Often, when I attend conferences or workshops like the one in Big Sur last weekend, I end up coming away with a “lightbulb moment” that defines the experience for me. This time, that moment was given to me by none other than the illustrious Mary Kole of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and of Kidlit.com fame. It was:
“The Publisher is your first customer.”
I was seeking clarification from Mary on what constitutes a compelling hook, especially since it seems one of my manuscripts is in need of a stronger one. I came with the belief that if the story/topic/message had obvious appeal to parents and/or kids, that = hook. Not necessarily so. For lack of a better way to explain it, I left with the understanding that a story (mine being a picture book) can’t just be well-written, entertaining, funny or poignant (even though those are all great too). In order to rise above the ordinary, a story must have an element of magic – not in a literal sense, but in a literary sense.
Marla Frazee, who was also on faculty, said picture books need “emotional resonance.” Meaning they need to make us feel something deeply when we read them. It’s that feeling, that hook, that magic that makes a child and a parent want to read that book over and over again, versus just gleaning the message and putting it down forever. That’s what publishers are looking for.
This notion of the publisher as the first customer may not be fair. We might not agree. Our friends and families might not agree. Even our agents might not agree. But it is reality if we’re looking to be traditionally published.
Does that mean we should always write with a little mini-publisher sitting on our shoulders shouting, “What’s the big idea?” No. Of course not. I’m pretty sure that as soon as you “try” to write a knockout bestseller you won’t. Because that magic is also sometimes called heart. It has to come from yours or it won’t have the emotional resonance. I personally believe the only way to find that heart, that magic is to keep writing until it shows up naturally – then revise the hell out of it so that the magic shines through. So that’s what I’m going to work on now as I approach the next set of revisions to my WIPs.
Mary goes into much more detail about this topic in her post, Picture Book or Short Story? That post is a good place to start if I’ve confused you more than helped you!
P.S. Mary also said that publishers, not surprisingly, are all looking for the next Fancy Nancy. So let’s all get on that, shall we? 🙂
Categories: Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Picture Books, Publishing, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: Agents, Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Big Sur Children's Writing Workshop, Hook, Marla Frazee, Mary Kole, Picture Books, Revising, WIP, Writing