Rx for Writers

Transcripts

"An Inside Look at Cricket Magazine Group and Cricket Books" with Paula Morrow

Thursday, September 4, 2003

Mel: is Mel Boring, moderator of this chat with Paula Morrow, and editor of the ICL web site.

Paula is Paula Morrow, Editor of Babybug and Ladybug in the Cricket Magazine Group. Paula also edits chapter books for Cricket Books. She is a published author in her own right, of materials for children, adults and professionals. Paula Morrow also appears as a regular columnist for Once Upon A Time, an on-line magazine well read in the profession by children’s writers. Paula is also a very popular speaker at children’s writers conferences, and discussed that topic last time she appeared in our chat room. Having guested in our chat room before, she quickly became a strong favorite of us chatsters.

Green shows the usernames of the people who asked Paula Morrow questions.

Interviews are held every other Thursday evening for two hours, beginning at 9 CANADA/ Atlantic Time, 8 Eastern Time, 7 Central Time, 6 Mountain Time, and 5 Pacific Time.

* Paula Morrow graciously offered to answer all questions left over at the end of this chat, and those will be posted later at the bottom of this transcript—THANK YOU to Paula!

 

Mel: Here on a cooler late summer evening than can be remembered this summer of 2003, we are pleased and favored to have Paula Morrow back to visit with us in the chat room. Paula has been here before, and elicits very sharply focused questions, as well as giving us relaxed and honest answers. In addition to magazines, Paula edits chapter books for Cricket Books. A published author in her own right of children's, adult, and professional materials, she is also a regular columnist for Once Upon A Time. Many of you have been wondering, since her detached retina incident last May, how she's doing by now. She will tell us tonight, as well as talking with us about the Cricket Magazine Group and Cricket Books. WELCOME BACK, Paula, someone I'm ENORMOUSLY glad to see return--HELLO!


Paula:
Hi, Mel, I'm tickled to be back!


Mel:
Paula, tell us how and when you FIRST even heard of Cricket Magazine--I know there's a great story behind that!


Paula:
Oh my, yes! I was a librarian for many, many years and working as children's librarian for a big library system. We had Cricket in the collection, of course. At the same time, my husband was foreman of a 1200 acre ranch in SW Missouri. One day, I came home from work and found him sitting in the porch swing (very unusual, because he was ALWAYS working, never sitting) with a tablet in his lap, writing something. He said, "I'm writing a children's story. I'm gonna sell it to Cricket." And I thought, "Hah!" Well, darned if he didn't sell them that story...and the next one...and the next...and the next.… Somewhere along in there, he mentioned me in a letter to his editor, my library and literary background. Not long after, the phone rang one day and the Carus personnel director asked if I'd like to interview for an opening. The rest is history.


Mel:
Paula, isn't it UNusual for a person to start right out, even as an assistant editor, as you did? Don't they usually start at a publisher in the mail room, clerking or something like that?


Paula:
Well, I only know about Cricket. We don't have a mail room and we don't have clerks. A person may start as an intern or as an assistant to the editors. Or someone with experience will start as an assistant or associate editor.


Mel:
Do you remember your very first tasks there at Cricket as an assistant editor?


Paula:
Just figuring out where everything was and how everything worked! _ Actually, I was hired to take over Ladybug, because the editor who had helped launch it was leaving.


Mel:
So you had not only to take over a magazine, but one that had just been launched?


Paula:
Yes, Ladybug launched in September 1990 and I started in early June 1991, so I’ve been pretty much involved in the development from then to what Ladybug is today.


vijaya: Paula, so nice to finally "meet" you.

Paula: Oh, hi, Vijaya! Good to meet you, too! Thanks for the get-well card!

goingbuggy: Paula, congratulations on your retinal recovery!


Paula:
Thanks! Actually, it wasn't bad at all.


Mel:
People were concerned about your eye incident, can you tell us about that?


Paula:
Well, what I know, which isn't much. I have no clue what happened or how. I'd had cataract surgery a couple of years ago, which was a piece of cake. (I have a great doctor.) So when I noticed my vision slipping, I assumed I'd just need another cataract removed-- and I ignored it for a couple of weeks. Then one day I realized the world looked like a lunar eclipse, with a big bite out of it, so I called the doctor's office and asked whether I should come in. Next thing I know, I'm in surgery--and not allowed to read for a couple of weeks. That's about it.


Mel:
Are you fully back to reading and work now?


Paula:
Yep, full steam ahead. I rather miss the leisure. :)


Mel:
And you learned to play the guitar while you were recuperating?!


Paula:
Yes, that's something you can do while you're illiterate!


Mel:
HA! (-:}


remus: Hello Paula! Thanks for coming today and I hope you feel better after the eye operation. I have illustrated the cover of the May/June Cicada issue and have tried to get a rebus story into Ladybug. Could you tell us what you are looking for in rebus stories and if the chances are better if the author can illustrate the story?


