Know that subjectivity ALWAYS plays a role in this. What one editor or agent loves another might not (and in this crowded market, ‘loving’ is almost always a prerequisite for acquisition). Also know that there is nothing you can do about subjectivity.
However, there are many other reasons that rejection might be popping up and these reasons might be fixable. Instead of pouting or giving up or trashing a good idea out of frustration or saying “it must be THEM and not my work!” (I’ve NEVER done any of those things, nuh uh), become a detective and piece together some clues as to why this might be happening.
So what about the clues?
Let’s look at the following submission tips from the Rutgers University Council on Children One-on-One Plus Conference. To be part of this mentoring-based conference, a creator needs to submit work and have it selected. Check out their insights about why certain picture books were not selected last year. For more information on the RUCCs One-on-One Plus Conference, click here.
- Clue One: Not picture book language
Some manuscripts were lengthy and overly descriptive. The writer did not exhibit an understanding of the play between words and images that are essential to the picture book format. Sentences described what could have been shown instead. Shorter, snappier language where every word is carefully chosen is preferred. Some writers paginated their submission, with large paragraphs on every page—not the norm for a modern picture book. Overall, there was too much unnecessary text—text that did not move the story forward.
- Clue Two: Story arc needed development
Some submissions did not contain a clear beginning, middle, and end. The story had a muddled arc or a “one and done” plot—the character tried once and succeeded, which creates an unsatisfying ending because there isn’t sufficient tension. The reader has not had time to build empathy for the character’s struggle.
- Clue Three: Concept needed development
Many submissions last year focused on the main character or the character’s friend moving. This concept is common and needs a fresh twist. The pretty, fancy princess theme also turned up a lot. The market is saturated with Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious-like books, so again, a fresh twist is needed to make these concepts stand out. What about your character makes her different than what is already on the market?
- Clue Four: Common concepts need a fresh take
If you are writing about a common concept, it needs a fresh twist to make it different and new. Try changing the character (from a child to a robot) or the setting (from modern times to prehistoric, from land to the sea) to create a new perspective.
Apply these clues to currently published mentor texts and you’ll see patterns emerge. Study these patterns and you’ll see where you can improve your picture book manuscript and resubmit.
C’mon Sherlock. You got this.
What are the clues you use, my picture book writer friends?