A few years ago I wrote this darling little picture book called Happy 100! I thought it was just adorable.
Then my critique group read it...
And my agent...
And a couple of conference editors...
I quickly learned that my adorable picture book wasn't so adorable. And it wouldn't sell.
First, here’s the 500-word manuscript:
by Dotti Enderle
Today is Grand-Gran’s one-hundredth birthday. One hundred! Even the TV weatherman knows that’s a big deal!
Everyone is giving her gifts of one hundred.
“What should I give her?” I ask my dog, Ringo.
“Erf!” Ringo says.
I think that means one hundred doggie treats. “Don’t be silly,” I tell him.
Mom is giving Grand-Gran one hundred dollars in a birthday card. But she’s cheating. It’s just one bill with one hundred printed on it. Of course if it was one hundred individual dollars she wouldn’t be able to seal the envelope!
But what can I give her? One hundred buttons? One hundred peppermints? A book with one hundred pages? One hundred is a lot!
How about one hundred new sets of teeth? Yeah! One set for smiling. One for munching. One that glows in the dark in case the lights go out.
Oooh…that sounds awfully expensive.
“What can I give her?” I ask Ringo again.
Ringo drums his tail on the floor. “Erf!”
I think that means one hundred fleas. “Don’t be silly, Ringo. If Grand-Gran had one hundred fleas, we’d have to bathe her outside in smelly dog soap.”
Oops! I shouldn’t have said dog soap. “Come out from under the bed, Ringo. We have to think of a gift for Grand-Gran.”
I know. Since Grand-Gran loves to laugh, I’ll make one hundred silly faces.
Wait. That last one looked too much like the first one. I could never think up one hundred different silly faces.
But what can I give her? One hundred bottle caps? Trading cards? Pieces of spaghetti? And where would I get any of those things so quickly?
Hey, how about one hundred shiny stickers for her scooter? Then she’d be the flashiest granny on bingo night.
(Art note: she digs through a drawer or box)
Here’s a raspberry sticker. And a purple-slurple. And here’s a blue one that’s the same color as Grand-Gran’s hair.
Wait a second. I don’t have one hundred stickers. I don’t even have ten! I’ll have to think of something else.
Ringo and I go outside so the fresh air can restart my brain. There’s a large pile of raked leaves, waiting for me. “KER-PLOP!” I shout, diving in. The leaves are soft and crisp and…
That’s it! I’ll give Grand-Gran one hundred leaves to play in.
I count them out in stacks of ten.
Uh-oh. Suddenly, one hundred doesn’t seem like a lot. It’s not nearly enough leaves for jumping around.
“Help me out, Ringo. What can I give her?”
Ringo says, “Erf!”
I think that means, “I give up!”
“One hundred,” I say, looking around.
One hundred acorns? One hundred feathers? One hundred mud pies? No. Grand-Gran would probably have more fun making her own mud pies.
I think hard. It has to be more than just one hundred of something. It has to be super special. Super-duper special.
Ringo curls next to me and licks my hand.
After Grand-Gran blows out the one hundred candles on her cake, I’ll give her my present.
(Art note: Character is on one side giving Grand-Gran kisses on the cheek, while Ringo is on the other side, licking her face)
Okay, so here are the reasons I assumed it would sell.
1. Voice. I really thought I’d nailed the thoughts and speech of a little girl. So playful. So innocent.
2. Concept. Most every kindergarten class celebrates 100 Days of School. So I naturally assumed most every kindergarten teacher would want it for their classroom.
3. Ringo. Kids love dogs, right? And the MC’s relationship with Ringo is sweet and cute. A real selling point…uh...right?
Now here are the hard facts. The reason this book will never sell.
1. First person point of view. Yes, there are some first person picture books out there, but not many. Unless you’ve nailed a surefire kid-pleaser, be prepared. Agents and editors don’t like first person PBs. People in the biz will agree that PBs should be third person.
2. Concept. There’s nothing wrong with writing a book with 100 as the subject matter. That's great. But it was pointed out to me that the percentage of kids with great-grandmothers turning 100-years-old is miniscule. Small children can’t relate.
3. Nameless. What’s the MC’s name? Yeah, I don’t know either. It’s my understanding that little ones do want to know. It’s part of connecting to the story.
4. Ringo. I genuinely thought he was an asset, but a few people felt he was a gimmick. It was never my intention, but I can see their point.
5. Of all the reasons for rejection, this is the BIGGIE. The story's ending. Let’s all say it in unison, “Predictable!” Most everyone who critiqued or considered this manuscript pointed that out. I have wondered if a 3-year-old would guess it, but 3-year-olds aren't buying books, editors are. And editors have tons more experience in bookselling than I do. Believe me, I've banged my head against the wall repeatedly, trying to shake out a new ending. It’s just not there.
There are probably a lot more reasons for rejection than what I've listed. Feel free to point them out. We’re all here to learn and grow.
Another huge reason this book won’t sell? I just published it on my blog. :)
So what’s been your picture book experiences? Successes? Failures? If you have little ones at home, I’d love to know what you’re reading to them and why they want to hear it over and over.