You Can Judge a Book By Its Title
By Rob Broder, President & Founder of Ripple Grove Press
For those interested in submitting stories:
We have received over 2000 submissions since 2013 and have read them all. Only a few make it into our “revisit” folder.
But we do receive stories that do not follow our submission guidelines. Our website clearly states we do not accept stories with a holiday or religious theme, yet in my inbox are submissions with a holiday theme or a religious mention, or about God or the stars in the heavens. Those stories get passed over. Not only does it show the person submitting is not following our guidelines, it makes it difficult to want to move forward on a project with them. They are wasting their own time as well as ours.
The same goes for people that email RGP about “what type of format they should submit their story in.” It’s only a way to try and get our attention. Asking what font type and font size I would like to view your story in is irrelevant. Don’t try and get my attention with email questions, your story will get my attention. Just submit.
Please do not tell me that your story is wonderful and that it will delight me in your query letter. 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 it rhymes and that I probably will not like it. Let your story talk for you.
Often, I like the query letter more than the story. Sometimes the query letter is longer than the story or more time is put into writing it 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 and leaves me disappointed.
Keep the query and book description short and sweet. Make me want to dive into the story, which is 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.” 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.
When submitting a story, 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 don’t insert “illustration notes.” The illustrator is part of telling the story as well. A picture book is a group project; writer, illustrator, editor, and publisher. You have to able to let part of the story go and give up some of your vision. We are all working together to make the most beautiful picture book possible. Unless you are a true illustrator, please do not send rough sketches or photos on 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,” is redundant and makes it difficult for the pictures in a picture book to tell part of the story. 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 be in your words, not with your pencil sketches or photos or over descriptive text. 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.
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. Titles like (I’m making these up but are similar to what we’ve received) The Grumpy Town - 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. And hopefully it won’t rhyme. Or Mr. Pajama-Wama The Cat Think’s 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. 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.
The titles that make us want to move on to the story are the simple titles that pique my interest and keep me intrigued, (yes, these are our books) like 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 but you got my attention.
If your title mentions your pet’s name or your grandchild’s name, it doesn’t usually 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. Share your ideas with friends or a critique group. Read your story out loud to yourself.
You can judge a book by it’s 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.
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, it 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. 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 to you about your submission.