Subscribe to The Horn Book

>Cheryl? It’s Not Just the Manuscripts.

>Levine/Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein has a funny post up of a picture-book manuscript she created as an intentionally bad example of a submission that had “no child appeal.” “Cheering up Cheryl,” a model of its kind, is a chicklit novel (more about them later today) in picture-book form, but it does everything a bad picture book does except rhyme.

But here’s the thing. While Cheryl and other editors I know often share the rules of picture-book writing with hopeful authors at SCBWI conferences and the like, why, oh Lord, why, do we keep seeing published picture books that positively revel in breaking these very same rules. No, revel‘s not the right word, because there are great, great picture books that break the rules in service to a Higher Good (that would be Literature); what I mean are books that indulge in stupid rhyming couplets, age or format inappropriateness, preachiness, and lists, lists, lists (Cheryl’s parody is hilarious here) that serve only to give the illustrator time and space to indulge him or herself in a series of pretty paintings. These are books that presumably have been accepted by some editor somewhere (and it’s not just the MorningWood HappyBear small presses; it’s the big guys), thus rendering your “show-don’t-tell” workshops a mockery. If you don’t want people to submit crap, stop publishing it.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Anonymous says:

    >Loved this (and I actually own the perfect shoes!)

    Where might I find some of this great, nonsatirical pb advice online, by the way? Any suggestions?


  2. Anonymous says:

    >The sad truth about publishing is that crap sells. Literature doesn’t always do so well. While many editors and publishers may want literature-quality manuscripts, some editors and publishers may be looking at the bottomline ($$) and choose the crap over the literature.

    I’d absolutely love to see more literature-quality work out there! No doubt there are a number of amazing books already, and happily the older books can be found in reprints or the used book market.

    To make publishing less cost-driven, and more quality-driven, would require a whole new ballgame.

    Economics 101…supply vs. demand. Hmmmm.


  3. Anonymous says:

    >some editors have an artist for whom they need a manuscript and will accept anything

  4. >Love this post & link –

    Anon #1 – Cheryl Klein’s website has some great (nonsatirical) essays about writing for children –

  5. Anonymous says:

    >thanks, df!


  6. Anonymous says:

    >I think the whole good writing bit is a well-intentioned half-truth. Editors often advise new writers to read the Newberry or Caldecott award winners as an example of “what editors look for”. (But please, no stories about animals!) I’m sure they do look for those—-but would they be willing to publish all of them?

    Professional writers and agents take a different approach, advising new writers to read the books on the NYT Children’s Bestseller List as an example of how to get published. They emphasize that trends can play a big part in what gets accepted. Unfortunately, I’m more inclined to believe them than the editors when I walk into the bookstore and see what’s being published…


  7. >I also wonder if it’s because the editor accepts a work, gives the author the changes, but the author doesn’t follow through on them. But when it’s production time, that book goes out the door, ready or not.

    I see a lot of good writers turning themselves inside out, trying to get all their editorial changes made before deadline. If you’re a newbie, or if you have major stuff going on in your life, or if you resist the editor’s judgement, the book’s not going to turn out as well.

    Of course it’s also true that sometimes an editor makes really, really bad choices. Or perhaps the marketing people are like totally insane, trying hard to push good books off the table because they won’t sell.

    Or because the author’s too busy replying to blogs instead of writing. Oops.

  8. rindawriter says:

    >If you make earnest efforts to search out the best books, read the best books, study the best books, and read the best books out loud to little ones, it becomes easier to RECOGNIZE the best books, whether in manuscript or published…

    Perhaps editors and publishers, under the pressures of marketplace competition, simply don’t get enough time anymore to search, read, and study…and, saddest of all, to sit down with groups of rowdy, restless, little ones and read story books to them…over and over again…

    Now I know why my first book never recieved solid editing before it was allowed into print! I thought it was strange, but I was too ignorant and timid to question why at the time, although I would have preferred to make changes in the text even then…but the editors possibly didn’t know enough themselves to be able to recognize that tolerably good…still wasn’t good enough for publication…no, they were more interested in getting their full list of books out on schedule…never mind that three-quarters of the list would automatically, eventually, go op!

  9. Anonymous says:

    >I would say new writers should do both — read all the Newbery winners and the Best Seller lists. Kids need both kinds of writing – things that are literary and things that are pure escape. Both can be well written and well edited.

  10. Mama Squirrel says:

    >I can’t stand stories in rhyme
    Any time.
    Even if famous people do it for money
    Ogden Nash did it first
    and he was more funny.

    But I did like this, and I’ve linked.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Handing child excellent book at library.
    Child response: “No. It’s too long. It looks boring. Do you have anything short/funny/suited for half brain reading/the report is due tomorrow.
    Handing Parent excellent book for child.
    Parent response: “No, It’s too long. The report is due tomorrow.”
    Mailing Publisher manuscript.
    Editor response: “No. It’s too quiet. Kids want funny. Anything with the word “poop” in it or something inane about fairies. And make it shorter.”

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind