Writing, editing, parenting, and publishing!

Photo of Deborah Halverson

I’m delighted to have Deborah Halverson visit here as part of the grand blog tour for her latest book, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies

After ten years as an editor at Harcourt Children’s Books, she left to raise her triplet sons (yikes!), taught writing at UCSD Extension, and runs the popular writers’ advice site, DearEditor.com.

She’s written two acclaimed teen novels, Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth. Her third book, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, chock-full of exercises and tips on the ins-and-outs of writing and the publishing business, is the culmination of her hard-earned experience.


Joy Chu:  Your book deftly identifies the variety of young readers. That is, young adult fiction is an umbrella term for two distinct categories, middle grade fiction (ages 9-14), and young adult fiction (ages 12-17), or teen fiction. Since the primary focus of this blog is on illustrators and their collaborators (authors, editors, and art directors), I’d like to hone in on books that get art treatment.

Would you tell us what distinguishes middle grade texts from chapter books, and books for reluctant readers?

Deborah Halverson:  Distinguishing the book levels that transition young readers from picture book to middle grade novel can be confusing, that’s for sure. Try this breakdown:

Beginning reader: Ages 5 to 8; short text, simple language, usually part of a larger beginning reader series. Example: Mr. Putter & Tabby series.

Early chapter book: Ages 6 to 9; moving away from emphasis on illustration, with longer texts broken into short chapters. Example: Magic Treehouse books (below).

Chapter book: Ages 7 to 10; fully developed characters and longer text (roughly 100 or more pages) broken into chapters; may include decorative ornaments and/or limited black-and-white illustration. Examples: Chet Gecko series.Text spread from  "The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse"

This realm of children’s books is dominated by series. Reluctant readers are more likely to choose and stick with books that feature familiar characters, author style, and themes.

Joy Chu:  Sometimes I run across picture books which I feel probably should have been middle grade illustrated books instead. That is, the books will contain way too much text, and the subject matter is a bit advanced for the target audience. Do editors find themselves in such quandaries when evaluating the target audience for a manuscript with good potential?

Deborah Halverson:  “Older” picture books target kids aged 6 to 9, or 5 to 8, and thus they tend to have a more sophisticated subject matter and approach to illustrations than the general picture book range (ages 3 to 7).

Notice the overlap of the age ranges for these older picture books and chapters books? Yep: same audience.

The organization of the material is different, though, because of the introduction of chapters. Chapter books are for readers who want a longer narrative and plot, with character development across multiple chapters. The illustrations tend to serve more as decorative elements. In picture books, the illustrations tell at least half the story.

Deborah Halverson's mighty triplet sons

Let’s not forget this factor: little peoples’ pride! Some older kids crave the independence of reading their own “big kid books,” and chapter books satisfy that yen.

And then there are those kiddoes who wouldn’t be caught dead carrying a picture book around (baby book!) but can’t wait to show off their new Magic Treehouse book to their BFFs.

As well, the topics of older picture books and beginning readers are usually different, with the picture books often tackling larger concepts or events, while the chapter books are focused heavily on the relationships between characters.

These factors play into an author’s and editor’s decision between “picture book” and “chapter book.”

Joy Chu:  How does an editor decide if a middle grade book or chapter book requires illustration? And would the text feature different traits if it were for a picture book?

Deborah Halverson:  Middle grade novels and older chapter books, which can range from 75-100 or more pages, have different illustrative needs.

MG novels may have no illustrations at all, or “spot” illustrations (maybe one per chapter). This art complements the text, giving the young reader something extra for interest’s sake.

In contrast, the illustrations in a chapter book play a bigger role in the storytelling, assisting young readers as they work to decipher the sentences and making the spreads less intimidating.

Some chapter books even spice up the text itself with graphic elements—funky fonts, colored words, that sort of thing. The Geronimo Stilton series is a perfect example of this technique . . . which may account for my three sons’ instant love of that spunky mouse. I was sitting in a lawn chair flipping through The Phantom of the Subway (Geronimo Stilton #13) one day while my then-five-year-olds played in the garden. One boy peeked over my shoulder and never looked away. The other two boys soon peeked over my other shoulder, and then the four of us sat there, on the driveway, and read all 128 pages of the book. They stayed tight at my side the whole time, as mesmerized by the pages themselves as by the story.

Joy Chu:  You’ve worked with a wide variety of illustrators, authors, and target audiences. You were the editor of Searching for Oliver K. Woodman (Harcourt), the sequel to The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman. Tell us about working with Joe Cepeda.

 

Deborah Halverson: My knee-jerk response: dream illustrator.

I absolutely adore Joe’s palette, his imagination is off the chart, and he is a master at visual storytelling—moving the “camera” around as we turn the pages, creating a palpable sense of movement with his viewpoint changes.

Sample spread from "The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman"

He’s also a total professional, working well with deadlines and seeing editorial feedback as “collaboration” rather than “interloping.” Believe me, editors love that. Plus, Joe’s just the sweetest person. Can you tell I’m a fan?

