Friday, April 16, 2010

Picture Books, PB Writers and the Chicken Little Syndrome

Elana Roth of Caren Johnson Literary wrote yesterday what I felt was a rather reflexive post about the disparity between the attitudes of children's books writers in their career development and the realities of the publishing market for those books. Heartfelt? Absolutely, but it missed the point.

She expressed shock that PB authors, even well-established ones, would eschew representation, but then she went on to provide reasons why it's so hard to gain representation in the first place. Having thus identified the real reason for this (poor financials for publishers, authors and agents all around), Ms. Roth then pondered why so many writers choose to write the dang things, and why we push so hard to get them published.

The easy answer is that we're driven to do it. We derive pleasure from writing those little nuggets. We relish the feeling knowing that our words will engage and entertain and excite readers and listeners. The realities of the market - all doom and gloom - do not and will not ever change that.

Okay, I also accept that pretty much anyone who doesn't write PBs (and even a large number of writers who do) thinks that to write a picture book story is proportionately easier than writing longer works. Yes, those who cling most avidly to that belief provide the bulk of the grist subbed over the transom. I know most of it is garbage. Or otherwise unmarketable. But you know something? This is not a phenomenon unique to the picture book market. It's not likely to change either.

So, Picture Book Writers, the end is not near - or no nearer than it has been in the past, anyway. Sure, if you're one of those who thinks this is easy, pull your head out of the, um, sand. But most importantly, don't give up. Continue to write and revise and submit. Get better at all of these things, and your dream will come true. And if you decide to get an agent and are lucky enough to sign with one, well, kudos to you. But if you don't, just remember this: The sky is not falling.

At least, not today.

If you want to read Elana's post, it's here.


  1. Okay, I feel better now. Thanks for this post. :)

  2. Cheers, Rachel.

    The market is cyclical. Children's picture books will have their rainy and sunny days too. But it doesn't make sense to give up because it's so damn hard. Now's probably the best time to be writing them. It's like that old adage about investing when the stock market is at its bleakest: it may seem like the worst or the hardest thing to do, but the market will pick up, and you want to be ready when it does.

  3. You are right, of course. The sky is not falling.

    I can understand why agents bemoan the onslaught. But really, since they have positioned themselves as gatekeepers, they should hardly be surprised to discover a mob at the gates.

  4. Funny, the whole author-agent dynamic. We need you, you need us. We bad mouth you, you act hurt, then turn around and bad mouth us. Gatekeepers is an apt description. Don't know what the solution is, though. You can't expand the market; you can't force consumption. Pre-agents? The best things serious writers can do is be better writers, learn how the system works and work within it.

  5. I think eventually the cream rises from the slush pile. In the meantime, we all work to perfect our craft and keep growing. It is nice to know the attitudes we are up against. Gives us even more reason to celebrate the successes of our friends along the journey!