One Writer’s Journey

January 6, 2017

Books with Chapters vs Chapter Books: Why You Need to Know The Difference

writing-termsLast night we had someone new at critique group. I don’t just mean new to our critique group.  I mean new to any professional critique group.  I realized this when I noticed that she called anything and everything that has chapters a chapter book. This really drove home why it is so important to know the terminology before you start to submit your work.  Use a term wrong and editors will realize you don’t know the industry.  Here are a few of the book related terms you need to know.

Board Book: This is a book for toddlers.  It is made out of cardboard and is meant to hold up to small people who don’t have the finesse not to damage a picture book.

Picture Books:  These fully illustrated books are written for children preschool-aged through grade school although most of the audience is preschool through about 8.  The text and illustrations work together to tell the story, each telling slightly different parts of the story.  Because of how they are printed, they are most often 32 pages.  The text may feel advanced since it is read to the child.

Early/Beginning Readers:  These books have a smaller trim size than a picture book.  This gives them the appearance of a “big kid’s” novel.   Many are fully illustrated but instead of expanding on the story the illustrations are there to help the reader decipher the text.  The text is easier than that of a picture book.

Chapter books:  These are for readers who are reading independently.  They aren’t ready for the longer books that middle graders read but they want the chapters.  The still enjoy illustrations but most if not all illustrations are black and white. Think Magic Tree House.  No subplots.

Middle grade novels.  These are for older grade school students.  Yes.  Older grade school.  Remember kids tend to read up.  Subplots are to be expected but these books aren’t nearly as edgy as young adult books.  There is a lot of diversity in terms of reading level and maturity of content.

Young Adult Novels.  These are novels for middle schoolers and high schoolers.  In spite of what some people think, all young adult novels are not super sexy but these kids are heading toward adulthood.

Using chapter book to describe true chapter books, middle grade books and young adult books is going to mark you as a newbie.  Don’t do this to yourself.  Read.  Learn the terminology.  Talk to other writers.  Then submit your work.  Otherwise the first impression you make on the editor will be one of confusion vs giving your work the opportunity it needs to shine.



January 26, 2016

What Are You Writing?

Colorful books on shelfWhenever a new writer comes to critique group, I ask, “What do you write?”

Can I say, without giving offense, that it is off-putting if they can’t tell me?  Too often the answer is “children’s stories” or “books for children.”  That’s too broad and it makes me think that you don’t know the answer in contemporary publishing jargon.

Hey, wait!  Aren’t writers supposed to think outside of the box?

You are, but if you don’t know what the heck you’re writing, you don’t know what box to avoid. If you are just starting to write for children and teens, here are some categories to know.

Fiction vs nonfiction.  It’s basic but I understand some of the confusion.  If you are writing a story about growing a garden and framing it as the experience of fictional Adam, what is it?  Fiction or nonfiction?  Without reading it, my guess would be fact based fiction.

Picture book.  A picture book is an illustrated book in which the text and the art equally tell the story.  These books give readers the info they need to learn about the world in general. The recent Newbery Last Stop on Market Street is a picture book.   Adults read these books to young readers.
Audience: Toddler to early grade school.
Length: Up to 3 manuscript pages.

Beginning or early reader.  The purpose behind these books is for new readers to be able to read them independently.  That meanst that vocabulary and sentence structure are simple.  Illustrations don’t expand on the story but provide contextual clues for the reader.  Look at beginning readers and you’ll see lables like “level 1.” Levels vary from publisher to publisher.  Elephant and Piggy.
Audience: 1st and 2nd grade.
Length: Up to 20 manuscript pages.

Chapter books.  These books may contains some illustrations but they are for confident readers who aren’t intimidated by a lack of pictures.  That said, these are still newish readers and the books tend to have a main plot line and no subplots.  Often published in series. Magic Tree House.
Audience: 1st to 3rd grade.
Length: 40 – 60 manuscript pages.

Middle grade novels.  These readers can handle at least one subplot.  Characters are discovering their place in the world so stories are frequently about family, friends,  and school.  It is rare for these books to include extreme violence, drug use or sex. Some romance, very light, is okay. Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Audience: 3rd to 6th grade.
Length: 100 – 250 manuscript pages.

Young adult novels.  Middle schoolers read some of these books and these are the books with less extreme content.  Books for high schoolers can include, but don’t have to focus on sex, drugs, etc. These are kids who are challenging the world although they may still be looking for their place in it. Graceling.
Audience: 7th grade and up.
Length: 200 – 350 manuscript pages.