My favorite example of Joe’s visual storytelling prowess occurs in The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman. In that book, Oliver is a wooden man who is conveyed city-by-city across the U.S. by kind travelers.

The original manuscript contained only the text that appears on the postcards sent by the kind travelers to update Oliver’s creator of his progress. Joe decided that Oliver’s travel scenes would be wordless art-only spreads, and he filled those spreads with amazing American landscapes. Green skies, pink skies, blue skies… these wordless spreads are breathtaking and energetic.

[You can read more about Joe Cepeda’s work process here — JC]

Joy Chu:   What led you to the creation of four life-size wooden Olivers?

Deborah Halverson:  First, it’s important to know that Joe is a hobbyist woodworker as well as an illustrator. Thus, Joe drew Oliver as if someone might actually build him. All the joints, angles, what-have-you were easily created with real wood.

Marking Oliver's feet

Marking Oliver's feet

It’s also important to know that my husband is also a hobbyist woodworker, and that I had enough interest to take some woodworking classes myself.

So when Harcourt Children’s Books publisher Lori Benton brainstormed the idea to send a real Oliver on a book tour, I volunteered the Halversons as his creators.

Sawing Oliver's foot

We ended up making four Olivers, and a member of the marketing team sewed four brown bookbags to travel with him. Here are some photos of us at work on Oliver, and the final “product.”

The best part in all this was the moment when, shortly after I’d arranged a finished Oliver in a sitting position on my living room couch, I accidentally bumped the wooden man’s foot while walking past and told him, “Oh, excuse me.” He’d become very real to me.

Oliver and Deborah

Those four Olivers traveled the country—bookstores, classrooms, libraries—collecting postcards and souvenirs from kids along the way. It was outstanding.

And now readers are getting into the act, using wood or paper to make their own Olivers. They take their little Olivers to wonderful places and photograph him there. My boys took a paper Oliver around Europe a few summers ago.

For a free downloadable Oliver pattern, click here.










Win a FREE COPY of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies!  Here’s how:

1. Download the free cheat sheet for Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies here. Yes, it’s a gift!

2. Post a comment below. Make sure to include your email address (it won’t appear on this page). Two winners will be drawn at random from all comments posted on this page by Friday, August 5th.

Good luck!

Deborah with the "Dummies" mascot, gifted by the Blue Slip Media folks

Debbie with Wiley, the "Dummies" mascot


   Late-breaking NEWS:

Click here for the names of the winners!


Wait, wait . . . there’s more!

Want to meet Deborah live? Pre-register for her Webinar with Katie Davis here. It’s happening Wednesday, July 27, 2011, from 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM (ET).

And bookmark the following link for future advice about authoring:

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30 responses to “Writing, editing, parenting, and publishing!

  1. Anne! Great to hear from you. Thanks for the note. As an industry, children’s books (and publishing in general) is in a time of transition, and the fact that the country has sunk into an economic funk at the same time, well, the transition can seem gloomy indeed. But I find that if I look around and keep my ears open, there are shiny happy stories of passion and good fortune that push away the clouds.

  2. I’m glad you discovered Deborah here, Anne! I’ll forward your note to her, too! Cheers, and thanks for the kind words!

  3. Since I don’t write for YA I had skipped this adventure when it was happening. What a mistake! I particularly loved the Oliver parts (not only because it’s my son’s name), as obviously did your three boys. Congratulations to you, your husband, Joe and Joy for this upbeat story, so helpful in these times of gloom and doom for books in general.

  4. Glad you were able to meet Deborah in person at the Book Fair in Encinitas, Laura! Glad to hear you are continually inspired! All best to you!

  5. Many thanks to everyone to participated above with comments!

    The winners of the drawing for a free copy of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies are Sally Spratt and Sarah Tomp. Congratulations!

  6. We will, Sarah. Thanks for asking. Stay tuned! 🙂

  7. Do you post the winners of your contests?

  8. This looks great…I would love to read it! Thanks for the cheat sheet.

  9. Laura, I’m with you: Joy ROCKS. I can’t think of examples for the kind of series you suggest. But perhaps that means there’s an untapped opportunity for you? Good luck as you research it!

  10. Writing is the one constant in my life. Writing in my journal after my mother died 14 years ago helped shaped the idea I would like to be a writer for a living yet life has continued to happen. As I start once more on my dream I am inspired by the knowledge of others and so I am grateful that writers share with writers it help push us aspiring to see there is light at the end of the tunnel we run through in our minds. thanks for the insight.
    Pam C.

