Wednesday, June 2, 2010

3 Questions: Following Up, Giving Up, and Saddling Up

I am in the process of submitting my manuscript for my second children's picture book to agents. I got a solid referral to a high-profile agent. The referral came from one of the agent's award-winning illustrators. I sent my letter and submission but haven't heard anything back after about two weeks. Should I follow-up? If so, should I follow-up with e-mail, or snail mail?

I would like to resume submitting my ms to other agents if he's not interested, and one agent had suggested revisions, so I don't want to keep her waiting.

What should I do?
A couple weeks is a very short time for most agents, so it would be nice if you'd give him a little more time before emailing to follow up.

Unless you told him that it was an exclusive submission, though, I would not wait to continue submitting elsewhere.
I have written what I think to be the cutest little children's picture book on boogers. However I keep getting rejected. With books like Captain Underpants, I thought my rhyming book would be at least acceptable material for a picture book, kids love things funny and gross. One potential agent even said it was "cute". Should I scrap the project all together?
Wow, an agent said it was cute?

I'm sorry, sometimes the sarcasm just comes out before I can stop it. When you've gotten a few more rejections, you'll start realizing that a lot of the soft words agents and editors use to cushion the blow are about as meaningful as feathers. The flip side of this is that a lot of the hard words that deliver the blow are meaningless, too. A rejection, whatever the words used, means nothing more than "no".

I can't tell you why your particular manuscript is getting rejected. Possibly agents are worried that since picture books are bought far more often by parents than are chapter books (Captain Underpants rose to popularity on the spending habits of children), the topic is too likely to foster bad behavior and conversation no one wants at the dinner table. Still, there are examples-- David Greenberg's Slugs-- of picture books that manage to be popular and disgusting. So perhaps your rhyme is not as solid as it needs to be?

Yes, after a certain number of rejections, it's probably time to put that manuscript in a drawer somewhere... but it's a pretty big number. Good luck with it.
I have a question that I'm thinking you could answer. I have a cowboy poem that is Christmas oriented. I envision it in a children's book format, although the poem itself is equally appealing to adults. So, what I'm thinking is a few lines of the poem on a page along with an illustration. My question I guess is will this work, and if so, how do I go about submitting something like that and to whom?
I cannot tell from this whether it will work. You'll need to read a bunch of picture books, and read about picture book page counts to be sure you have enough action to carry the poem through a standard picture book length.

As for who you should submit to and how, this is research you need to do. I'm sure there are authors in my readership who have some ideas-- and authors (and agents) generally know more about publisher submission guidelines and various publisher tastes than editors do. But market research is an important learning process for new authors, so you need to do this work. Good luck, partner.


Anonymous said...

Great post! Your answers are so helpful!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand . . . a cowboy Christmas poem? Where are the vampires or zombies?? Surely the undead celebrate Christmas too. When oh when will they get their due?!

ae said...

You need to be careful about really gross books for the picture book market. Some editors and parents are fine with them... but a lot of them are not.

And I've been advised against leaving in "one" gross scene... mostly visual... in a project of mine (by an agent) . Not sure what I am going to do yet... it is not critical to the story but I think it is not too much either.

I offered to critique someone's gross pb not knowing it was a booger book. And I could not read past the first few sentences. It was gratuitous IMHO and it was so offensive (to me, anyway).

Parents/teachers/librarians are the gatekeepers for picture books.

For older kids who are the choosers... well that is a different ball of worms. You might rethink your intended audience. (I see parents and older kids gaffawing at Mr. Underpants all the time).

Anonymous said...

Writer #1: Two weeks is an eye-blink, no time at all, especially at this time of year.

Erin Cabatingan said...

To the person writing picture books--whether or not this one is selling, the best advice I can give is to write some more! If an agent is interested in one of your picture books she going to ask to look at more before she offers representation.
So no matter how you feel about this book, write some more. Get them critiqued, improve your writing craft. If you get an agent interested in this one, he'll want to see others. And if you can't sell this one, try to sell your other ones. Once you have an agent, you can talk about this particular book with them.
If you want to go straight to an editor, it still doesn't hurt to have more than one book written. You learn through writing and the things you learn from later manuscripts can be applied to this one to make it better.

Also a lot of agents/editors automatically cringe (or so I've heard) when they see rhyme because there is so much of it that is so poorly done. So, if you are writing in rhyme, it had better be good. And don't just trust your instincts--they're often wrong. Read it out loud, have others read it out loud, use a dictionary to make sure the stresses fall in the right place, etc. Make sure your rhythm is perfect and that it sounds natural. Don't mess up the natural order of a sentence to make it rhyme. It is a lot harder to write rhyme than it is to write prose. If blood, sweat, and tears weren't spent over it, it probably isn't good enough. ;) Or you are a genius.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Not to be booger outdone!... early 1990's I wrote, actually outlined, a picture book titled, BOOGER BOOK HALL OF FAME; which my then agent promptly dismissed!

Good luck -- and happy mucous!

Haste yee back ;-)

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