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Notes from Julie Strauss-Gable's First Pages Session

Cheryl's Musings: Notes from Julie Strauss-Gable's First Pages Session

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


Notes from Julie Strauss-Gable's First Pages Session

In case you don't know, a "first pages" session is one where writers can anonymously submit the first page of a manuscript, which an industry professional (in this case, Julie S-G) critiques before her attentive audience. Some of these sessions are a total waste of time to attend and some provide great insight into the editor/agent's interests, editing style, and (if you submit a page) your own manuscript. Julie S-G didn't disappoint. She zipped through pages rapidly enough that we had time at the end for a few questions; but she didn't skimp on providing meaty critique.

Here are some of the common complaints she had about picture book first pages:

  • The story is targeted at too mature a reader. She said to remember that the picture book market is driven by the younger end reader, so concepts need to be simple, characters young, and rhythm/pacing/theme especially appropriate to children 4 to 6 years old.

  • In stories with repetition: several times, she commented on a lack of consistency in the pattern or a lack of "expected rhythm" for the child to anticipate and follow.

  • In some, the story ideas were nice, but they didn't build. The story became just a series of examples. For example, one story featured pairs of animals related to each other in some way. (I won't get too specific for the author's privacy). The pairing concept was interesting, the story language lovely--but the story didn't build in any way. Ask yourself, Julie said, how to encourage page turns? How will each creature pair be illustrated? Will their environments be too similar? A picture book needs to use variety in settings.

  • In some, the complaint was that the story didn't provide enough comfort for young readers--whether that comes in the form of repeated phrases, repeated paragraph or sentence structure, or in the characters themselves.

  • Another common complaint: the picture book that contains too much explaining or scene setting. For ex., a picture book about a labradoodle can't contain paragraphs explaining what a labradoodle is.

Take-homes for me: First, that Julie S-G is a fabulous editor and I'd love to have a first page critiqued by her; second, that picture books have a number of definable elements that help them to work:

  • Strong, unique characters

  • Variety of settings or scenes

  • Repetition in the language or story format

  • Comfort for young children

  • Fun for the adult reader

  • Spare, spare, language where every word counts

  • A building story line with a surprise of some sort at the end.

It makes me itch to work on my picture book ideas again--but I'm kind of busy with other projects still and I'm *trying* not to start more until I have some closure on the others.

:) Cheryl

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