  11. July 29, 2011 at 7:46 pm
    Very interesting. Our childhood inspirations are not frivolous and to find fulfillment of these dreams can be considered a true measure of success. Love following your adventures via the blogpost with the boys! It is so refreshing to find professionals who share their hard earned wealth of knowledge like you have in this forum. So a HUGE TY for sharing!
    I just finished Illustrating Children’s PB @ UCSD w/JOY(who rocks IMO). I would call myself a beginning illustrator first & an aspiring writer second. My professional background is in clothing design & manufacturing so I was fascinated with the photos here for the “Oliver Project”, “Illustrating (Joe) Oliver as if someone might actually build him”. Way to go on finding such a creative way to move the storyline in a unique direction.
    Q: Is there any interest in the publishing world for a series developed around the adult population who are also considered “reluctant readers”?
    Q: If yes, Can you provide a couple of successful examples? TYVM
    Laura

    • Laura: The website of the American Library Association, or ALA, is a superb resource for both of your questions. It’s an excellent springboard from which to start your own exploration! Check out their lists here. They are comprehensive and extensive. Of course, librarians will know the best selections to recommend!

      • TY JOY. I had the pleasure of meeting DH in person yesterday @ The San Diego County Library Book Festival in Encinitas which was a fantastic event. Also attended Harry Hamerniks’ seminar “How to Draw Graphic Novels”. I purchased his instructional book “Cartoon 360” which covers secrets to drawing cartoon people & poses in 3-D a valuable section on how to transfer original line art to the computer for further development.

  12. Thanks for coming to the webinar last night, Lynn. I really enjoyed it. Katie Davis sure puts on a show with her webinar visuals, eh? She knocks me out. I’m so glad you found it useful–and that you popped into Joy’s blog here, too. Good luck with your WIP!

  13. Lynn Rogalsky

    Love the article! So full of interesting information and expert advice. I can’t wait to settle down and resume writing my first YA novel (hopefully after winning a FREE copy of “Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies!”) Also loved Deborah’s webinar last night…very cool.
    Best to all,
    Lynn

  14. Lucy Eskeland

    Great interview! Posting the different types of children’s books was very helpful. I thought publishers were no longer interested in “older” picture books.

    Enjoyed the story on creating Olivers- very clever!

  15. Pingback: Writing on the sidewalk

  16. I can see how Oliver would be a fabulous addition to classrooms – and to parents on vacation.

    So fun to have a “real” wood man – or men, in this case!

    Thanks for the sharing the back story on making Darcy Pattison’s book 2 and 3-D!

    ~Sarah

  17. Thanks for sharing. I need, want and have to have this book!

    Sally

  18. Pingback: Deborah Halverson visits tomorrow! | got story countdown

  19. Joy-fantastic forum
    Q for DH: Where were you when you first realized you were a writer?

    • Writing novels was my secret desire from the time I was in grade school. I was just a very practical and mature kid, though, and never thought writing would be a practical career choice. So I decided to be part of the business side of books, as an editor. Not so sure that counts as a practical career move! 😉 I didn’t really consider writing a novel for real until in my 30s, well into my editing career. Mostly I just wanted to see if it was a dream worth carrying around any longer. Like it was taking up so much space! By then I’d worked with enough authors to know that I could come up with ideas to write about. I’d known I could write well my whole life, but I thought I could only write when I had an assigned topic. I realized that was not true. So the real test when I sat down to actually write a novel was finding out if I had what it takes to stick with the thing until the end. Turns out I did.

      Thanks for this fun question. Did you know early on that writing was in your future?

      -Deborah

      • Very interesting. Our childhood inspirations are not frivolous and to find fulfillment of these dreams can be considered a true measure of success. Love following your adventures via the blogpost with the boys! It is so refreshing to find professionals who share their hard earned wealth of knowledge like you have in this forum. So a HUGE TY for sharing!
        I just finished Illustrating Children’s PB @ UCSD w/JOY(who rocks IMO). I would call myself a beginning illustrator first & an aspiring writer second. My professional background is in clothing design & manufacturing so I was fascinated with the photos here for the “Oliver Project”, “Illustrating (Joe) Oliver as if someone might actually build him”. Way to go on finding such a creative way to move the storyline in a unique direction.
        Q: Is there any interest in the publishing world for a series developed around the adult population who are also considered “reluctant readers”?
        Q: If yes, Can you provide a couple of successful examples? TYVM
        Laura

  20. Hi Deborah,
    So wonderful to read your thoughtful insights. Again, thanks for the kind words. Believe me, the feeling is mutual. How great to see those Oliver pics! When I do school visits, I mention the Oliver books all the time. It was a great book to work on … and kudos to you and Jeannette for letting my squeeze in those wordless spreads, not every editor might have been willing to add so many pages. If I start writing a YA title, I’ll be consulting your book first!
    Best,
    Joe

  21. Great post! The break down was a huge help. It was more in depth than the usual break downs I have seen elsewhere and will help me fine tune my own WIP. Thanks, Sue

  22. Aw, thanks, Avery–for both compliments. Glad to shed new light for you.

  23. I can’t emphasize enough how interesting this post was as I knew nothing about illustrators and the breakdown of the different kinds of younger books out there. It’s definitely got my mind spinning in a new direction. And Deborah’s boys are adorable!

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