in-law, colleague or someone else take a stab at illustration or had done it herself) asked again, "What if the author illustrates it?" Dinah said something like, "Well if one has the talent to do both, then of course, but if it isn't the author's illustration I DO NOT recommend sending it with illustration." with a shrug of her shoulder Dinah was ready to move on to the next question.
SO, WAIT, THE EDITOR CONSIDERS IT A LARGE PART OF HER JOB TO BRING NEW VISION TO THE WRITER'S WORDS AND THAT IS WHAT BRINGS HER FUN???? THEN WHY, OH WHY, WOULD I DREAM OF ROBBING HER OF HAVING FUN? AFTER ALL, FUN IS WHY I WRITE! AND FUN IS WHAT I INTEND FOR MY READERS TO READ. WHAT FUN IT IS GOING TO BE WHEN DINAH DISCOVERS THE PICTURE BOOK MANUSCRIPT I'M STUFFING IN AN ENVELOPE ON HER DESK SOON!
By the way, for those of you who are aspiring authors for children's picture books as well as chapter books, here is a nugget of GOLD for you. Dinah Stevenson answered another question posed and her answer brings hope. The question was, "Do you read unsolicited manuscripts?" Dinah said, "Clarion is one of the very few publishers who read EVERY manuscript sent in. Linda Sue Park was plucked from the slush pile!" Did I mention Linda Sue Park won the NEWBURY???? I am sending Dinah a manuscript on Monday...
What will you do next?