Oh Susanna!

Oh Susanna - Your Questions Answered! is a weekly feature posted on Mondays.

A list of all previous Oh Susanna posts with links is provided at the bottom of this page for your convenience.
Oh Susanna is fun and educational for writers, parents, and teachers!  It is the children's literature world's version of Dear Abby, except not about relationships (well, not yours - character relationships would be OK :))  An advice column/question forum for those of us in the children's book world, as it were :)

Oh Susanna! (which you have to say like you're calling me across a wide field, not like you utterly disapprove of me :)) is a chance for you to ask me any question you want about writing, reading, teaching writing, being an author etc.  (Primarily focusing on the picture book and early reader age group.)

For example:

Oh, Susanna!
I am half way through writing my picture book about a pirate who commandeers an enchanted bathtub.  He now has a ship and a crew, but I can't figure out what should happen next.  Can you help?
Love, Lost At Sea


Oh, Susanna!
My two year old son is afraid of the dark.  Can you recommend a picture book or two we could read that might help him feel safer at night?
Thanks, Owns Stock In Nightlights


Oh, Susanna!
Can you suggest an enjoyable writing activity for my kindergarten?  Writing is not my area of expertise, but I want to make it fun for my class!  We are currently studying penguins, if that helps at all...
Love, Wants To Inspire Six-Year-Olds


Oh, Susanna!
I'm giddy with excitement but also extremely nervous!  I'm doing my very first school visit as an author next week.  My picture book is about a chicken who crosses the road.  How will I entertain a roomful of kindergartners?
Please help!  Weak In The Knees

I will answer, of course, but then, all our lovely and devoted readers can chime in with their knowledge and expertise, too.  Any question you ask of Oh, Susanna! will give you all kinds of helpful feedback.  Struggling with your query letter?  Wondering what the average advance is for a first picture book?  Interested in entering contests but don't know where to find them?  Want to try submitting to a magazine but have never done it?  Wondering whether you're the only one who sneaks into the bathroom at 2 AM to scribble ideas on toilet paper by the nightlight?  Want to know who makes bookmarks?  Need an opinion on your homemade book trailer?  Wondering if anyone besides you will be able to read your rhyming couplets successfully?  Curious as to whether Snickers or Milky Ways make a better writing snack?  Ask away!  If I should happen not to know the answer, surely one or more of our readers will!  And remember, there are no dumb questions :)

Please email your questions to me by using the handy Email Me button in the right sidebar or addressing them to susanna [at] susannahill [dot] com.  Please put Oh Susanna in the subject line.

I'll look forward to hearing from you!

     If you are an author only, wanting to submit to a publishing company that requires illustrations along with the text (for example, uTales) how do you go about finding and paying an illustrator?

     How long does it take for you to write a book?  What's your process?  How many revisions?  How do you know when it's right to submit?

     I'm looking to have some swag made for my website and blog.  Do you know of any companies that make stickers and bookmarks?

     I love my writer's critique group that meets each month.  They offer great feedback - LOTS of feedback.  But, I am often overwhelmed when I get home.  Do you have tips or tricks for managing feedback to use it effectively to improve your work?

     I am a pre-published PB author still learning her craft.  I keep hearing to leave enough "space" for the illustrator to do their job.  In other words, don't over write.  How do you make that call when you are writing your manuscript?

     When I have searched the internet in search of agents, some sites have pointed out that some agents are more "editorial" than others.  What exactly does this mean?  Will an agent actually make specific changes to your manuscript or will they give general feedback and have you make the changes?

     O, Susanna, HELP!!  I need assistance developing a better schedule for writing, brainstorming, studying, illustrating, researching, blogging, and following blogs and links,  and of course all the usual home related obligations.  Are there any formulas for beating the distractions and staying up to date w/resources and links and staying on goal?

     How many submission-ready manuscripts should I have in my pocket before I begin querying agents? I know which one I want to lead with, but I assume I should have a number of others for an interested agent to read when considering representation.

     What are some of the key things a new author should find in a "good" contract?  The flip side of that would be what are some of the "bad" things that should set off warning alarms for a new author to run for the hills?

     Q1:  In regard to children's board books, is there a magical number of pages required?  A minimum or maximum number (i.e. 32 pages for picture books)?
     Q2:  Can you ever approach a publisher more than once with the same piece?

     Submission guidelines to Sylvan Dell Publishing request that you include an explanation for how you envision the marketing of your book.  Besides stating that your marketing strategy would consist of book signings, blog tours, using various social media, and press releases, how else would you state on a query letter how you would envision the marketing of your book?  Also, I'm not sure how to go about targeting an audience for my "platform" part of marketing my book.  Any suggestions?

     I’m working with a book coach who is suggesting that I grab pictures of food to include with the MS so that an editor understands that this is not a joke and takes my submission seriously. I looked online and I don’t like any of the illustrations and while I still need to look in magazines, those images will not have arms and legs and look like kids. My question is: I’d like to sent out a tweet or blog post request to illustrators in my online community and ask if anyone wanted to make some rough sketches. I can’t promise or offer any compensation or even promise that those comps would be used in final production. Is it fair to ask illustrators to help?     

