FRANCES GILBERT started her career with books in high school when she worked in the children’s department of her town library. After graduating from university with an M.A. in English, her first job in publishing was as a Book Club Editor at Scholastic Canada in Toronto. She moved to New York in 2000 to set up a children’s editorial division at Sterling Publishing. In 2012, Gilbert moved to Random House Children’s Books where she is Editor-in-Chief of Doubleday Books for Young Readers. She is also a successful author of several children’s books. CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Welcome to Kite Tales! We’re excited to have you as a Keynote Speaker at SCBWI LA’s 2019 Writers Day event. You’ve been in the industry since a teen and, as an author yourself, understand publishing from both sides. As an editor, please share with us some reasons that picture book manuscripts are rejected. FRANCES GILBERT: The main reason I reject a manuscript is that it doesn’t grab me right away. In truth, I have a pretty short attention span, but so does a young reader of a picture book, so I think it’s a good litmus test. If the writing is too chatty or sprawling, if the setup feels contrived or labored, or if the text feels overly written, I zone out right away and often don’t bother reading the second page. CVZ: What can picture book writers do to avoid this? FG: Tell me a great story! Editors often say that every word counts, and it’s true. Picture books should be crafted as precisely as a poem. Writers need to read their work with a super-critical eye, and ask for other readers’ feedback too. Any word that doesn’t propel the story forward should be cut. Any description that feels lazy or ordinary should be cut. Any dialogue that roughly translates to “Blah, blah, blah” should be cut. I know right away when I’m reading a manuscript that hasn’t been worked on rigorously, and I don’t usually get very far into it. CVZ: What kinds of manuscripts are you currently looking for? FG: I publish picture books and board books—ranging from funny and commercial titles such as I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty and Mike Boldt to cozy and sentimental such as Bunny’s Book Club by Annie Silvestro and Tatjana Mai-Wyss. My list is small (only about 12-15 new picture book titles a year), so I look for unique, well-crafted stories that stand out. CVZ: Will attendees of Writers Day be given the opportunity to query you? FG: Attendees are more than welcome to submit their manuscripts directly to me for up to six months after the conference. (No need to query a picture book manuscript before sending it, as the query will take me about as long to read as your actual manuscript. Just send it along.) CVZ: Thank you for sharing your insight with us. We look forward to seeing you at Writers Day soon! MORE ABOUT MS. GILBERT: Frances Gilbert is Editor-in-Chief of Doubleday Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. She is also an author, with titles that include I Love Pink (Step Into Reading) and the upcoming picture book Go, Girls, Go! (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, November 2019). To learn more about WD2019 and register (while tickets last!), check out the events page.
For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.Photo courtesy of Frances Gilbert. Book covers by Doubleday Books.