Interview Transcripts

Nancy Raines Day: Author of Illustrated Children's Books 10/20/05

Event start time:

Thu Oct 20 19:03:17 2005

Event end time:

Thu Oct 20 21:12:44 2005



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Hello all!

 

Welcome to our Professional Connection Live Interview.

 

Tonight, I'm very pleased to depart a bit from our usual guests who mostly write for adults

 

and present Nancy Raines Day, who writes illustrated children's books. I don't know a lot...

 

about this area of publishing, so I'm going to learn a lot, too!

 

Nancy Raines Day is the author of Flamingo's First Christmas (new from Abrams), Double Those Wheels (Dutton), A Kitten's Year (HarperCollins), Piecing Earth and Sky Together (Shen's), and The Lion's Whiskers (Scholastic), a New York Times notable book. Her sixth picture book will be A Fairy Child's Busy Week (HarperCollins).

 

Double Those Wheels is a rhyming math concept book about a monkey who jumps from vehicle to vehicle, doubling his wheels each time, delivering a hot pizza to a birthday party. A Kitten's Year, which teaches the months of the year--and active verbs--through the antics of a growing kitten, appeals to cat lovers of all ages.

 

The Lion's Whiskers is an Ethiopian folktale about a good stepmother(!) who wins her reluctant stepson's love through courage and patience. Piecing Earth and Sky Together is a creation story from Laos about how a brother and sister learn to cooperate to weave and sew the heavens and earth.

 

A Fairy Child's Busy Week is in verse.

 

Nancy, Welcome!

 

How did you find your way into children’s writing, Nancy?

Nancy Raines Day

When I was growing up, a wonderful children's author and poet lived down the street. As I saw her books get

 

better and better, I was inspired. My mom read to us every night, WITH EXPRESSION

 

and my dad started "original stories" every Saturday morning. Each of us 4 kids had to make up a story on the spot

 

putting in elements the other kids asked for. Not easy to come up with a story about an elf, a toothbrush, and a swimming pool on

 

the spot. I always thought up my best ideas long after story time was over. Writing them down is better, you can take all the time you need.

writeaway

What great training for a future writer.

Mary Rosenblum

I agree!

Nancy Raines Day

These are all good ideas for you parents with young kids out there. Mine are grown now, but they are great readers and writers!

Mary Rosenblum

Did that childhood experience and reading to your own kids send you directly to children's literature? Or do you write for adults, too?

Nancy Raines Day

For years, I wrote articles for adult magazines, mostly historical and medical subjects. So all my nonfiction writing was for

 

adults, but since I switched to fiction books, they have all been for children.

 

 

cherley

Do you both write and illustrate?

Nancy Raines Day

No, only write. I have a good visual sense, which suits me for picture books, but not the ability to translate that onto a page.

 

So far, I've been very fortunate in being paired with the right artist for each of my picture books.

tory

Do you have any input into illustrations, or is it all up to someone else?

Nancy Raines Day

That's the editor's call. He or she is the middleman, and communicates with both the writer and illustrator. I usually don't get to meet the

 

illustrator until the book is out. Now that I have done several picture books, one of my editors asks me for illustrator suggestions

 

but hasn't yet gone with my suggestions. Even when I wasn't happy with their picks in the beginning, I could see why at the end.

 

The art always comes out different than I visualized it, but often, it's better.

writeaway

Does the artist try to translate what you envision or does she read the story and draw on it for inspiration?

Nancy Raines Day

It is meant to be a real partnership. In the end, it's as much the artist's book as mine. The story I write inspires them to take it in their own creative direction.

Mary Rosenblum

That's very interesting, Nancy. So really, you are creating only half the book and the artist creates the other half, right?

Nancy Raines Day

Yes, I try to make the text evocative and leave room for the artist to add to it.

 

In Flamingo's First Christmas, I never would have thought of some of the witty touches Fiona Robinson put in.

 

I did get to meet her first, and she did love my story first, though.

Mary Rosenblum

Have you ever had an illustrator whose work didn't seem to reflect the story YOU wanted to tell?

Nancy Raines Day

Not yet, though I was afraid of that a few times along the way!

cosmos

That's a nice way of looking at the process of publishing a book. It's like a symphony with many individuals needed to take the book to final form--editor, writer, illustrator, etc.

Mary Rosenblum

I hadn't thought of a symphony, cosmos! Nice imagery.

Nancy Raines Day

Yes, that's lovely. And true. I used to play in the symphony, and I never thought of it that way.

writeaway

It really says something for your writing that it sparks such imagination in the artist.

Nancy Raines Day

That's what a picture book manuscript should do. It needs to be a visual subject to start with.

jackbooth

What was your first step after your idea became a story?

Mary Rosenblum

Good question, jack! How do you get started, Nancy?