Oh Susanna - Are There Taboo Subjects In Picture Books?
     Are there any subjects that are considered taboo in the picture book industry that children's writers should stay away from?
     [In my story] Cheeku the Cheeky Chinese Chicken... I took out the chef because someone said kids can't think about chickens going to be killed... The motivation for Cheeku to run away was so as not to be eaten. I had to change it to he didn't want to be cooped up forever, but although it's fun, it has no story as such. Do you think i should put the chef stuff back in?

Oh Susanna - How Much Drama In A Manuscript?
     Today's Oh Susanna question relates back somewhat to this post (please scroll down past Cori) where I showed the before and after versions ofFreight Train Trip.  I mentioned that the editor had commented that the original version wasn't dramatic enough, and Stacy wondered whether there was any kind of test for drama in a manuscript.

Oh Susanna - What Vocabulary Is Developmentally Appropriate In A Picture Book?
     As a teacher, I love reading books with lots of descriptive language and low frequency words.  This is important when I'm doing a lesson to expand vocabulary with words that 3s & 4s don't hear every day.  But as a writer, how can I know if I'm writing a developmentally appropriate book?

Oh Susanna - What's The Difference Between A Query Letter And A Cover Letter And When Do You Use Which?
     Q1) What is the difference between a query letter and a cover letter for a picture book manuscript? 
     Q2) Which do you use when submitting a PB manuscript to an editor?
     Q3) Which do you use when submitting a PB manuscript to an agent?

Oh Susanna - Is It Okay To Use Sentence Fragments In A Picture Book Manuscript?
     Recently I was typing out Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer so I could study the text.  In a few places there were sentence fragments posing as sentences.
     "And pet kittens. And bake."
     I understand why this was done in the finished book. However, when submitting a MS should a pb author use correct grammar all the time, or can the author take artistic license to make the story more alive?

Oh Susanna - Is There A Difference Between Scholastic And Regular Versions Of Picture Books?
     I picked up some picture books at a weekend yard sale. Several were Scholastic editions. Is there a difference between a Scholastic edition and a regular edition? I'm wondering both as a parent/reader and a writer.

Oh Susanna - If It's Been Posted On My Blog, Can I Still Submit To Publishers?  
     Oh Susanna, I have a couple of poems that people have suggested would make good picture books. I’ve toyed with both of them and think they would indeed be fun PBs, but written in prose, and obviously very (though not completely) different from the poems. Do you think agents and publishers would have a problem with the fact that the manuscript is based on a poem already published on my blog, even if the ms is in prose and clearly fleshed out into a proper story?

Oh Susanna - When Is It Time To Give Up And Self-Publish?
     Oh Susanna, when is it time to throw in the traditional publishing towel and self-publish?

Oh Susanna - How Do You Decide Which Blogs To Follow Regularly?
     How in the world do you decide which blogs to follow regularly??? I would love to follow everyone! I would love to comment on all posts! But, if I do that, I have no time to do what I really love, which is writing!...

Oh Susanna - What About Copyright Infringement?
     Lately there has been a lot of talk about bloggers putting pictures (not their own pictures that they have taken, but images found on sites like Google) on their blogs. But I have seen some picture books read in their entirety on YouTube with each spread visible. Isn't this really chancy, too? Does this break copyright rules? Or does an author feel that this is a wonderful form of advertisement for their books?

Oh Susanna - Will Agents Rep Poetry?
     I have noticed when researching agent blogs, that a lot of them don't represent poetry. So what if you write poetry along with picture books/middle grade, etc.? Do you have to submit poetry on your own? Or will agents usually work with you to find a home for your poems, too?

Oh Susanna - How Do You Handle Illustrator Notes In Picture Book Manuscripts?

     I'm utterly confused about illustrator's notes.  I keep hearing that editors don't like them unless they're absolutely necessary, but then I also keep hearing that nowadays editors really want half the story to be told through pictures and half through words, in which case illustrator notes are essential.  Can you help me navigate this dilemma? 

     Is there a 'rounding' rule when adding your word count to a query?  As in, my manuscript is 509 words.  Or perhaps 497 words.  Do I say OH SUSANNA'S STORY is a 500 word fairy tale for readers ages 3-6?  Or should I use the exact number of words per my Microsoft Word for Windows count?  Just wondered if there is an word count convention that I should know. 

     If a glossary and author note/fact sheets accompany your picture book manuscript, how is the back matter formatted? Are they just a continuation of the manuscript, double spaced after the end? Are they brand new sheets starting five inches down on the page? Here's a totally different question: Would you send the back matter with the manuscript? Or only mention it in the cover letter?

Oh Susanna - How Do You Know What Books Are Already Published In The Picture Book Market?
     Oh, Susanna, could you please give some pointers on how to research what's already out there in the picture book market?

Oh Susanna - What Is The Difference Between A Hook And A Pitch?
     What is the difference between a hook and a pitch, or are they the same thing? 
I often get these two confused. When I took a pb class the instructor taught us how to write a hook. But when we pitch our idea to the editor or agent, we're pitching our hook, right? 

Oh Susanna - Does A Similar Book Mean I Should Not Submit My Story?
     I am currently working to get my first picture book published.  I have been studying the market and in doing so I came across a recently published book that looks somewhat similar to mine.  Should I be discouraged?  Will anyone be interested in publishing my book if there is already one with a similar topic in the market?

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