Writers and artists work so hard at conceiving, then executing wonderful stories and images for potential picture books, only to be left holding rejection letters and wondering “WHY NOT?”
I wish I had answers…it would make an agent’s job much easier! But I do have some possible reasons to share with you today. Number one, your manuscript (ms) and your images (dummy) need to be as ready for publication as possible. Not just a ‘good idea.’ Those are everywhere. Not just a few sketches, but a well thought out flow of visual story telling. OK, now you are ready to be ‘snapped up.’
There are good market reasons that even the BEST stories might get missed or rejected by well meaning houses. First of all keep in mind that picture books are VERY expensive to print! When the economy is down or slow (!) it’s likely that houses might not do as many. When the dollar is weak, as it is now, it’s more expensive to print even in China! Fewer books means more care in selection.
PREFERANCES also vary yearly and are very cyclical. “Spunky” over “quiet” etc. What was ‘hot’ last year, might not be this year. Your story might have been perfect for last year, but not this. But remember it might be perfect 3 years from now again! This past year or two, more novels have been published than picture books. They are all the rage, and without pictures, much cheaper to print. Yet picture book sales have held their own, proving that they ARE worth the expense in the long run.
Speaking of the long run, the Back List effects what they take on new. Editors need to bring in books to ADD to the bottom line, and which promise to ADD to the strong Back List for the house. Often they ‘borrow’ from that back list and redo books that are strong. This all means they won’t be able to publish all the new stories they might want to. I’ve noticed that this seems to be a trend these days (which is nice for illustrators!). They are constantly ‘balancing’ their lists as well as adding to the imprints list balance. A Publisher may have 2-4 lists a year. Each tries to add balance and income, minimize risk and loss. The “P & L” (profit and loss) is ALL important these days! They project several years in advance! Your book might not pass that test. They want to add new writers and illustrators, but will they ‘last?’ Will they produce on-going to add value to the imprint? And of course, the bottom line: will they sell well?
Another trend I see is ‘in house’ ideas being developed, particularly for series ideas. They go through the same scrutiny as other proposals, but that might make it harder for ‘outside’ ideas to be considered. Often writers worry as well that their ‘ideas’ will be ‘borrowed.’ That is possible of course, but I find it rarely a problem in this honest, supportive industry. That does bring us to another LEGAL point that might mean they do NOT take on your dummy. Many houses will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. One legal reason is that they might find themselves turning down an idea that is actually being developed in-house currently! This can LOOK like a ‘stealing of ideas’, when it is pure coincidence. If you look at new lists in stores, you will see how often this does happen even between houses! Two ‘bird’ books, or three ‘princess’ books etc. that are too close in feel. Trends happen and it’s like a wave at times! So houses protect themselves by not taking on ‘outside’ ideas at all. Therefore, your ‘perfect dummy’ won’t even be looked at by these publishers.
It’s a tight market these days, and the stakes are high. Do your best, understand it’s NOT personal, and keep trying! A good story, well done, will find a publisher at the right time.
and I had to share this ‘artist’s block’ image of my 21 month old granddaughter, Billie….. we all know the feeling! (thanks Christy!)