December 2008

Locked BooksAlthough most media attention has focused on the tribulations of the auto and finance industries, the current economic troubles have not left major publishers unscathed: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, publisher of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work and one of the United States’ largest educational publishers, announced a “freeze” on manuscript acquisitions last month.  

Although company spokespeople have generally described the “freeze” as a hard suspension, Josef Blumenfeld, Harcourt’s VP of Communications, has been reluctant to take such a strong stand.  As reported in the New York Times*, Blumenfeld preferred the description of Harcourt’s policy as a “freeze-lite”  under which “Every new manuscript that comes in is going to be subjected to a higher degree of scrutiny and consideration than has previously been the case.”

Nevertheless, Harcourt’s announcement is being widely interpreted as a simple and fast suspension on acquisitions.  Our opinion is that guild members (and any readers!) considering Harcourt as a possible publisher for one of their works should take Harcourt’s policy into sober consideration.

*Rich, Motoko. (2008, November 24) Book Publisher Suspends New Acquisitions. New York Times

Although timeless subjects abound in Children’s Literature, Editor Randi Rivers reminds us that it’s never a bad idea for a writer to ask herself what new perspective or idea is offered by her work:

Unfortunately, many submissions tend to be familiar story types. Bedtime stories, fairy tales, stories about an outcast whose bad trait makes him/her the hero, Tooth Fairy tales, and birthday stories top the list of overdone types. A lot of stories have the sole aim of teaching a lesson, but stories should be stories first—they should entertain.Idea Lightbulb

If you have a fresh idea or a unique way to tell a story, that’s what catches an editor’s eye. Think about your writing style and your story’s presentation. Decide how your tale stands out from the pack and capitalize on that. If you write nonfiction, then decide what holes it fills or how it’s different from other similar books. Keep revising until you’re ready to submit. Be your own toughest critic.

If you’re attracted to an archetypical figure or theme, don’t despair: remember that classics are frequently ripe for reinterpretation or a new spin.

Randi Rivers is a playwright and former publisher currently working as an editor for Charlesbridge Publishing, where she “acquires and edits eight to ten children’s books per year.”

An illustration of Puss & Boots by Walter CraneOn display until January 9th, Rutgers’ ongoing exhibit My Infant Head offers a unique opportunity to explore the history of poetry for children in England and America:

As well as examining various scholarly histories, the exhibition includes many rare and unique objects held by Special Collections and University Archives, and original art from the children’s collections of Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum.  It also features a soundscape of children’s poems read by members of the Rugters community.

The exhibition is being held in the Scholarly Communication Center, 4th floor of the Archibald S. Alexander Library on the College Avenue Campus.

Thanks to everyone who made our NJCWG December event a success this past Saturday! The Guild would like to especially thank NJCWG members Pat Koelmel and Linda Shapiro for volunteering their time to help. Our thanks also to our presenter, children’s writer and artist Dar Hosta, and to Laurie Wallmark, regional advisor for SCBWI who took the time to join us.

We appreciate the support of all our members and we want to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and the very best in the coming new year!

~ Sheila and John Wright - NJCWG Cofounders

“Come along inside... We'll see if tea and buns can make the world a better place.”
— Kenneth Grahame