Paula:
Rebuses--good question! You've probably noticed that our rebus format is unique-- different from what you'll see in other preschool magazines. We don't print the word next to the icon in the text, which means the nouns have to be very concrete. "House" works, "home" doesn't, etc. We also want our rebuses to be brief, because the "key" to the icons is in the border illustrations, which take up a fair amount of the page. A rebus might go on for three or four pages, but only have 50 words per page. (Fewer is even better.) Yet in that 150 words, or less, we still need a good story with a beginning, middle, end, and a fun problem/resolution. (Does this sound familiar?!) And don't forget a climax or surprise twist at the end! As for illustrating it yourself: we evaluate text first, then pick an artist when the manuscript is assigned to an issue. So send your samples to the art department if you want to be considered.


honkifyoulovejesus: Hi Mel and Paula! Really happy to be here.


dinny: Do you accept unsolicited manuscripts for both magazines?


Paula: Yes, we accept unsolicited submissions for ALL the "bug mags." The Cobblestone magazines, of course, want queries to their themes and the science magazines are interested in developing relationships with writers who can then do articles to suit specific needs.


goingbuggy: I'm indebted to you (1st-ever acceptance) AND your husband!


Paula: Congratulations! What was it?

goingbuggy: "Warm, Red Winter" (non-rhyming poem for Ladybug)


Paula: Oh yes, I enjoy "Warm Red Winter"! It's coming up soon, as you probably have been notified.

goingbuggy: Hooray! I'll be stalking the postman!


duckduck: Were you working on a new career just in case, when you started at the Cricket Group?


Paula:
No, I'm afraid I'm not much of a planner on a personal level. I can plan at work, I'm very organized, but in my personal life I tend just
to go with the flow.

Mel: A presubmitted question from Vijaya: "Is there any communication between Cricket and Cobblestone? I have a manuscript that is being held by Cricket, which may be more appropriate for an upcoming issue of Odyssey. What do you think I should do?"

Paula:
If the manuscript is apt for a specific theme and the query deadline is coming up soon, I'd go ahead and query Odyssey. Do tell them that the manuscript is currently at Cricket, but that you would withdraw it from Cricket if Odyssey wants it. (I assume that's the case.) If it's NOT for a specific issue theme, then you might as well wait to see if Cricket wants it.


duckduck: Does Cricket Books accept poetry collections?


Paula:
Tough call! We're open to just about everything, but a poetry collection is a hard sell. We have to consider the marketing aspects of any manuscript, and unless you're Jack Prelutsky or Nikki Grimes or someone like that, sales are an uphill battle. But as I said, we're open to all genres.


brandle: What type of stories is Cricket Magazine looking for presently?


Paula:
At Cricket Magazine, it's not the type so much as the writing. We welcome variety. Fantasy and good sci-fi are always welcome, as are stories with some kind of science angle, or foreign setting, or great human interest. We look at the language, the quality of the writing. That's the primary concern.


soradina: I'm glad your eye surgery went well. Can you tell me what is the normal response time for a submission to Spider Magazine, if the author who has previously submitted a manuscript and has not heard within the stated time period?


Paula: Yesterday someone inquired about a manuscript to Spider so I asked Heather Delabre, the editor, how she's doing, and she said she's caught up with everything she's received through August. Remember, though, that the first readers sometimes get behind. As a rule of thumb, I'd say if you haven't heard back in three months, ask about it. A short note is enough. The administrative assistant will check on it for you.


Mel:
Here was another question--presubmitted--from George, about a manuscript sent to Spider, Paula: "I've had a manuscript out to Cricket Group--Spider Magazine--for 4 months now, when should I write them a letter to inquire about my manuscript?"

Paula: If it's been that long, I'd guess there's a good chance it's gone astray in the mail. On waiting-for-a-response, would it help if I give a thumbnail sketch of our procedures?

Mel:
YES!


Paula:
Okay, when the mail comes in every morning, it's dumped on the Admin Assistant's desk. She date-stamps and opens every envelope and reads every cover letter. If a piece is unsolicited, it goes straight from her desk to a big box under her desk. Then once a week, she seals the box and forwards it to a first reader. The first readers are instructed to be very generous--if there's any kind of spark in a manuscript, they write comments on the envelope and send it back to the office for a second reading. At that point, the manuscript (still in its original date-stamped and now commented-on envelope) goes to an in-house editor, who decides whether it gets a third reading. The first readers are authorized to form-reject, and the first in-house reader may also form-reject. But once something goes to that second in-house reader (if you’re counting, that’s actually the third reader), a file is created. Each editor writes a reader report. The compiled comments go to the Editor in Chief (for Cricket and Cicada) or the Editorial Director (for Ladybug, Spider, Babybug) who makes the accept/reject decision and sends it back to the issue editor. (We do have the option of arguing if we don't agree.) You can see why it takes weeks for a submission to work its way through this route and why we appreciate your patience!

