Monday, June 18, 2007

Children's books and their difficulties

I have a small manuscript (about 1900 words) of a children's book that I am very keen to be published for the Christmas market as that is its central theme. I have submitted this to many agents now and so far no success. I have a long list of previous publications, including a novel published by Aether Books, yet I can't seem to get anyone interested in this project. The manuscript is long-form poetry, much like Moore's Night Before Christmas and some of the feedback is that they will not represent poetry and/or not represent children's books. Of course I have submitted to many publishers myself and am waiting to hear back, but I really feel this needs a champion to get it published. Any advice, are there specialised children's book agents out there?

There are no agents who specialise only in children's books - it's not a feasible course for an agent wishing to have an ongoing career, so invariably we have to take on other projects. It is not that children's publishing isn't robust - it's very healthy in this country. But there are challenges with certain types of projects, and yours is one of them:

1. As it's a Christmas book, there's a very limited market for it. Booksellers could only sell it for two - maybe three - months of the year, and even then there is stiff competition (for example, Chris van Allsburg's Polar Express is still in print and remains a classic children's Christmas book). The competition is not just from other books, either, but from television, the Internet, comics, games, DVDs ...

2. At 1900 words, it probably needs some illustrations. Illustrations are expensive, both in paying the illustrator and in getting the book printed. Good illustrators are few and far between and may be booked up a long time in advance, so if you can't present a project like this with a reputable illustrator already attached, it's a harder prospect for publishers to take on.

3. Long-form poetry is somewhat out of fashion for children's books. I suspect this has something to do with fewer people reading to their children, and also with the fact that many grown-ups (teachers and parents) don't feel comfortable reading a poetic style of text to children. Whoever is reading needs to have a sense of rhythm and a good grasp of how to use voice to tell a story - they need to have some experience with poetry themselves, and many people no longer read poetry. So it's a hole in the culture that affects children's stories.

In conclusion: as is often the case, not finding an agent or publisher doesn't mean your writing is no good. It may just been that the time isn't right. Publishing is as much about luck and timing as skill - of course, this is incredibly frustrating to hear when you're the writer, but it's the truth.

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