Get current on the picture-book market
Published: May 12, 2010
Q: What are the current trends in the picture-book market?
Nancy I. Sanders
A: My perspective on this comes from a variety of sources. I belong to two picture-book critique groups, one comprised of varying levels of writers, the other of mostly agented authors who write picture books for the big houses. I’ve recently attended workshops of agents who represent picture books, read various agent blogs, and talked with picture-book agents and publishers about what they’re currently looking for.
I’ve also studied the enthusiasm for picture books such as Fancy Nancy, by Jane O’Connor. In fact, I’ve never seen such excitement for a picture book as I’ve witnessed among groups of editors distributing Fancy Nancy paper fans during BookExpo America, crowds of little girls all dressed up for Fancy Nancy parties at local bookstores, and discussions generated by editors, agents and children’s authors about the sensation Fancy Nancy books have caused. (In case you’re late to the Fancy Nancy craze, the main character, in the words of Publishers Weekly, “tries to make the world a more flamboyant place, starting with her decidedly down-to-earth family (‘They never even ask for sprinkles,’ she notes as they exit an ice cream parlor). She offers her parents and little sister a free tutorial in all things fancy.”)
I’d include in the overall enthusiasm for this genre the fact that my nonfiction picture book, D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet, won several awards and sold over 70,000 copies upon initial publication.
You do not need an agent to get a picture book published in today’s market. There are many small to medium-sized publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts. Most of them stay on the fringes of trends because they’re looking for titles they can keep in print for years. The new titles need to fit into their unique product list. Some publishers have a regional flavor, others require an educational slant, and still others require a specific format. You’ll find the word count and learn about their unique tastes by studying their submission guidelines and catalog.
For the bigger houses that take only agented submissions, however, both agents and editors are currently looking for some specific qualities. Delightful. Sweet. Inspirational. Today’s picture-book market wants stories that give parents and children alike a strong dose of warm fuzzies and produce a high rating on the “Aaaahhhh” factor. Didactic, educational, and institutional are not high on their list.
Word count is short: 800 words is good; 600 words is better. Also, a strong story arc is essential in today’s picture-book market despite the very short word count. For a solid example of a timeless classic that effectively demonstrates this concept, I suggest you re-read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle. This delightful, inspirational story takes place in about 300 words. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is a strong character, a setting, and a plot. Today’s picture-book manuscripts must be the same if you want a shot with the agents who deal with the big houses.
This leads us to the next milestone. How can you find a picture-book agent in today’s tough economic market? On my blog, at www.nancyisanders.wordpress.com/agents, I am compiling a list of agents who represent picture-book authors. Check out the list and explore the various sites. As you work to prepare your manuscripts for submission to an agent, polish them until they sparkle with wonder and delight, show a strong story arc, and have a very short word count. You’ll be on your way to experiencing success in today’s picture-book market.
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Nancy I. Sanders
On faculty for the National Writing for Children Center, award-winning and bestselling author Nancy I. Sanders teaches monthly teleseminars about being a successful children’s writer. Web: www.nancyisanders.com.
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