Mel: It sounds like a very SURE route, both for you and for submitters, Paula!

Paula: But four months IS too long, and you should definitely inquire, George. Things sometimes get lost in the mail coming to us or going back to you, and I'm not sure what the Post Office does with envelopes that don't have enough postage. (And I know you wouldn’t send something without a SASE, but if someone does, the manuscript is recycled.)

regina: My first children's credit will be in Ladybug! It is a rebus, "The Picnic Guest."


Paula: Yes, "The Picnic Guest" is a fun rebus! Not scheduled yet, I'm afraid, but it will be.

gira: What are you looking for in middle-grade fiction at Cricket Books?


Paula:
Middle-grade fiction: humor! (In fact, add humor to the list for Cricket Magazine, too.) We'd really like more books on the level of the Robert series by Barbara Seuling. Not clones, of course, but she has such a knack for how kids think and talk and act, and her books are accessible to second and third grade readers.


Mel:
Someone in the chat room last Tuesday asked: "A friend and I have both received letters saying that the Cricket Group receives so many manuscripts that in effect it 'loses' some when they are sent out to first readers. Apparently, the manuscripts are not numbered or recorded when they are received. Could you comment, please, on these missing manuscripts?"


Paula:
I don't believe manuscripts are lost en route to or from first readers. How could something get lost going from the Admin Assistant's hands to a box at her feet? It’s true that we don’t log manuscripts in until they’ve passed the first reader, so we have no way of knowing whether we actually received something that was mailed to us. And—true confession time—once we found a manuscript folder that had slipped from the back of a file drawer down the inside back of the cabinet!


del: I have a poem accepted at Ladybug and am delighted! I am currently working on more poems and am finding that they are thematically related. My question is: Would you consider a stipulation in the contract that would allow rights to revert back to author in the event I find a book publisher for my poetry collection?


Paula:
We've had to institute standard contracts because of the volume of materials we publish, so we can't agree to have individuals tinkering with specific wording in the contracts. But we do have a "nonexclusive" clause that allows the author to retain copyright and resell the work in any way or format while granting us reprint rights. Our biggest problem with our original contract (which was just one-time first rights) was that authors would move away or die or just plain disappear, meaning we couldn't reach them if we wanted to reprint something. It was a HUGE problem with a couple of projects we wanted to do. So our big thinkers came up with the nonexclusive idea in order to be able to reuse materials, even if the author moves to Venus. (Or is it Mars?)

Mel: Venus for women, Mars for men, I think! (-:}


Mel:
A Pre-Asked Question from Anne Marie Pace: "From various writer's groups, I gather that the Carus Group's all-rights policy may have been changed, or is, at least, negotiable for certain writers. Could you please clarify the Carus group's current policy on purchasing rights?"


Paula:
Our preferred contract is all rights. It's simplest for the permissions department. We have some wonderful writers who have been with us for a long time, though, and rather than ask them to change an existing relationship, we offer them the nonexclusive, although, frankly, some of them don't mind signing the all-rights contract. A new writer just getting started will get an all-rights contract, which means we're buying that particular arrangement of words. Of course, the idea and the research and the characters and such all still belong to the author.

Mel: Having published a little bit with Cricket, I myself would NOT mind signing the all-rights contract, because I have found them to be very fair and even-handed, and understanding of the fact that we writers want to carry on with a certain story or article to other forms with it!


dinny: Do you look for more male or female protagonists in stories?


Paula:
Whatever is more logical for the story. Actually, we look for a balance--and it's always nice to see boys and girls interacting, too.


graceann: Please tell us about Once Upon A Time.

Paula: It's a newsletter for children's writers, published by a poet in Minneapolis. The whole point is a place writers and future writers can "hang out" together, sort of "over the back fence" friendly.


Mel:
By the way, Paula Morrow writes a regular column for Once Upon A Time. She has had a column about rights a couple of issues ago. The URL for Once Upon A Time is:
http://members.aol.com/ouatmag/

Paula: Thanks, Mel!

Mel: You’re warmly welcome!

remus: Are the two art directors in the Cricket Group (I believe it is Ron and Suzanne) connected? Do they share information? Do they have the same art file cabinet?


Paula: Yes, yes, and yes. Okay, more details?


Mel:
Yes, yes and yes!


Paula:
Ron's been the Cricket art director for longer than I can remember, and he's great. When Ladybug was launched, he did both mags for a while. But then the company kept growing, so Sue was hired to take over Ladybug. She's amazing, too--a great artistic eye, and she's also incredibly organized and good at keeping artists on schedule! They have side-by-side offices and talk to each other often.


soradina: A continuation of my previous question: If the author who has previously submitted a manuscript to Spider has not heard back within the given response time would you recommend that the author query the magazine to inquire if the manuscript is still being considered, or would that spoil their chances of acceptance?


