Day 118 – Picture Book Critique

In addition to being a solid networking opportunity, writing conferences are one of the few opportunities aspiring authors get to sit down face to face with top editors and agents for objective feedback about their work. Yes, it takes a little bit of money, but it's well worth it. You get insight into the business and also put a face to your name. Most of the editors and agents attending the conference will allow you to submit unsolicited manuscripts to their agency for up to year so make your meeting count. That access alone is worth the conference fees. At the Houston SCBW conference, I got a critique from the lovely Julie Ham who is an Associate Editor & Contracts Coordinator at Charlesbridge Publishing. Note, if you plan on attending a conference like SCBWI, you do need to submit manuscripts before hand for critique and pay an additional fee. Registering for a conference does not mean you automatically get a critique. Some people apparently didn't know this. Don't be them.

Anyway, in the spirit of transparency, I am sharing my critique with you below. Julie was particularly adept at offering constructive criticism with a touch of hope and that touch of hope made all the difference. I knew my piece needed help and Julie didn't let me down. With her help, I know where to go with revisions.

1) Positive aspects of this work:

There's a clear interest in celebrating family, food, and unconditional love. The themes are timeless and universal.

2) The elements that require attention and improvement include: 

I worry the piece feels a bit too short and slightly vague. I'm also having trouble envisioning varied, dynamic illustrations.

3) Notes on character development:

I'd love to get a better sense of the narrator's thoughts on the secret ingredient - love - rather than relying on his mother's thoughts/ideas so much.

4) Notes on plot and pacing:

Id's love to get a better sense of the cooking premise from the get-go, so the plot or rather premise feels more realized. Until I go to the end, I wasn't entirely clear what the love was getting "in" to. Though illustrations might help with this.

5) Notes on language and dialogue:

Consider circling all the adjectives and verbs with more active, memorable, playful worlds. Additionally, how might you infuse the piece with more sensory language?

6) Notes on voice:

The voice sets the tone for any manuscript. What do you want your tone to be? DOes your voice accomplish this? I'm sensing you're after a playful tone - I think this could be more fully rendered.

7) Notes on point of view:

Your POV is the narrator's (and ultimately your) attitude toward the subject matter. I'd love to get a stronger sense of the narrators POV.

8) Notes on setting:

At the end, the setting seems to become the kitchen, yes? How does this setting influence the character's experience?

9) Notes on the audience (children, middle grad, YA):

This feels well-suited for the 4-7 year old range audience, maybe even younger. I'm curious to discuss your intent.

10) Notes on marketability:

I'm afraid the piece doesn't feel as competitive as it could be without a more vivid sense of character and a tighter conceptual story arc, but I'm know it can get there with further revising.

11) Next Steps: Would you want to read more?

Consider paginating the piece. How much text falls on each page? Is this consistent throughout? Will illustrations be varied enough from the spread? Do you have enough text to fit the 32- page picture book format?

The imagination needs moodling,--long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering. - Brenda Ueland

Prompt:  Write about a sun rising.

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