Creating Picture Books In A Challenging And Changing Market

Originally Published: Jan. 8, 2012

By: Melanie Hope Greenberg

Clarion Editor Lynne Polvino, opened her talk for the November Tuesday Night Professional Series by asking the audience to think about their formative memories of the classic books they loved.  She suggested that we approach our careers as “a noble endeavor, an important and worthwhile undertaking, but one that is not easy. Creating and publishing a successful picture book takes a lot of work, practice, research, and honing of talent.”

She offered practical suggestions to navigate our noble endeavors into a published book.

“Know Your Market. Currently YA is hot and middle grade books are a tried and true market. But, for the past few years, picture books have not been selling as well as we’d like, so your book must be truly exceptional to be published.” Polvino advised us to become aware of the publishing world; to be well informed about titles, trends, and people in the book world. She suggested subscribing to industry periodicals, and to check out picture book themed blogs.

“Think of customer needs and wants, go to the library and read what is out there. Search Books in Print or Amazon.com to know if your idea is original. Ask yourself, ‘What does my book have to offer that the classics do not?’” Polvino also recommended that we “identify the hooks and selling points” in our proposals because “the editor can use these selling points at the acquisition meeting to talk about why your book would be a good investment and will turn a profit. Remember that our colleagues in the sales and marketing departments are now part of the acquisition process, and editors listen to their feedback.” However, she added, “honestly, all of this aside, if you send me a well-crafted submission that resonates with me personally, you’ll have my attention before I even think about all these other considerations. Regardless of the selling points, it’s hard for me to pass on a story that I love.”

For author and illustrator self marketing: Have a blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, or another way to have an online presence to create a platform. Show off your art and keep others up to date with your bio, book ordering info, upcoming book events and reviews. Don’t forget your contact info! If you blog, form a blogging style, and observe blogging etiquette. Gain exposure for your blog by telling your friends or tagging your posts. Join Goodreads or Author Central.

For craft: “Be smart and serious about your craft.” Practice. Be sure to write or draw something everyday. Polvino warned that editors are looking for any excuse to stop reading your manuscript. “Grab them with a great opening line, a distinct voice that introduces characters naturally, and invites readers to turn the page.” Quality picture book writing has, “characters we care about, spare vivid language, an active story with beginning middle and end, a narrative that shows, not tells, universal themes, layers of meaning, emotional impact, and a satisfying ending.”

Melanie Hope Greenberg has illustrated 16 children’s picture books; six of them as author and illustrator. Greenberg’s Blog, Mermaids On Parade, (named after her latest book), was selected “100 Best Book Blogs for Kids Tweens and Teens”.  In the Fall 2010, her art was part of ”Drawn in Brooklyn”, a group exhibition of picture book artists curated by John Bemelmans Marciano at Brooklyn Central Library-Grand Army Plaza. Greenberg was also selected to donate her original picture book art for the Disaster Relief Fund raffle at the Texas Library Association’s annual conference 2011.

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