Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Don't Sweat the Dummy by Fred Koehler

I worry about the dummy. Did I do it right? Are my sketches too simple? Did I spec out the end papers and the intro page correctly? Did I choose the right fonts? Is that why previous dummies have been rejected?

At a recent SCBWI conference, I had separate portfolio reviews with an agent and an art director. Both of them gravitated toward a particular piece in my portfolio. The art director, Lucy Cummins of Simon & Schuster, suggested I turn it into a simple father's day story. The agent liked the idea, and I had one month to send a dummy.

So I sat down and wrote 87 words that made me laugh and cry. I sketched it all up in about 15 hours, which is all that's left in my month after a full time job and two toddlers. It wasn't fancy. It was downright sloppy. It didn't show the cover, have a title, or even have all the right pages. But I sent it anyways.

The agent emailed me back within a day and asked for more illustration samples to show around to some editors. WHAAAA?!! It's that simple? No custom fonts? No comparables? No hand-assembled book? No fully-fleshed pages?! All it took (to peak some interest at least) was a successful concept. Here's the simple format I used.

You can see some more of my work at Cheers!


  1. Fred ... simple in that it was an hour or so for extra sketches + 10,000 hours before that. Hazel.

  2. So is the motto: simple is better? Thank for making this so much clearer. Picture book writers are terrified of the dummy book. Especially newbies. They should see this post.

  3. Sometimes it is that simple.... the key is TALENT! and you have it.

  4. Robyn, I would say that the motto is "Write a great story." There's a lot of learning behind this one teensy little bite from an agent and a lot of prior rejections. A successful concept, no matter how you decorate it, has a shot at getting some attention. And a less successful concept, no matter how beautifully dressed, won't. Good luck!!!