February 23, 2015

Book Love Blog Hop: There’s a lot of Beginning Readers to love

Here I am at the tail end (yes, I meant to say tail) of the Book Love Blog Hop.  I was invited to participate in this February long event by writing buddy Peggy Asher.  Book Love gives us a chance to write about books we love, and I have to say that I’ve read some great books lately. Today I’m going to focus on beginning readers.
First of all, I ‘d like to recommend Mr. Putter and Tabby Turn the Page by Cynthia Rylant. I got to know this series as the mother of a young reader so I can tell you this — if you want to write early readers, read Cynthia Rylants books.  She has both the Mr. Putter and Tabby series and the Henry and Mudge series.  It isn’t easy to create characters with depth as well as solid plots in this brief format but Rylant succeeds and adds humor as well.
Another author who pulls this off is Mo Willems with his Elephant and Piggie series, including one of his recent titles, Waiting Is Not Easy.  Part of the reason that Willems’ books are such a hit is that children identify with these characters.  This particular book is about waiting for a surprise and Elephant is the quintessential impatient child.  Willems’ books are much simpler than Rylants.  He aims for the very youngest new readers.  His illustrations are so expressive that they add depth to his book.
Last but not least, I’d like to recommend Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo.  Di Camillo’s books are for slightly older readers, more advanced than Rylant’s readers.  She doesn’t write down to her readers as you can see when you encounter phrases like “very exceptionally cheap.” Readers will work through the challenge for the laugh-out-loud humor in her stories.
If you are interested in writing beginning readers, check these books out and make note of the differences.  Willems uses no chapters because he is writing for the youngest end of this audience.  Rylant’s books have chapters but aren’t as difficult as Di Camillo’s books which also have chapters.  Note the changes in the humor and the vocabulary.
It isn’t an easy market to break into but these are definitely the books to study.  Write like this, and your work will stand against the best.

January 22, 2015

Picture book, early reader or app?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:11 am
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manuscriptLast year, I sold a manuscript.  Well, I thought I sold it but the contract never showed up because the company started having money problems.  Needless to say, I need to get it back out there but I’m left trying to decide what it is.

Maybe it is really an early reader.  That’s how I originally wrote it.  One of the companies I was writing for way back when wanted to start their own line of early readers.  They sent each of their writers a box full the kinds of stories they wanted to produce.  I wrote and submitted four pieces, including this particular manuscript.  I made sure that the reading level was in their tartet range.  I double checked to make sure I had only written simple sentences.   Then they cancelled the line.

I pulled out my favorite story of the four.  It was short and poetic, so I rewrote the manuscript as a picture book.  I made sure there were enough illustration possibilities.  I amped up the characterization.  I made sure to include fun word play.  I submitted it to several publishers but never got anything more than a polite rejection.

When I read about a publisher looking for apps, I pulled this piece out.  I still loved the simplicity of the story and it had what was needed for the type of app this publish wanted.  This wasn’t a situation but a complete story.  There was also plenty of room for interaction.  In this case, the reader could cue a variety of sounds from the story.  An interactive map would allow the reader to decide which path to take.

I submitted the manuscript and had a long phone call with the publisher.  We shared the same vision for the manuscript.  Yes!  I would love to do this . . .

I’m starting to wonder if this particular story is cursed but it has gotten close often enough that I know there is something editor’s love.  But which editors?  App editos?  Ebook editors?  Or traditional picture books?  Part of deciding is knowing what it takes for a story to succeed in each category.  To read more on that, check out my post today at the Muffin.


January 13, 2012

Beginning Readers

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:52 am
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Here is the stack of easy readers from Viking and Penguin that I just finished.

  1. Bones and the Dinosaur Mystery by David A. Adler
  2. Young Cam Jansen and the 100th Day of School by David A. Adler
  3. Young Cam Jansen and the Ice Skate Mystery by David A. Adler
  4. Cork and Fuzz: Good Sports by Dori Chaconas
  5. Lionel’s Birthday by Stephen Krensky
  6. Fox and His Friends by Edward Marshall
  7. Fox in Love by Edward Marshall.
  8. Three by the Sea by Edward Marshall.
  9. Pearl and Wagner: Two Good Friends by Kate McMullan.
  10. Park and Wagner: One Funny Day by Kate McMullan
  11. Oliver and Amanda: Amanda Pig, First Grader by Jean Van Leeuwen

You already know that if you want to write something — young adult mysteries, picture books, science articles — that that is what you need to read.  But this is especially true if you want to write beginning readers.  Make certain you are reading beginning readers and not picture books!

How will you know?

  1. Look for the publisher’s series name.  Easy-to-read, Rookie Readers, etc.
  2. Beginning readers are generally marked with a reading level.  Most lines have three or more levels.
  3. Beginning readers are smaller than picture books, designed to look like big kid books.
  4. The print in beginning readers is larger than that in most picture books.
  5. Most beginning readers have “chapters” although there are seldom more than three.
  6. The illustrations in beginning readers do not add another dimension to the story.  They illustrate the story in a way that makes the text easier to decipher.

That’s all for now.  I’ll be posting more on beginning readers as I work up a few manuscripts to submit.


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