Paula:
Querying won't spoil your chance of acceptance (unless you use really bad language, I suppose). It will alert us if something has been sitting on a desk too long (Yes, we really do LOOK when there's a question) but it won't necessarily speed up the reviewing time if someone hasn't had time to get through his/her pile.


duckduck: How far ahead are you working on Ladybug and Babybug?


Paula:
I've already finalized issue contents through April 2004 and will be doing May and June before the end of this month.


oopsagain: Finalized through to April 2004! Wow, that's pretty far ahead!

Paula: ALL these questions! Will we ever get through them all?


Mel:
You're such an EXCELLENT question answerer, Paula!

Paula: How would it be if I sent back answers later for any questions left over after we’re finished tonight?

Mel: That would be EXCELLENT! I’ll just add them at the end of this "on-the-air" transcript when I receive them. You’re very gracious to do that!


vijaya: Do you send complimentary copies to authors?


Paula:
You receive six copies of the issue containing your work, and a courtesy discount if you want more.


t green: Does Cricket send free sample magazines?


Paula:
Not to individuals. If you're with a nonprofit group and it's a good cause (inner city kids or something) we'll donate issues, and we provide a generous supply to writers conferences whenever one of our editors is speaking. But authors building their personal collections have to pay for samples.


Mel:
Another Pre-Submitted question, from Vijaya: "May we send you a book manuscript directly for consideration?"


Paula:
Hi, Vijaya! You may have heard that Cricket Books had to declare a moratorium on unsolicited book manuscripts as of March 1, due to reduced staff. But we're still happy to receive manuscripts from writers with whom we already have a relationship. Send the manuscript to me directly at the Peru address (P.O. Box 300; 315 Fifth St.; Peru, IL 61354), NOT the Chicago book address (Suite 1100; 332 South Michigan Ave.; Chicago, IL 60604). And for everyone who doesn't already have an editor but wants to send a book manuscript, the best way to break in is to sell us a magazine piece, and then you WILL have an editor!

oceana34: I am very new here, what is a moratorium?


Paula:
A moratorium is a time-out, a temporary period when we don't have the time and staff to read unsolicited book manuscripts. But there’s NO moratorium on magazine pieces.


vijaya: Just curious--do my manuscripts go to you direct if I've been accepted before?


Paula: This can vary. In general, once you've established a relationship with an editor, that editor will see your work first even if it's more suitable for one of the other magazines. But sometimes the Admin Assistant will go ahead and give it to the magazine editor, rather than the regular editor. She's very sharp at recognizing what's appropriate.

duckduck: Are you saying I should send something for Spider to you because you have accepted my work in the past?


Paula:
No, I'm saying just send it to "submissions editor" because the admin assistant will sort it out. She's very good.


Mel:
Paula, here's a word of explanation from duckduck’s previously asked question:


duckduck (Sharon Soffe): My last contract from you doesn't have a publication date, that's why I asked how far ahead you were working.


Paula: Oh, hi, Sharon! You have more than one, don't you? Aren't they poems? I try very hard to use poems in approximately the order they were accepted, allowing for thematic considerations, of course. At the moment, I have just a few poems left that were accepted in 1999--and will publish those as quickly as they
fit into an issue. At the same time, I use some that are more recent but are so perfect for a specific issue that it would be a shame not to use them just because they're newer. That sounds funny--did it make sense?


Mel:
Yes!


mayuri: How much easier or more difficult is it, relatively, to have a poem considered, as opposed to a story or nonfiction article, in either of your magazines and/or the other "bugs"?


Paula:
I'm most familiar with my own RFT, of course. (That's "ready for typesetting.") As of today, I'd say I have about three years' worth of stories on hand, two years' worth of nonfiction articles, and five years worth of poems. I also have about a year's worth of activities, and less than a year of fingerplays/actions rhymes. Guess which ones I'm most amenable to accepting?


mbvoelker: I'm hearing that Cricket/Carus is still only buying all rights and I'm hearing that you all are now negotiating rights on a case-by-case basis. Which is true?


Paula: Neither one is true! (Gee, I hate rumors. I’m glad you came to the source!) We have a standard all-rights contract and we also have a standard nonexclusive clause, as explained earlier. We do not negotiate "case-by-case" because we don't have the time or the staff to do that. We've had a few authors who keep writing/calling/faxing our permissions editor with demands, but that's not negotiating--and it’s not the way to get what you want.


roseforemily: At a marketing session at the recent SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles, a presenter said that Cricket Books is totally shut down to submissions. Say it ain't so?! And if it is, do you know for how long?


