You Can Judge a Book by Its Title, and Other Wisdom from the Submission Pile

RGPkey_with_highlightsGUEST POST by Rob Broder, President & Founder of Ripple Grove Press

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.

Rob Broder signing off on printer's proofs
Publisher Rob Broder signing off on printer’s proofs.

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 Don’t

  • 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.

Unfolded F-n-Gs
Printer’s proofs for TOO MANY TABLES by Abraham Schroeder, illustrated by Micah Monkey; A picture book is a collaboration among the author, editor, illustrator, and publisher. It’s important as a writer to leave room for the illustrator to contribute to the overall vision.

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.

Author and publishers
Piotr Parda, illustrator of THE GENTLEMAN BAT by Abraham Schroeder, with Rob and Amanda Broder of Ripple Grove Press

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.

Ripple Grove Press is a family-owned picture book publishing company. Our mission is to surround ourselves with great writers and talented illustrators to make the best and most beautiful book possible. We want our books to be fun, imaginative, and timeless. We hope our books find their way to the cozy spot on the floor and are the last ones read at bedtime.

Connect with Ripple Grove Press:
Website:
www.ripplegrovepress.com
Twitter: @RGrovePress
Facebook: Ripple Grove Press
and of course… Submissions

Related Posts: Interview with Amanda Broder
What’s So Great about ReFoReMo? (for taking Rob’s advice about reading picture books)

24 comments

    1. Hi Josh, It’s not that I do not like rhyme. Our first book rhymes, The Gentleman Bat, and another book coming out next year rhymes.
      It’s that a very large portion of our submissions rhyme… or they rhyme poorly.
      Personally, I think adults like writing rhymes because they think it’s easy. And adults think a child would like hearing a rhyme because they’re fun to read… while all a child wants is a good story.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks! I sent in a manuscript and I am still waiting to hear, it has only been a couple of months. I appreciate your honesty and help. I believe I have passed those tests with my manuscript and am excited either way to hear a reply. Thanks for your post, whether I am accepted by you or end up going elsewhere it is good to know what goes behind the mind of publisher.

    Like

  2. I like how the article explains what not to do when submitting a new work. Here’s a few more: Do not submit anything original or new. Do not submit anything that hasn’t sold before. Do not submit unless you have been published before. Do not submit anything that is risky for the publisher to print (even if it’s great).

    Your best bet is to submit things that have a moral to the story. Something with zombies, vampires, aliens, cats, fish or cute animals works. In the business world, If it’s sold before then it will likely sell again and again .. and again, until we are sick of seeing the same types of books by the same authors on the shelves wondering how that crap always gets published.

    … just sayin’

    Like

    1. Hi Todd,
      I cannot tell from your post whether you are a frustrated reader or a frustrated writer. Either way, I am sorry that you have experienced such disappointment with traditional publishing. Have you tried reading indie works? Or self-publishing your own work? I find this an exciting time to be a reader because there are so many avenues for an author to take on the risks that a traditional publisher has to be careful with, otherwise they won’t stay in business. I’ve found indie books that definitely break the mold that wouldn’t have seen the light of day following a traditional route. Maybe your book will be a breakthrough.
      Just sayin’. Go for it!

      Like

  3. Thank you for sharing your insights into the selection process. I particularly appreciated your thoughts about leaving description up to the illustrator.

    Like

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