Nancy Raines Day

How do you jump from idea to story? I have a lot of projects that percolate in my head, sometimes for years

 

before I get much down on paper. With Flamingo's First Christmas, I knew I wanted to write about an urban nativity play

 

with live animals. But many Christmases went by before I figured out what the story would be about (and who). One Christmas, I

 

felt that a large, pink flamingo hopped on my shoulder and said "I want in to this story." Then I just had to figure out how to get him there!

 

Luckily, he kept pestering me until I figured out a way and got it down on paper. Many revisions later, I sold it.

paulplqn

How long from idea to published for the Flamingo?

Nancy Raines Day

I hate to say this, but I first had the idea 15 years ago--a very long gestation! Most have not taken that long.

Mary Rosenblum

Nancy, I have a ton of questions here about the process of writing/submitting a picture book. And I know one ting has always puzzled me...these books are so brief...what is it that makes a publisher choose THIS story over that?

 

Especially since it comes without illustrations?

Nancy Raines Day

Editors are very good at visualizing, too. My first manuscript to make it out of the slush pile was an Ethiopian folktale about a

 

GOOD stepmother. This was the early 90s when folktales were big, many beautiful books were being published on African-American subjects

 

and more and more families were dealing with "steps". Plus it was a wonderful story I found. The young editor who bought it said

 

no one even argued about it at the acquisition meeting, they all just said yes. So, it needs to have value and connect on several levels.

cosmos

Do I understand correctly that a picture book is 32 pages with story and illustrations and that there needs to be rapid change of scenes so there is lots of material for illustrations?

Mary Rosenblum

What IS the definition of 'illustrated children's book'? In general?

Nancy Raines Day

Yes. I try to write my manuscripts in 14-15 2-page spreads. I actually do an extra line space between sections so I can get an idea of the pacing.

 

Then I take them out before I send it. And, yes, there needs to be a lot of visual variety.

serendipity

How long is the average children's book per age range?

Nancy Raines Day

The absolute max these days for a picture book for 5- 8-year-olds is 1000 words. But the shorter the better. And, of course,

 

much shorter for younger kids. A Kitten's Year was only 40 words. Look at it this way, if it's short you get paid much more per word!

 

But seriously, you can usually cut a lot from your draft that can be shown in the pictures (what characters and setting look like, even some actions).

Mary Rosenblum

So when you get to these very young age groups, you are almost writing poetry, in a sense? Making very few words do a lot?

Nancy Raines Day

Exactly. I think of it as poetry. When you have so few words, each word has to be chosen carefully and pull its weight. That means a lot of

 

drafts. Like Mark Twain said, "If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."

Mary Rosenblum

Ah yes...stories DO shrink in revision don't they?

cherley

How many words per published page?

Mary Rosenblum

That must vary by age, right?

Nancy Raines Day

If you look at picture books out today, you'll see tremendous variety in that.

 

Yes, it does correlate with age.

tory

What is the target age for A Kitten's Year?

Nancy Raines Day

I'd say 3-7, but I've been amazed how many adults have bought it for themselves or other adults! And older kids who love cats have liked it, too.

info

Do you ever get inspiration from real life for your book? I use to have a cat that still gives me inspiration for short stories.

Nancy Raines Day

Of course, my personal experience from all parts of my life goes into my books. I've had 4 cats for more than 20 years. And I've spent

 

many hours watching flamingos in Florida. What I love I want to share with young readers.

babbles

I have trouble choosing exactly what age group my stories are geared for, was this ever a concern for you? Or do you decide while writing what age it's for?

Nancy Raines Day

I think about kids I know or have known at different ages, and what they would enjoy and understand. Of course, sometimes the story dictates what age the audience should be.

cherley

I wrote a young child's book but I won't get the time to illustrate it. Maybe I should just submit it somewhere.

Nancy Raines Day

If you don't feel you are the absolute best person to illustrate it, go with the text. But do spend the time to get the words in the best shape possible before you submit it.

tory

So when you type a manuscript, it is straight typing as an adult ms? The editor decides which chunk of prose goes on each page?

Mary Rosenblum

Good question...what IS the format for a manuscript?

Nancy Raines Day

Yes, it's pretty much like an adult ms. I put my name and contact info in the top left corner, the word count in the right, 1" margins, page numbers.

Mary Rosenblum

Double spaced? And the editor breaks up the scenes to match illustrations? Or do you do that?

Nancy Raines Day

Yes, forgot to say double spaced. Very important for editors' eyes. And I don't put in page breaks, though I do think them through. Those page turns are part of the picture book art form.

cosmos

Do you create a dummy and submit it with your manuscript?

Nancy Raines Day

I've never submitted a dummy, though I used to make them for myself (with stick figures) when I first started. After doing a few, now

 

I can visualize what images might go on each spread. But the editor doesn't want to see a dummy unless you're illustrating.

cherley

So if a person is an artist they could illustrate their own books?

Nancy Raines Day

If you are an artist who also has the writing talent, sure. If you can do both, you don't have to split royalties and have more control.

 

If you're not completely confident about your art, I'd wait till you sold a few picture book texts. Cynthia Rylant tried illustrating late in the game!

