Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The reality of picture books

I have created a children's picture book with watercolour paintings, colour pencil sketches, digital media and hand-stitching. The language is intentionally simple and direct, so as to be read by children. However there is great symbolism behind the story, as I desired the book to educate both adults and children, like how Saint Exupéry's acclaimed children's book The Little Prince, could educate adults about life and human nature.

I followed the links to Australian literary agents on your site. However after reading through the conditions provided by individual agents, it appears that there is very little interest in children's books. I honestly believe my story holds potential due to my detailed illustrations and subtle, but powerful messages to adults.

Do you believe I have a good chance of getting published? If so, I would greatly appreciate it if you could recommend certain steps I should take, so as to interest agents and publishers.

There are two parts to this question and, thus, its answer.

Part one: the agent thing
It's not true that there's no interest in children's books amongst agents. We love children's books, but it's hard to sustain a business doing too many of them - particularly picture books (see part two for more information). I'm one of those agents who adores children's books but it's unlikely I'll ever look at picture book submissions again, unless they come through a recommendation. It's not all gloom though: a lot of publishers will take submissions directly from the public so you don't necessarily need an agent for children's books, not the way you do for adults' books.

Part two: the picture book thing
Picture books for children are arguably the most competitive category of publishing at the moment. Every second writer I hear from is doing a picture book. But hardly any picture books are published in this country (relatively speaking) so there are a lot of disappointed people out there. Even major publishing companies won't put out more than six picture books a year, and for some it's more like two. And, even then, it's safe to say that a lot of those books are by previously published authors. So the chances of becoming a debut picture book author/illustrator are very slim. You need to have an exceptional book.

Now, not having seen your book, I can't say if it's exceptional or not. But I will say that it sounds hard to produce - 'hand-stitching' and 'digital media' are the red flags. Picture book production is labour intensive compared to that for other books - the illustrations have to be scanned on appropriate machines, the pages have to be colour matched and proofed, the books need expensive paper and they have to be printed offshore. They also can't be given to any old editor to look after - because they're so different to other books, they need a specialist, if possible. In other words: a picture book is a not inconsiderable undertaking for a publisher. So they're very judicious about what they take on and if you give them any reason to think twice - hand-stitching would be one reason - then they will. They'll expect that you want your final book to be hand-stitched too, and have digital media included, and that will just sound like a nightmare in the making. Their default answer is 'no'. You need to give them a reason to say 'yes'. And the overwhelming reason is if you have a fantastic story and beautiful illustrations. Again, not having seen your book, I don't know if it has either of those things so I can't comment on your chances of publication. Your next best step would be to research your market - go to a library and look at all the picture books; find out who publishes what. Then approach the publishers you think may be a good match. You could also get involved in programs like CYA (Brisbane) which give you direct access to publishers. Your local writers' centre would be the best place to find out what's available.

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