You Can Judge a Book by Its Title, and Other Wisdom from the Submission Pile
We have received over 2000 submissions at Ripple Grove Press (RGP) since we opened our doors in 2013, and we have read them all. Only a few make it into our “revisit” folder for another look. Many do not make it there for a simple reason: they do not follow our submission guidelines.
Follow the Submission Guidelines
Our website clearly states that we do not accept stories with a holiday or religious theme, yet my inbox receives submissions with a holiday theme or a religious mention, or submissions about God or the stars in the heavens. Not only do those stories get passed over, they make it difficult to want to move forward on any project with that writer. By not following our guidelines, that person wasted their own time as well as ours—not a good sign.
The same concern comes up with people who email RGP about “what type of format to submit” their story. It feels like these emails are only a way to get our attention. If you want to know about format, there are industry standards, go look them up. Don’t try to get my attention with email questions, your story will get my attention. Just submit.
Please do not tell me in your query letter that your story is wonderful and that it will delight me. Every story is wonderful to the person who wrote it. When I see that sentence I get nervous, and it makes me want to move onto the next submission.
Please do not tell me that I “will like your whimsical story” because right there you are telling me that it rhymes and that I probably will not like it. Let your story talk for you.
Do not send a hand-written letter on a hotel notepad, telling me an idea for a story you have. (Yes, I have received that.)
Please do not include where you think the page breaks should be. It’s very distracting and takes away from the story. If we’re interested in your story, then we can work it out together.
Please do not submit a story with a dedication page and five more pages of your biography and an index with a table of contents. Keep it simple, less is more. If we like your story and we need more, we will ask.
Often, I like the query letter more than the story. Sometimes the query letter is longer than the story or more time has been put into writing the query than the story. I get so excited about the query, ready to dive into the story, only to find it was not as well written. That leaves me disappointed. Keep the query and book description short and sweet. Make me want to read the story; that’s what I want to do. I want to be wow’d. I want to say, “Yes, this is it! This is what RGP is looking for.”
Leave Room for the Illustrator’s Input
Please don’t insert “illustration notes.” A picture book is a group project: writer, illustrator, editor, and publisher. The illustrator helps to tell the story as well as the writer. If you wish to enter into this project with a publisher, you have to be able to let part of the story go and share the work of envisioning it. We are all working together to make the most beautiful picture book possible.
Unless you have experience or training as an illustrator or photographer, please do not send rough sketches or photos of what you think the story should look like. It is distracting and doesn’t help your submission.
Please remember not to make your story too descriptive. Telling me that “Tommy wears a green shirt in his blue messy room and has a brownish dog and goes to school four blocks away from his home and it was sunny this particular day and the tree in the yard is a little crooked,” makes it difficult for the illustrator to tell part of the story with pictures. We understand you have a clear perspective on the way your story should be, (after all, you wrote it) but if you want to grab my attention, it will happen with your words, not with your pencil sketches or photos or overly descriptive text.
Judging a Book by Its Title
So, what’s in a title? A title can say a lot. It can provide me with what the story is about, introduce a character or tell how the story will end. But some titles go too far (I’m making these up but they are similar to what we’ve received):
The Grumpy Town – this says to me, everyone in the town is grumpy, except one small child who turns the town around and they are all happy in the end with merriment in the streets. Hopefully it won’t rhyme.
Or Mr. Pajama-Wama the Cat Thinks There’s a Monster Under His Bed. I never thought there was a monster under my bed and I don’t know why I would want to put that idea into a child’s mind. Plus the title gives it all away, and I don’t want to read the words Mr. Pajama-Wama on every single page. And hopefully it won’t rhyme.
There are titles that describe too much and spill the entire story, like, Little Red Hen and the Missing Mitten on a Rainy Tuesday. I know everything before I even get to the first sentence. And… hopefully it won’t rhyme.
If your title mentions your pet’s name or your grandchild’s name, it usually doesn’t pan out. When titles have names that don’t match the characters you created, like Aidan the Kangaroo or McKenzie the Raccoon or Addison the Hippo, it’s obvious the child is sitting right next to you as you write your story. I understand that something special or sweet has happened to your loved one, but that doesn’t mean it has universal appeal. Before submitting your story, share your ideas with friends or a critique group. Ask for their honest opinions. Read your story out loud to yourself.
The titles that make us want to move on to the story are the simple titles that pique my interest and keep me intrigued, like (and yes, these are our books) The Peddler’s Bed… ok, now what? Or Too Many Tables… ok, where could this go? Or Lizbeth Lou Got a Rock in Her Shoe… ok, a little long and I bet it rhymes but you got my attention.
You can judge a book by its title… if words like Hope or Grace or Pray or Johnny Scuttle Butt are there. And although bodily-function writing might be humorous to some, it’s not something I want to read over and over again to a 4-year-old. So please, no poop or pee or burp or fart… not timeless, not cozy. Might fit with another publisher, but it’s not for RGP.
Please Wow Us!
With all this said, I still get excited to read every submission and every story. I want to find the gem, I want to be wow’d. I want to put your story in my revisit folder and I want to like it more and more each time I read it. So please, do your research. And please, oh please, read children’s picture books. Read award-winners, what’s popular, what librarians recommend. Read stories you may not be a fan of; they will guide you to your own voice. Study them: why do they work, what made the publisher choose this story? Match your story with the right publisher. Start by reading their submission guidelines. Hopefully all this work will shine through your story and one day you’ll get that phone call from a publisher who would like to talk with you about your submission.
– Rob Broder, President & Founder of Ripple Grove Press, January 2015