An interview with… Natascha Biebow

In March 2017, Natascha Biebow talked to me about how her passion for children’s books inspired her to set up the Blue Elephant Storyshaping literary consultancy. The interview appeared in my Writing 4 Children slot in the national writing magazine, Writers’ Forum.

Natascha has had over 20 years’ experience commissioning and editing picture books, novelties, young fiction and non-fiction at ABC, Dorling Kindersley and Random House Children’s Books. She has worked with award-winning authors and illustrators, such as Jane Clarke, Kes Gray, Garry Parsons, Lizzie Finlay and Kate Petty. I am the editor for the newly-established Five Quills Press and longtime editor of Kes Gray’s Daisy series. Natascha is also the author of The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, Elephants Never Forget and Is this My Nose?, winner of the Bookstart Best Book for Babies, and have served as the Regional Advisor (Chair) of the SCBWI British Isles since 1998. 

When Natascha had her son, she decided she wanted to work more flexibly. She realised she spent an inordinate amount of time as an editor at Random House attending in-house meetings and project managing and she wanted to go back to what she loved – editing. So, in 2010, she launched Blue Elephant Storyshaping, a coaching, editing and mentoring service aimed at empowering children’s authors and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission.

“I edit everything from fiction to non-fiction, up to middle grade, though I specialize in picture books.”

Natascha Biebow

Natascha explained publishing is changing. In the current tough marketplace, publishing houses have limited in-house resources and are aiming to reduce their overheads by acquiring more finished, high-quality books that don’t require as much polishing. Agents are also increasingly pressed for time and their job is much easier when they are sent fully-developed projects to place with publishers. For picture books, agents and publishers are looking for a body of work. This is where she can help you to create the strongest possible work for submission and get out of the slush pile.

Authors Natascha has worked with have gone on to get an agent and a publishing deal. Illustrators have pulled together a well-crafted story dummy that their agent has gone on to market. I have also worked with author/illustrators to fine-tune an untitled contracted book for a publisher. You can find lots of testimonials on the Blue Elephant Storyshaping website.

“I get a buzz out of meeting like-minded people who share my love children’s books and story. I get a lot of satisfaction knowing I help to create books that will bring joy and maybe even change the lives of young readers.”

Natascha Biebow

Natascha revealed five of the most common mistakes new writers make when writing picture books include:

  • creating an episodic plot, which reads like a long list of things that happen sequentially with no tension, no clear climax, no story.
  • writing rhyming books that don’t have a strong story at their centre, so that the rhyme dictates the plot and not vice-versa
  • sending work off too early, thinking that writing picture books are short and therefore ‘easy’ to create
  • creating picture books that have no real hook or unique selling point, leaving readers saying, “So what?”
  • not exploring the characters’ true motivation

Natascha is passionate about storyshaping and empowering authors and illustrators to tell the stories they love.

“I work with people at all levels, including published. I am a writer and an editor, so I understand both sides of the business. I love working with illustrators who want to write, illustrators who want to develop a portfolio, as well as authors who are looking to fine-tune their work. I offer courses and 1-1 coaching, creative brainstorming sessions, as well as reviews on manuscripts and honing your pitch for submission.”

Natascha Biebow

For more information about Blue Elephant Storyshaping visit: Natascha also blogs regularly at Picture Book Den and has a monthly Ask a Picture Book Editor column on Words & Pictures

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