Paula: Good grief, another rumor. Sigh. We have a moratorium on unsolicited manuscripts. The details are on our web site. We're still accepting and reading solicited manuscripts, and we'll lift the moratorium once we get caught up. For the time being, though, you need to have a specific editor interested in your manuscript before you send it.


Mel:
Thanks so much for your patient answers, Paula, to dispel those rumors that seem to run rampant all the time!


honkifyoulovejesus: What type of multicultural stories would you be interested in? Is there an interest in homeschooling articles?


Paula: Multicultural stories: we love stories set in places that will be unfamiliar or less familiar to our young readers, but remember that STORY is paramount; the multicultural aspect is setting. Cultural details should be intrinsic to the story rather than tacked on for effect. Homeschooling articles: I'm afraid I can't imagine what that would be. The ones I've seen have been addressed to parents or other adults. Remember our audience! But if you have a good idea for a homeschooling article that would please kids, why not try?


dinny: Do any of the "Bug" magazines accept queries? Or do they prefer the complete manuscript?


Paula: The bug mags want compete manuscripts. If it's nonfiction, don't forget the sources!


dinny: Do you accept e-mail submissions or do you prefer snailmail?

Paula: Snailmail, please! We're not set up to receive e-mail submissions. Or e-mail queries, for that matter.


Mel:
Paula, can you talk about e-mail etiquette, what can be done, and what cannot be done when communicating with editors by e-mail?


Paula:
Well, the main thing is don't make the first move. If an editor e-mails you, then that's the appropriate way to respond. But don't go sleuthing for an editor's e-mail address on your own. E-mail takes WAY too much time out of an editorial day already!

remus: Do you remember a cover letter that caught your attention? And if yes, what was so special about it?


Paula: Cover letter--yes! Best one I ever saw was on an article for the Ladybug Parent's Companion. Our guidelines say the author should send a statement of qualifications for writing the article. This writer, mother of a three-year-old, told me (note, I looked this up after the chat so I could quote verbatim): "I feel qualified to write about issues relating to young children simply because that’s the very world I live in--and I’m paying attention."


Mel:
I LOVE it!


vijaya: Do you mind getting duplicates? I recently sent manuscripts that may have gotten lost in the mail.


Paula:
No problem! If they both show up, we'll just put them in the same file.


oopsagain: 1st reader, 1st in-house reader? Is that first 1st someone outside?


Paula: The very first readers are the out-of-house readers: former editors, etc. who do the initial culling. First in-house reader is an actual editor who receives the things the first reader liked.


gira: How does one become a "first reader"?


Paula:
Be a former Cricket editor, intern, or other editorial employee.


brandle: Does Cricket publish stories from Canadian writers?


Paula:
Oh, yes, we have some good Canadian writers. Also Germans, Australians, New Zealanders, Brits--ditto our artists. We're quite global.


dolly: Hi, Paula. Does Cricket magazine ever accept reprints?


Paula:
Yes. In fact, part of my job is screening new books for possible excerpts to reprint in the magazines, and we have on occasion accepted reprints directly from the authors.


taggy: How do you plan out Ladybug--just loose themes?


Paula:
Once a year I take the fiction and nonfiction RFT (that's "ready for typesetting," remember) files home with me and spread them out on my dining room table. I sort the manuscripts by age (try to use the oldest ones first) and then make piles of things that seem to go together. Maybe there will be several horse stories or several related crafts. There are ALWAYS several birds-in-spring stories. Etc. I play solitaire until I have twelve logical piles, considering topics and themes, age of manuscripts, number of pages, and other subtle aspects that strike me. Voila! Themes! Then I make rough thumbnails to see that the pieces really do fit together, and put them in twelve monthly files. This doesn't fill the entire issue, it only places the long pieces: stories, articles, rebuses. Then during the year, I fill in the shorter pieces, poems, activities, etc. as I go along.


Mel:
What a crafty worker you are, Paula! It sounds to me like you editors have GREAT creative freedom in the Cricket Group.


Paula:
Yep, we're lucky!


Mel:
And I think that must be one thing that breathes so much life into their publications.


remus: When addressing a submission to you directly, would it actually be reviewed by you or would it first go to one of your editors?


Paula:
The admin assistant who opens the mail pretty much ignores the name on the envelope because our names are in so many public places, that they're almost meaningless. That's why it's great that she has such a keen sense of what's appropriate! So if she knows it's someone I work with a lot, she may give it to me directly, but if it's a total stranger, it will go to a first reader.


honkifyoulovejesus: What are the odds of a "bug" story going from magazine to book? Does that happen often?


Paula: …I'm hesitating here because I can think of so many "if" clauses. Yes, a lot of book authors have gotten their start with the Cricket Magazines, but the book wasn't the same as the magazine story. It might have been the same idea, the same characters, but it also took rewriting to change formats. The pacing is different, the flow, a lot of the details, even. When I speak at writers conferences, I often bring a little "show and tell" of stories from the magazines and the books they became, so people can compare them. It's a fascinating thing to study!


izzy: Can you tell me how long after a contract is signed a writer can expect to see her work published?


