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: , , , , , , , , ,



  1. A good book for me is like an athlete that has that special “it” in what he or she does. Really can’t put your arms around it but you know it whne you see it.

  2. You know how Julie was based on you?

    Fancy Nancy = ME!
    (All 14+ books worth).
    Yup. True fact.

    Also, while we’re on the subject, Dave Matthews used me as the inspiration for Dancing Nancy (“could I have been any one other than me?”)

    If only I was earning my fair share of the royalties in exchange for the use of my good name. 😉

    MAGIC is why I keep reading A Christmas Carol
    MAGIC is why I keep watching The Grinch
    MAGIC is why we fell in love with the imagination of J.K.Rowling

    MAGIC sells books and makes our hearts soar.

    • Too funny! I should have recognized Fancy Nancy as you right from the get-go.

      I agree that all the books you mention have that magic. Now, if only I could figure out how to write that…

  3. Ah yes, the MAGIC! Emotional resonance. This is good stuff. This makes me want to keep writing.

    Technical brilliance is compelling and can be taught, but emotional brilliance *is* magical and can not be taught. We have to fall into it via practice and learning to know thy self.

    Also, thanks for the reminder re: hooks. I always forget to think up a great one and write from there. Just to see how it goes. 🙂

    • “Technical brilliance is compelling and can be taught, but emotional brilliance *is* magical and cannot be taught. We have to fall into it via practice and learning to know thy self.”

      -Heather, I could most definitely have not said it better myself!

  4. Great post, Julie! I like to think that the magical books are the ones that are well written in such a way that makes me want to read them over and over again. I may not feel something deeply, but if it’s fun or touching, then it’ll be a re-read for sure!

    • If you want to read something over and over again, I think it’s because you feel something. I didn’t mean to say that it has to be something serious. It could be something funny or nonsensical, but the magic is something that keeps you coming back.

  5. Great post, now can you spread a bit of magic around for us please.

  6. What a great point! I’ve never thought of it this way, but now I will. Thanks for the great insight.

  7. Another awesome post! (I need you to Guest Post on MY blog! 🙂

    I agree… the publisher is your first customer.

    The funny thing to me though… is that a lot of the published books I read out there seem to lacking that magic.

    So I guess one person’s magic is another person’s meh.

    • I would be honored to guest blog for you anytime. You’d be the first person to ask! 🙂

      It’s true that there are some decidedly non-magical books out there. But we don’t know the stories behind those. Probably not likely to break in with one either…

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