As I mentioned Monday, I recently finished reading all the picture books on the 2 X 2 reading list. I am currently working on several picture book manuscripts, so for me, it is especially interesting to see what type of books are being published.
I read a lot of picture books. With my son, we usually average about two a day, so the numbers pile up pretty quickly. While we re-read quite a few of his favorites, we are also frequent library patrons, so we often try out new picture books as well as the classics.
We often hear from editors and agents that taste is subjective - that what doesn’t appeal to one person may be just the right thing for another. In fact, that’s just what was mentioned in my most recent rejection letter. After reading so many picture books this summer, I have to say that seems to be very true.
In looking for picture book patterns, there is definitely a trend toward shorter picture books. There is often a lot more snarky humor now than in picture books from the past. But overall, the range in styles, subjects, and complexity is still quite broad. Right when you think they aren’t making any more quiet bedtime books - you find a new one. Editors and agents may tell you they don’t want ABC books, and then one appears on all the recommended reading lists. Authors are told to keep their word count fewer than 500 words, and then a 1500 word picture book is released to rave reviews.
What’s a struggling author to do with all of these mixed messages? It is helpful to try and pay attention to the patterns, especially in the competitive market of picture books. Perhaps though, it is more helpful to work on the craft of writing to help your picture book stand out. The better of a writer you become, the less you will need all those extra words, and the easier it will be to cut down your word count. The more you expose yourself to all different types of stories, the richer you can make your own story. The more you experiment with strategies like different points of view, rhythmic patterns, lyrical writing, and unique voice, the stronger your manuscript will become. Picture books may seem simple on the surface, but they require the same elements of a good story as a longer work. So let’s keep honing our craft to create beautiful, fun picture books. The market for a broad range of stories is still out there, and even more importantly, there are children (and parents) waiting for your contribution to it.