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What publishers want

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This is a newbie question obviously - but reading many of the posts and comments about submitting ms, I find that the general thrust is to only submit what is currently being sold out there. So who exactly is determining the style of what's being published? And why? I find that there is a lot of sameness out there and I realize that budget probably is a factor in length and style of book - but it seems a rather stifling approach to writing something creatively new when you must meet a specific word count, content and image style, etc.
#1 - June 11, 2016, 03:12 PM

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I don't think the possibilities are as narrow as all that--for one thing, the variety of kinds of picture books "out there" is wider than people tend to assume. I say this from the perspective of having worked as an editor in-house for a number of years, and more recently worked independently. I follow the market myself, through reading industry periodicals like "The Horn Book," following the news online, and borrowing new picture books from my local library.

Do read as widely as you can! You'll start to notice both the "standard" picture book approaches and themes, and the books that go off the beaten path.

#2 - June 11, 2016, 06:33 PM
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Elizabeth -- if you are talking about length/word count of what is currently "acceptable" in PBs, then yes, there is a "trend" right now for shorter texts (under 1000 words). Perhaps it will swing back another way, but for now if editors are saying they want shorter length work, then I would go with it until the tides change...

But as far as other stories or content, I'm with Harold. At my library, we acquire hundreds of brand new PBs per year, and there is a breadth of artistic style, writing, story type, etc.

Was there something specific you are referring to that you see cropping up as what PB pubs want? I am curious!
#3 - June 11, 2016, 06:42 PM
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Just to play devil's advocate with myself, it's true that the big NY publishers, in particular, are producing a lot of short (under 500 words) picture books, which often are labeled "high-concept" and tend towards having parent-friendly humor... But as dinalapomy says, you can find other approaches, and that's particularly true when you start to look at publishers like Holiday House, Chronicle, Charlesbridge, Candlewick, and so on.
#4 - June 11, 2016, 06:50 PM
Harold Underdown

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I went to a conference recently that featured a discussion panel of three picture book publishers (in Australia). It was interesting to note that while they agreed in wanting some things in common (e.g. great characters, a compelling story, diversity) there were some things that they did not agree on (e.g. one publisher wanted author/illustrators (same person) and other two did not mind on this issue). So this tells me that each publisher has its own specific style and wish list for things a picture book should have (although there are general trends).
#5 - June 11, 2016, 06:51 PM
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Hi everyone! I really appreciate your responses - its so helpful to hear from experienced authors. My kids are in their mid twenties now, so I haven't been reading kids books for quite a while - though I do go through the bookstore and online stores, I guess I need to do more research to get a feel for what is currently out there.
#6 - June 13, 2016, 02:54 PM

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Elizabeth, also think that what's being published now was acquired a couple of years ago. But yes, do spend some time browsing the PBs in bookstores and libraries and note the ones that you like particularly, or that fit your style of writing. You can then approach these selected publishers with your work.

I laughed about constraints because I write for the educational market and sometimes there are 50 different specifications that need to be met. Believe me, it's like putting a puzzle together, trying to write a story with limited words. But it's also very enjoyable. For instance, for a book about textures, I wrote all about cats -- their soft fur, the rough tongue, the shiny ball, etc. Turns out, it's one of my favorite books :catlove

Happy writing, Vijaya
#7 - June 13, 2016, 05:02 PM
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it's like putting a puzzle together, trying to write a story with limited words. But it's also very enjoyable.

So true!
#8 - June 13, 2016, 08:20 PM
I've Got a Tail! - Amicus Ink 2020

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Hi Elizabeth,

I'll also mention that bookstores (especially Barnes and Noble) carry an increasingly small selection of newer picture books. More and more of their retail space is dedicated to books and gifts and classics that sell (Seuss, Carle, for example).

I often find the best source of newer picture books to be my large public library system. A good librarian can help you find a good selection of the latest, or you can read the Horn Book, School Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly, etc.

Good luck!

Kirsten
#9 - June 14, 2016, 06:54 AM
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To kwlarson, thanks for clarifying what I thought: It is hard to find many, newer PB in Barnes and Noble. Regarding other comments in this chain, I have heard several publishers say that they don't look at word count - before reading manuscript - and although there are certain "rules" eg. main character has problem needs to solve - 3 roadblocks to solving - solves problem himself, if book is really strong, some rules are OK to break. But Voice has to be strong.
#10 - July 09, 2016, 08:51 AM

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