Paula:
Depends on which magazine and what the piece is. As I mentioned above, I have more stories on hand than articles, more poems than stories. Turnaround is probably quicker for Cicada, which has fewer manuscripts on hand, and longer for Cricket, which has healthy manuscript files. But we work at least eight months in advance of every issue, so that would be the minimum.


Mel:
Paula, does Cicada have fewer manuscripts on hand because fewer are received for older readers, YA's?


Paula:
Yes. Seems more people write the little short, "easy" pieces. Also, Cicada manuscripts tend to be very similar, and we can only use so many teenage angst stories.


Mel:
Then perhaps good advice to beginners is to write NONfiction, and also try to write for older readers, maybe.


Paula:
Yes, Mel, very good advice! Or send us good teen HUMOR and we'll love you forever!


marie: What's the most important advice to know about submission?


Paula:
Read the guidelines! Study sample copies. (Okay, that's two advices--call it a bonus.)


writerx: what is the best advice you ever received as a writer?


Paula: Wow, thanks--you just made me think! Hold on a minute…REwrite.


writerx What is the best advice YOU can GIVE a new writer?


Paula:
Read! Hang around kids of the age you want to write for. Think like a kid. (And it wouldn’t hurt to read my column in Once Upon A Time!)


goingbuggy: Your Once Upon A Time column is wonderful; and inspiring!


vijaya: Is it possible to ask for book rights back when a story or article is published by you?


Paula: Sure! Before you go to the trouble, though, be sure your book is going to be word-for-word the same as what the magazine published. If it's different, you already own it and don't have to ask. See my explanation above.


Mel:
Several people have been asking just WHAT a BOARD BOOK is, Paula, the length, number of pages, words, and so on, and any general board book information. Since you edit board books, I thought you'd be a good person to ask this question of.


Paula:
Well, let me start with a little correction. I don't edit board books, I edit a board-book magazine. Babybug is a regular periodical that just happens to be printed on heavy cardstock in a format similar to a board book. But Cricket Books doesn't publish board books. What I know about them comes from studying them for Babybug. Anyway, a board book is a short, simple book printed on heavy cardstock or cardboard, often in a die-cut shape (a book about a kitten that's cut out into a cat shape, for example) or with some kind of physical gimmick: a hole to peek through, flaps to lift, etc. The text might be a little poem, a story, an action rhyme, a concept (colors, shapes, prepositions). Recently I've seen a discouraging number of board books that take art from classic picture books and print it on board pages with watered-down text. Some of these strike me as inappropriate for the obvious audience, which is infants and toddlers. My best advice for anyone intersted in doing board books is to sit down in a big bookstore and read every board book they have for sale. Notice the similarities and differences, the variety, and who publishes what.


writerx: if you like a writer's concept but the story or article needs work, do you work with the writer at all?


Paula: Oh, yes! If something has promise but isn't there yet, I'll often send a "rewrite" letter making suggestions. The crucial element here is whether the author is able to revise and improve. Occasionally we'll go through two or three rewrites before accepting something. and sometimes, sadly, we’ll go through several rewrites only to figure out the manuscript is NOT going to work for us.


taggy: Do you have a contact regarding speaking at conferences?

Paula: The magical administrative assistant can handle speaking invitations, too. You can request an editor by name or by magazine ("we’d like a Cicada editor"). Or you can drop me a note by snailmail.


Mel:
Presubmitted, from Nancy: "About a year ago, Paula, you wrote to me, telling me that you had more than enough manuscripts for Babybug and didn't need any more. Is this still the case? Or are you now looking for more material?"


Paula:
Gosh, Nancy, either my typewriter had the hiccups or else you misunderstood what I said! I don't remember ever saying I had more than enough manuscripts for Babybug overall. I might have said I had more than enough pieces of a specific type or on a specific topic. I see TONS of baby-in-the-bathtub poems, for example, or springtime birds/flowers/seeds/nests. That doesn't mean I won't consider another, but it would have to be really outstanding to join the queue. I'm sorry if what I said wasn't clear!


Mel:
Nancy also asks you: "I love writing for age 3 to 8's. Cricket Books--what kind of picture books are you most interested in? Fiction? Nonfiction? Do you need fantasy-picture-story-book manscripts? Or do you prefer very short texts, for beginning readers, say 20-150 words long? Do you do the standard 32-page picture-story books, or do you prefer shorter ones of 8, 12, or 16 pages?"


Paula: We're still searching for the perfect picture book. It's one of those annoying cases of "we'll know it when we see it." Wish I could be more specific, but I really can't. I don't think we'd go for the shorter ones, though. Thirty-two pages is best.


duckduck: Have you scheduled my poem "Milky Way"?


