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Manuscript and Illustrations, Links, Historical Fiction, Computer Illustration, Current Events

The Purple Crayon Blog for October 2005 (#2)

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Manuscript and Illustrations Together

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I am ready to submit my alphabet book to publishers, but am stymied by one thing. I am an artist with a book - but I collaborated with my closest friend on the text. The illustrations were completed first, and then my friend (a writer and lyricist) wrote absolutely charming verses specifically to go with my illustrations. It was a wonderful experience to work together, and the pictures and verses are inseparable. Given that I truly am convinced that this book must be submitted as a package, how do I present this collaboration to a publisher in my cover letter? I've checked so many places, but have been unable to find an answer to this particular dilemma.

Thanks very much for any advice you can give me. I greatly appreciate it!

If you've read the standard advice in this situation, which you will find on my web site on the Basics page, or in reference books such as my Idiot's Guide, you'll know that submitting illustrations and text together can be a bad idea. If you feel that the book must be presented as a whole, send the manuscript and copies of sample illustrations. In your cover letter, state that you are presenting a completed package, and that you will or will not be willing to work with the publisher separately. It's entirely possible that the publisher will like your work, and will want you to illustrate some other book, or will like your friend's writing, but will want to pair it with different illustrations. The two of you should discuss what you would do in one of those situations ahead of time.

Added: I've written an article covering questions from this area, Picture Book Manuscripts and Illustrations.

Some Informative Links

Martha Stewart's Children's Book Show: There was a lot of discussion about the episode of "The Apprentice" that had the contestants make a children's book in 24 hours. I particularly enjoyed the back and forth on the SCBW-I discussion board. To me, this interesting article from Brandweek put the whole thing in perspective.

Reviewers Checklist: From a message from Susan Raab: This is "a new online search database of books for children, teens and families. This one-stop resource provides reviewers, editors, and producers an easy way to locate and request review copies of new and forthcoming titles. Educators, librarians and booksellers are also welcome to browse the site . . . . The books can be searched by topic, author, illustrator and publisher, and cross-referenced by age and grade level. The site provides publishers, authors and illustrators with new ways to get the word out on new and backlist books.

"The site, which is run by Raab Associates, Inc., currently houses more than 8,000 titles from more than 60 publishers, including HarperCollins, Random House, Simon & Schuster, National Geographic, Scholastic and Harcourt. New titles are added weekly."

Talking Books: From a message I received: "Talking Books is a free library service available to eligible individuals of any age whose low vision, blindness, or physical handicap makes reading a standard printed page difficult. Through its national network of cooperating libraries, NLS mails books and magazines on cassette and in braille, as well as audio equipment, directly to enrollees at no cost. Established by an act of Congress in 1931, the talking-books program was created to serve blind adults. It was expanded in 1952 to include children, in 1962 to provide music materials, and again in 1966 to include individuals with physical disabilities that prevent the reading of standard print."

Defining Historical Fiction

I am thinking about writing a middle grade fiction set in a rural farming community in the 1950's. Is this time period considered historical fiction or contemporary fiction?

I understand that I need to do a lot of research for accuracy in terms of what people wore and what kind of technology was or was not available and those types of things. However, I can not find any information that tells about specific places. Does my story have to take place in a real town that actually existed with particular attention to street names and where the school was located or can I invent those details?

As a children's book, a book set during the '50's certainly could be historical fiction. For today's children, a book set during the '80's could be historical fiction, because they have no memory of that time period.

Defining historical fiction can be tricky, though. A book set in the 19th century isn't necessarily historical fiction, if it focuses on a family drama, for example. To my mind, historical fiction brings in the events of the time, at least tangentially. So a book set during the '60's could be a contemporary novel, but if the teenage son of the family across the street goes to Canada to avoid the draft, that might make it historical fiction.

Regardless of whether a story set in the '50's is or is not historical fiction, I think you're right to be concerned to get the details of what life would have been like for your characters correct. In my opinion, you do not need to base the story in a real town. You could if you wanted to, but you don't have to, so long as you do enough research to be confident that the community you invented could have existed as you describe it. That research could include print resources, but talking to people who lived in a town like the one you want to write about could be a great way to get a flavor of life back then.

Good luck,

Illustration and the Computer

I am finding that I like to sketch in my sketch book, then scan the image and add color in the computer, simulating natural media. Do publishers frown on this practice? Is anyone going from 100% paper to a combination of paper and computer?

I have worked with illustrators who are working back and forth between paper and screen. I can't think of any reason not to do it, if the final product is good.

However, you might want to post your question on an illustrator's listserv or in the illustrator section of the SCBWI bulletin board, so as to get comments from practicing illustrators. I think you'll find there is a wide range of approaches. Publishers are comfortable with any amount of computer use by illustrators, so long as the end product is effective.

Writing about "Current Events"

I read your article "Getting Out of the Slush Pile." It was filled with great information, and I forwarded it to my writing group members, who all appreciated it. I had a question about your comments on manuscripts that deal with current topics. I've been writing a middle grade novel about a few days in the life of an 11-year-old girl in a small Louisiana town, who's waiting for an approaching hurricane to arrive and counting the weeks until her brother gets home from Iraq. Is it your opinion that the Iraq war should be avoided as a topic for a mg novel?

Your question is a good one. My warning in Getting Out of the Slush Pile was aimed at books that were entirely built around a particular event. A book about the recent Athens Olympics, for example, would have been of much less interest almost as soon as they were over. This warning is particularly relevant to nonfiction.

For fiction authors, the question is how you approach the current event. Middle grade novels actually can benefit from a good grounding in contemporary or recent historical events, if they are part of the setting, and don't drive the story by themselves.

In your specific case, I think if you tell a good story, you don't necessarily have a problem. It seems likely that the US will have troops in Iraq--or in some other country or countries--for years to come. Going back to the time of the first Gulf War, and continuing through the Balkans and Afghanistan, in fact, there have been US troops in action more often than not over the past 15 years or so. So that seems to be a fact of life that could well belong in a novel. More important, it seems likely to me to interest editors, librarians, and, of course, children. Good luck with your manuscript.

Postscript: I wrote the above in July, more than a month before Katrina. At the time, an "approaching hurricane" seemed to me not to be worthy of comment--no more than an event that could occur on the Gulf Coast any summer. I would now revise my answer. A hurricane and a war may be too much in one book. I would either remove the hurricane or shelve the manuscript for a time.

This installment is based on emails I sent over the summer in response to questions received at The Purple Crayon.

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Copyright 2005 by Harold Underdown. All rights reserved.

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