Saturday, May 14, 2022

Barking up the right tree ...

 When I do picture book manuscript assessments, one of the questions I am often asked (whether literally or subliminally) is whether the manuscript is publishable. Sometimes I think it is, and sometimes it isn't. A yes is helpful information to the extent that the writer is on the right track with how they are approaching picture book writing and whether they might be 'close' or not. However it bears no relationship to whether the manuscript will actually be accepted and published. There are many reasons why a perfectly publishable text might be declined.

1) The publisher has something similar in their catalogue of current titles. And this might mean similar themes, and/or similar plot, similar title, similar main character, similar manner in which a story is told.

2) The story is really well told but it brings nothing new to an idea that has been seen before. I have seen this in competitions, assessments and elsewhere and it is a good sign for a writer (the writing is of good quality) yet feels like frustration for them - all you can do is keep working on more stories till the required freshness is found.

3) It doesn't fit with the publishers usual kind of story - they might prefer more philosophical, less philosophical, more humour, less humour, slapstick, dark, light, rhyming, prose, creative non fiction, no non-fiction, self help, local stories, international stories etc... Make sure you look at what they've put out over the last few years - would your story fit in their line-up?

4) It just isn't the commissioning editor's cup of tea. Or others in the publishing team don't agree with the editor, even if the editor loves the story. I've had this happen to me but the book has been accepted by a different publisher. Taste is always a factor. Not good or bad taste, just different taste.

5) It might be charming, touching, moving and lyrical but the perceived market is just too small to make the book viable. They want the book to pay for itself and it needs enough buyers to do that.

6) The timing is wrong - either a) the trend is seen to be over, (publishers don't always make the right call on trends - Scholastic US were in the process of winding down their fantasy publishing and then the Harry Potter books turned up - but these are uncommon events). Trends tend to go in cycles though so it might be worth holding on to your story and trying it again in future. Or b) the topic is either no longer hot, or is still too hot yet. You cannot provide a comforting resolution for a real life crisis if the crisis is not yet resolved in real life. Or it's just too soon and feelings are still raw. 

7) It's too risky with a debut author. A known author might tip the balance with sales. Sometimes however being a previously unpublished author can work in your favour.

8) No obvious reason that the editor can put their finger on - it just wasn't for them. I think a level of excitement must be reached and they can only know that when they feel it. Accepting books is not a mathematical science. 

9) some combo of two or more of the above

And this is why it can be hard to tell a new writer where they are going wrong. Sometimes they aren't going wrong. I will do everything I can to help you ease out any kinks or wrong turnings in your story telling (although there are times when it is tricky to put one's finger on exactly where the problem might lie), and I will try and show you the thinking behind why some words or styles work better than others. But sadly some great stories will never make it into a book. Sometimes there will be nothing to fix, there will be nothing you can change that will change the outcome. But I guess it is good to know if you are barking up the right tree.