Paula:
I'm sorry--that one I don't remember.


pax: Is there a time requisite for seasonal material?


Paula: Nope, just send it when you feel it's ready. It won't appear the same year, in any event. I've already picked the holiday stories through 2004.


remus: When sending a cover letter to Ladybug, is it advisable to mention that you have studied at the ICL? Or is that credit irrelevant for the reviewer?


Paula: That's really irrelevant. The manuscript speaks for itself; a cover letter is mainly identification.


paige: Cricket published my first article ("The Magic of the Petrifying Well"--Aug 2003) and I am delighted. In reading Cricket (I became hooked while researching magazine markets) I see there are serial and two-part stories ("Noah and the Crow," for example) How are these chosen? P.S.: Thanks to all you hard-working Cricket editors for a fantabulous publication and congratulations on your 30th anniversary!


Paula: Thanks! The anniversary is exciting. Often, serial stories are reprints from books--or they may be just stories we like that are too long to print in a single issue. Submit as you would anything else, and mention in your cover letter that you see the piece as a two-parter or whatever. Remember that there will need to be a logical break in the middle, cliff-hanger preferred.

goingbuggy: (Passes around champagne and sparkling cider for the 30th Anniversary!)

Paula: Yum!


vijaya: Do Cricket and Cobblestone editors talk to each other?


Paula:
Occasionally but not on a regular basis.


marie: is there a writing contest at Cricket to enter now?


Paula: Only if you're a child! :-) I wish there were. We talk about it from time to time.
So far, nobody has had the time to make it happen. I'll keep mentioning it.

brandle: regarding my question about Canadian writers, what about Canadian themes and topics?


Paula: Sure! We're an international magazine with an international readership and, I might add, a LOT of Canadian subscribers.

del: I hope I'm not beating a dead horse, but I want to be clear on this. I know you're not reading unsolicited book manuscripts, but it sounds like you'll read a query letter about a book? And what about enclosing the first manuscript page? Thanks!


Paula: That's difficult. A query letter doesn't do justice to a book manuscript, although it might pique interest. Sure, send me a one-page letter and maybe three manuscript pages. Write "ICL Chat" on the outside of the envelope, since I’ve made the offer here. Give me a couple of months to respond (not to read it, just to get to it) and don’t forget your SASE.


padjak: If you receive a rejection letter and nothing is checked at the top, but an editor writes a note at the bottom, do you have file for that?


Paula: No, we don't keep a record of the form rejects. The note at the bottom is encouragement, though, so please send something else when you have a manuscript you think is appropriate for us.


Paula:
Hey, Mel, can I tout my critique here?


Mel:
YES!


Paula:
I've donated a manuscript critique to a charity auction, and I'd be tickled if folks want to bid on it. Go to:
http://www.theotherside.org/auction/services.html If that direct link doesn't work, just go to http://www.theotherside.org, then click on Spirit of Hope Auction, then click on services. THANKS!


Mel:
THANKS, Paula, I'll bet there'll be LOTS of bids for your critique! Here is the text of Paula’s manuscript critique offer you’ll see at Spirit of Hope:

"Paula Morrow, executive editor of the well-loved Ladybug and Babybug magazines and editor of Cricket Books, will provide the highest bidder with a thorough review of one children's literature manuscript up to 10 double-spaced pages in length. She'll offer specific line-editing, improvement ideas, and marketing tips if warranted. (Guarantee of publication is not included!)…"

Mel: Paula, you are so amazingly relaxed in answering ANY and ALL questions, and a real pleasure to moderate for. I heard people tonight asking many of the questions I knew they wanted to ask, and I can tell they were not at all afraid to ask—beginner to published. We could go on and on and on. Thank you for being here, and even more we are grateful for your recovery that made it possible for you to return. Would you come back and chat with us again sometime, please?


Paula:
I'd love to!


Mel:
Please come back two weeks from tonight, September 18, when Dr. Fred Bortz will be here, talking about the topic of "Dr. Fred's Worlds of Writing: Earth, Mars, and Beyond." Please visit this marvelous children's science writer's web site before September 18, to get a handle on what he's written, which goes well beyond planetary science, the subject that currently has him enthralled. Dr. Fred’s site is at:
http://drfred.hispeed.com/ We will ask Dr. Fred about his upcoming biography of planetary scientist Heidi Hammel, and his school visit talks. He will talk about his technology books, COLLISION COURSE!, TECHNO-MATTER, CATASTROPHE! and MARTIAN FOSSILS ON EARTH?, and many more. And we're sure to ask him about his recent visit to Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park and three days spent observing with scientist Heidi Hammel at the peak of Hawaii’s highest mountain. Dr. Fred would like to "see you" here on Thursday evening, September 18!

Mel: Paula Morrow, can’t say it too many times: We so appreciate your being here tonight!


