In the early 1960s, the great agent Sterling Lord began to work with Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain, helping the couple sell a new children’s book to Beginner Books.
The Random House imprint was founded by Theodor Geisel (who wrote under the legendary pen name, Dr. Seuss). In his new Lord of Publishing memoir, the literary agent recalled how Dr. Seuss dissected the entire first draft in front of the aspiring writers.
We’ve collected Dr. Seuss’ advice below–this draft eventually became the classic kid’s book, The Big Honey Hunt.
Dr. Seuss’ Advice for the Berenstain Bears (all quotes from Lord of Publishing)
1. Seuss encouraged the aspiring writers “to see the lumbering creatures as real people, asking such pointed questions as ‘Who are these bears? What are they about? What does Papa do for a living? What kind of pipe tobacco does he smoke?’”
2. He also criticized the writing: “the sentences were too long, there were too many contractions.”
3. Suess added that he thought “the Berenstains used too many ‘female rhymes’ (meaning a rhyme that ends in a soft sound, like you/through, while a ‘male’ rhyme ends with a hard consonant, like mat/hat).”
4. Seuss concluded: “The story had to be a page-turner to keep children’s ‘eyeballs glued to the page.’”
Sterling Lord’s memoir contains many such stories about his amazing list of clients, invaluable intelligence for aspiring authors. The legendary Jimmy Breslin said this about the agent: “Young writers, writers just starting out, that’s when he’s at his best. He gives them the confidence to go ahead.”
We asked Lord how he helped writers find that confidence, and he offered this reply: “It really depends on the writer. I follow my own instincts once I get to know him or her and their history, intelligence, the strength of their desire, their listening ability, and even sometimes their marital situation. It has worked well for me over the years.”
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