Thanks so much for asking me to write a post for your blog, Lynne Marie!!
In thinking about what I could share, I focused on what helped me the most with my upcoming picture book, Norbert’s Big Dream. I’ve written many blog posts in the past – usually having something to do with writing in rhyme, as my first two books are rhymers. But, Norbert is my first non-rhymer, so I thought I’d write about something non-rhymey (hey – if Dr. Seuss can make up words!).
In November of 2013, I attended our annual Illinois SCBWI conference, Prairie Writers and Illustrators Day, which was about a year before I sold Norbert. One of the sessions I attended was “, presented by Sylvie Frank from Paula Wiseman Books. I’d never made a book dummy before and decided to work on Norbert’s Big Dream at this session. Even though I felt Norbert was “submission ready”, I thought creating a dummy might help me improve it.
To make the dummy, we cut four pieces of printing paper into quarters and stapled them together along one edge, to make a 32-page book. If you want a larger book, you can cut or fold 16 pieces of paper in half. I think Sylvie was trying to save a tree, which I appreciated!
We left the first three pages for the title page, copyright information and dedication and started the text of the story on page 4. We then cut the sentences of our story and placed them on the pages of the dummy. Once we were happy with where they were, we glued them on the pages. (Hint: use just a little glue because you’re bound to make changes.) I sometimes drew very crude sketches (the only kind I know how to draw) or I wrote a short note about what I thought the illustration could be.
Deciding where to put each sentence, and sometimes dividing sentences, was more challenging than I’d expected. I was surprised at how many changes I ended up making on a story with such a low word count.
Here’s how creating a dummy for Norbert helped me:
1 - I thought more visually about the story. I was forced to imagine where the illustrations would go on each page.
2 - I cut some of the text because I could see how the illustrations could/should replace them.
3 – I broke up sentences or paragraphs where there was a change of action or scene.
4 - I spotted redundancies and cut some of them.
5 – I could see the pacing more clearly, making it easier to break up the text to build tension and lead to a satisfying conclusion.
6 - I sequenced events in a more logical order.
7 – I created more compelling page turns.
8 - I improve word choice. Seeing the sentence alone on the page allowed me to think solely about that one sentence, making it more obvious when the language needed to be tightened or enriched.
9 - After the dummy was finished, reading the “book” allowed me to more objectively judge its readability and flow.
10 – I couldn’t wait to get home and rewrite the story!
In the end, the manuscript that was accepted had the same word count (three words less) but it was a more tightly written and a better-paced story that left lots of room for the illustrator to do his thing! So, when you finish a manuscript and think it’s ready to submit to an editor or agent, take the time to create a dummy before sending it out – you may be surprised how “not ready” it really is!
I have a bonus tip for you - Two of the three manuscripts I sold were bought by editors I’d met at SCBWI conferences. So, I highly recommend going to conferences and following up with submissions to editors and agents who presented there. Both of my editors spoke at smaller, state-level conferences, so you don’t have to go to the huge, international conferences in NY and LA (though they’re amazing).
Lori Degman is teacher of the deaf by day and an award winning picture book author by night, weekend and school holiday. She has three picture books: 1 Zany Zoo, Simon & Schuster (Cheerios New Author Contest winner & Mom’s Choice Award); Cock-a-Doodle Oops!, Creston Books (2015 International Literacy Association Honor Book & Mom’s Choice Award); and Norbert’s Big Dream, Sleeping Bear Press, coming August, 2016.
You can find more information about her books, including teacher’s guides, on her website: http://loridegman.com/loridegman.com/Books.html
Here are links to the book trailers for 1 Zany Zoo https://youtu.be/SNZTVS99l0k and Cock-a-Doodle Oops! https://youtu.be/NQg9RyO9dM4