Paula:
Please remember to send me all the questions we DIDN'T answer, so I can answer them.

Mel: Thank you, again, and I will attach them at the bottom of this transcript when you send them. And goodnight everyone!


Paula:
G'night, Mel!

Mel:
G'night!

 

* Below are the questions left over, which Paula has graciously sent answers back for.

 

remus: When submitting a story to Ladybug, is it better to send illustrations with it right away or only mention in the cover letter that you could illustrate the story, if it is accepted? 


Paula:
Depends on whether you’re primarily an author or an illustrator. Text and art are considered separately. If the art is the strong point, send the art (copies, not originals!) to an Art Director and enclose the text. The AD will decide whether he/she wants to use the art, then forward the text to an editor for evaluation. If you send the package to the editorial department, we’ll consider the text first, then if we want it, show the samples to an art director.

del: Can you explain what you're looking for in an "activity" for Ladybug


Paula: It’s hard to explain without having samples in front of us. We need unusual activities that reinforce developmentally appropriate skills: matching, identifying patterns, finding differences; recognizing directions, prepositions, sounds; mazes, puzzles; size and number concepts (not counting but less/more, comparatives, superlatives); ideas for takeout pages. It’s not necessary to be an artist; if you have a great idea, we’ll illustrate it. Note that poetic language is a plus. Notice also what you don’t see in Ladybug. We don’t use word searches or crosswords, for example. Except for the removable takeout pages, we don’t use consumable activities, because we want children to save their issues to read again and again. Instructions for a maze would say "trace with your finger" rather than "draw with a crayon." Check any good child development book for what preschoolers are learning. But it’s crucial to examine back issues to see how we present activities.

dinny: What do you mean by, "Don't forget the sources!" when submitting nonfiction?  Are you talking about permission and/or releases?


Paula:
Sources, resources, bibliography, book list, names of experts you interviewed, personal credentials, anywhere you obtained information. We want to know you did your homework and your article is accurate.

t green: How can a writer move from their submissions being viewed as "unsolicited" to being "solicited"? 


Paula: Establish a relationship with an editor by repeatedly sending us high quality, unusual manuscripts targeted to our readers. (This is where good market research pays off!) After a couple of acceptances, we’ll start to recognize your name.

dianna: In the ICL Children's Book Market, there is a publisher whose instructions say to CALL before submitting. I have never heard of this before, what do you say? 


Paula: Yes, I noticed that, too. I just rolled my eyes and turned the page.

cchance: If a submission is found to be interesting, but not quite right yet, will it be accepted and then will the magazine work with the writer to fix it? 


Paula: Not usually; the writer will be given suggestions and invited to send a rewrite on spec.

sissyg: What are your favorite type of stories? 


Paula: Personally, I love a story that makes me forget myself and become the character.

gira: Is the moritorium you mentioned on book submissions or magazine submissions? 


Paula: It’s only on unsolicited book manuscripts.

vijaya: What is your greatest need for Ladybug and Babybug


Paula: Well, if I name something here, it will no longer be my greatest need! I asked for something specific in an interview last year, and I’ve been swamped--have been rejecting right and left, just because the flood of submissions was overwhelming!

lynz: Has Cricket thought about posting theme lists on their website?  

   
Paula: Thought about it, yes, but it won’t happen. Our Cricket philosophy is that writers do their best work when writing something of their own choice: writing to enthusiasm rather than to assignment. The bug mags are literary magazines (yes, even the preschool ones) and look first of all for that spark of beauty or truth or wonder. Just send us your best work, and if we like it, we’ll plan an issue theme around it. See above.

izzy: Is there an editor or publisher "blacklist" of writers? 

 
Paula: Blacklist? Not that I’m aware of. A very few writers have gotten so nasty about being edited that we’d have to think twice about accepting them again. But if such a person sent a real masterpiece, we’d probably give another chance.

oceana34: I am writing a story about adoption, but having problems being realistic.  Any suggestions?


Paula: If you’re having trouble being realistic, ask yourself this: did the story choose you or did you just choose a topic? Try writing in longhand (it’s more intimate and thoughtful than typing) and just let the story flow. Write pages and pages and pages that will NOT be part of the final version, just to get acquainted with your characters. Put them in a room together and see how they interact. Put a person in a strange situation to see what she does. Write dialog just as you hear it, as if you were eavesdropping. When you feel the characters have become real people, throw away all those pages and start fresh with the story that wants to be told.

duckduck: Which magazine do you get the most manuscripts for, Babybug or Ladybug?


Paula: I’ve never counted, but I’d guess it’s a pretty even split.

taggy: You have such a large resume, got any ambitions left?

Paula: Gosh, hadn’t thought about it. Go-with-the-flow, remember? But it would sure be nice to edit a Newbery contender! Why don’t you send me one?

 

 

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