Guest post by our sponsor of the month and author Valerie Bolling.
Rule: Rhyming picture books are hard to sell.
The first book I sold, LET’S DANCE!, is a rhyming book. My current title, TOGETHER WE RIDE rhymes as does my next book that will be released on October 4, RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!. The sequels to these two books, TOGETHER WE SWIM and BING, BOP, BAM: TIME TO JAM!, also rhyme. Thus, in my personal experience, rhyming books sell.
Truth: If the rhyme is tight and the meter is correct, you can sell a rhyming picture book. After all, we know children and adults love them.
Rule: You have to have a strong central character and story arc in your picture book.
LET’S DANCE! does not have a central character or a traditional story arc. It’s a concept book. The cadence of the text and the energy of Maine Diaz’s illustrations of the multicultural community of dancers naturally encourages readers to dance along. The back matter also inspires further exploration of the dances from around the world. These aspects make it work, despite the fact that it doesn’t follow the typical picture book structure.
TOGETHER WE RIDE has a story arc, but it’s a little one because the book is only 30 words. The father provides loving support to his daughter as she learns how to ride a bike, and their relationship is beautifully portrayed with Kaylani Juanita’s illustrations.
RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! is more of a concept book like LET’S DANCE! The games and activities that the children play in this book will remind adults of what they enjoyed as a child. Sabrena Khadija’s gorgeous illustrations should make both adults and children eager to go outside and have some fun.
Truth: If the story works, and there’s a hook, it doesn’t have to follow traditional rules.
Rule: Don’t query agents, editors, and small presses simultaneously.
I used a three-pronged approach to querying because I wanted to be published. I queried agents, editors, and small presses. The mistake I made – that I warn others against – is that I queried agents before I had several polished manuscripts. I captured an agent’s interest with LET’S DANCE!, but when the other pieces I sent her weren’t as polished, I missed out on that opportunity. Fortunately, four months later, the pitch for the manuscript caught an editor’s attention during PB Pitch, and that editor acquired the manuscript. Two years later, I signed with my agent, James McGowan, three months after my debut was released.
Some will say that if you’ve queried a lot of editors and small presses, it makes it harder to sign with an agent. I disagree. The editors and publishers where agents are able to submit a writer’s work are often different from those to which an unagented writer can submit. When you sign with an agent, you’ll share the list of all the manuscripts you’ve queried and where you sent them. Thus, your agent will consider this information when making a decision about the first manuscript that will go on submission and what editors and publishers will be the best fit.
Truth: Everyone’s journey to publication is different. Feel comfortable and confident following your own path. Most importantly, enjoy the ride!