I had the pleasure of interviewing Annie Nybo. She’s a fun editor with lots of books and lots of experience to her credit. She gave some great insight into what editors are looking for.
- What are you looking for in a narrative picture book?
In narrative picture books, I am looking for something that evokes an emotional response (it needs to make me laugh out loud or literally touch my heart and make me say “aww”). I look for something that is truly telling a story, and for something that has some kind of subtle message to it—that doesn’t just rely on silliness (more on that below). And, I can’t say this enough, a good title can make me look at a submission differently. Jason has AMAZING titles— WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE is so absurdly funny—and when I saw his manuscript, I knew he would be able to make edits because he had been able hone in on such a good title. It takes both a creative mind and a very fine-tuned editorial eye to title something, and if an author has an excellent title, it shows me that they think about details.
- How do you edit a picture book?
I read a picture book out loud at least five times before I start editing—even if it’s not being marketed as a “read aloud,” the reality is that most of these books are read to children, so the verbal pacing needs to work. I then do a macro edit where I look at the beginning, the middle, and the end, and think about whether they’re working individually, and if they are working together. I find blocking things out into sections is particularly useful for narrative books because you need to make sure that the cause and effect is working and that there is an inherent logic to the story—sometimes if you don’t look at the connections between the pieces, you’ll miss bits that were glossed over. Just because there’s only 500 words doesn’t mean it should lack dramatic structure. And I then do a micro-edit, looking at word choice, rhythm, pacing, etc.
- How do you keep a funny picture book from being too slight?
The more I work with picture books, the more I have come around to the notion that every picture book needs to have a message. I think people get the “this is slight” comment when there isn’t something else at work in the text beyond the humor. Now, that doesn’t mean that every picture book should be didactic—I also make the “should be subtler” comment a lot. But take a look at something like WHOBERT. WHOBERT, on the surface, is a very funny picture book about an owl trying to solve his possum friend’s “murder”. But there are two things going on here: first, it teaches basic detective and mystery tropes to kids by introducing the concept of clues, getaway cars, hideouts, etc. This might not seem as important as learning how to share, but learning genre conventions—particularly genre conventions of a number of chapter books—is very important to growing up. And second, Whobert has a deeper message about false accusations, and about being aware of your own body and physical presence. These are all the messages that are being conveyed that keep the book from being too slight, but they’re quite subtle and absolutely inherent to the story.
- What kind of picture book submissions do you see the most of? What would you like to see more of?
I’m still seeing a lot of meta alphabet books, which are a really, really hard sell. The market is so crowded… It’s not a bad idea, it’s just an idea that may not be worth your effort right now. I think we’ve all been seeing a lot of STEM biographies about women, which is great! I’d love to continue to see nonfiction books, particularly about women and people of color. And I would love to see more picture books about religious minorities in the United States, preferably by authors from those religious backgrounds.
- What books have you edited/ worked on?
If you can allow me a quick plug for my pinterest page – I list all the books I’ve edited and worked on there:https://www.pinterest.com/annienybo/. But a few highlights: In Middle Grade I’ve edited The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente, The Adventures of Lettie Peppercorn and its prequel, the forthcoming His Royal Whiskers, by Sam Gayton, and in YA I’ve edited Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta and Feeder by Patrick Weekes.
- What are some of your favorite picture books?
I love UGLY FISH by Kara LaReau and Scott Magoon. It incorporates everything I mentioned above: humor and a subtle message (well, not SO subtle in this case) with a great title. I think NIGHT ANIMALS by Gianna Marino is an excellent read-aloud, and I love David Ezra Stein’s DINOSAUR KISSES. Apparently I really like animal books.
Thank you Annie for your WISE words that shed a little bit of light onto this owly business. Whobert Whover is quite a hoot & a feather in your cap.