Mary Rosenblum

Ah yes, money. Let's talk about that for a bit here.

info

Since half the book appears to be the illustrator's what kind of percentage do they get of the books you write?

Nancy Raines Day

For all children's books (including novels for older kids), 10% of retail is the going royalty for trade publishers. For picture books, that's

 

split between the author and the illustrator, 5% for each (though the more famous of the pair might get a bigger advance up front).

Mary Rosenblum

So most publishers do offer an advance against royalties? What is the range there? Generally?

Nancy Raines Day

For a first book, the advance might be $3,000-$5,000.

Mary Rosenblum

Not bad if you figure the price per word! LOL

Nancy Raines Day

That's the way to look at it!

cosmos

$3,000 to $5,000.........is this with a major book publisher?

Mary Rosenblum

That must be, right, Nancy?

Nancy Raines Day

Yes, for a first picture book where you are just the author. I've gotten more each time. You have to work your way up. And, again, it's

 

an advance against royalties. After sales pay back the advance, you get the royalty checks every 6 months and hopefully make much more.

Mary Rosenblum

I would think that picture books tend to remain in print? Is that the case? That means, folks, that you will continue to get those royalty checks.

Nancy Raines Day

Children's books do stay in print, on the average, much longer than adult titles. The Lion's Whiskers, my first book, just went out of print

 

after 9 years. But the picture book market is not strong right now, since the population bump favors the YA bunch, and some may only get

 

a two year run. Still, I think the average adult title only has about 6 months to reach its market or not.

cosmos

Is picture book writing where the real money is for children's writers?

 

Are advances the same for juvenile novels?

Nancy Raines Day

There is no real money for children's writers, unless you're J.K. Rowling or Lemony Snickett. I think novel advances are a bit higher, though not as much

 

as you might think considering how much longer they are! The publishing company tries to offer an advance equal to the amount

 

they think the author will make in royalties in the first year.

babbles

Do you have an agent or did you sell stories all on your own?

Mary Rosenblum

Are the major publishers open to unagented submissions?

Nancy Raines Day

I sold the first picture book on my own. With that in hand, I re-contacted an agent who had turned me down 7 years earlier. She loved the book

 

and the projects I was working on, and took me on right away. It's much easier to get a more senior editor to read your manuscript quicker with an agent.

 

Without one, I'd recommend joining the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators. Great group that keeps tabs on who is accepting what kinds of manuscripts

 

and some editors will take unsolicited manuscripts only from SCBWI members or writers they've talked to at SCBWI conferences.

jimc

What is expected of you after the book is published?

Mary Rosenblum

Are you expected to market your book? Or does the publisher take care of that?

Nancy Raines Day

Publishers like to know that authors will promote the book on their own, whether through school visits, bookstore or library readings

cosmos

So what is the formula for a $100,000 picture book idea that will excite the imagination of kids?

Mary Rosenblum

Ah yes...the big question. What DO editors want?

Nancy Raines Day

No formula. Just something of value to kids, parents, and hopefully libraries and teachers.

 

They can sell something with an enduring, universal theme, but done with a new angle.

 

Also, I think editors are looking for books they would have loved as children. So it's good to hear editors speak, and find out what they love--or lack.

 

A Kitten's Year started with a conversation with my editor about this wonderful British woman that does only cat art. Who knew the world needed another cat book?

tory

I've heard the children's picture book market is VERY hard to break into. Is that your experience? And how long have you been writing for children?

Nancy Raines Day

It is very hard. It took me 10 years of sending manuscripts to publishers before my first acceptance. At least the rejection letters kept getting nicer. And now I'm glad I kept going, because I get to do something I love.

sallyk

What keeps you going in this genre?

Nancy Raines Day

I love connecting with kids. I work with editors I've gotten to know and respect. I am starting on a middle grade novel, though. It's good to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone.

janecj333

Nancy, if you could have known the one most important thing before ever submitting a picturebook manuscript, what would it be?

Nancy Raines Day

Make sure it's as good as you can get it. The most invaluable feedback to me has been from my children's writers groups. They help me decide when it's ready to send off into the world.

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you so much, Nancy. I know a lot of people were very interested in this topic, and we all appreciate

 

the information you shared with us!

cosmos

Thanks so much for coming to the forum!

 

In what part of Florida do you live? Do you make school visits?

Mary Rosenblum

You have a fan, Nancy!

Nancy Raines Day

I live in Georgia, but Florida's not far away. And I do make school visits.

Mary Rosenblum

Nancy, thank you so much for sharing with us tonight! And putting up with the cyber gremlins!

 

At least we go the software to work finally.

Nancy Raines Day

You're very welcome. It's been a good learning experience for me!

Mary Rosenblum

I hope you'll join us again sometime...now that we figured out the tech!

writeaway

Thank you Nancy and Mary. You gave us great insight into of what it takes to be a children's story writer.

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you all for coming!

 

Good night!

 

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