A little-known fact in the book business is that writing picture books is one of the most difficult genres to master. Many people think that because they are short and for children, they are easy to write. Not true. Picture books are little gems of literature with a simple, poetic, lyrical quality that often takes years of study and practice.
Research shows that only about 1 percent of aspiring children’s writers ever publish their manuscripts with a traditional publishing house. In fact, self-publishing has flourished recently for that very reason.
It seems that everyone wants to write a children’s book and lots of people think they can. Whenever I tell folks I am a picture book writer, I either get the thousand-yard stare or they chime in with, “Oh, I want to do that. How can I do that? Can you give me any tips?”
I usually say, “Read a hundred recent kids’ books, then think it over.” My mother’s good friend is still talking about the kiddie book she’s going to write someday!
I must admit, when I quit my teaching job in the Los Angeles Unified School District years ago to pursue my dream, I too was quite naive. Although I had written many poems, stories, and curriculum plans for the classroom (and read hundreds of kids’ books by that time), it took me many years to land my first book deal.
And with that book deal I thought fame and fortune would soon follow. They didn’t.
Even some of my best friends were not, and are not, particularly impressed. “When are you going to write a real book?” a few ask.
Unless you’re a celebrity, or otherwise rich and famous, don’t expect to get much support for your literary or artistic accomplishments.
While Kelly Ripa’s memoir might soar to the top of best-seller lists, with folks eager to read about her tales of working with Regis Philbin, I could generate little buzz for my children’s Halloween picture book published a year ago this month.
“We don’t buy seasonal books!” shouted an owner of a local kids’ store when I contacted him about purchasing a few of my books. He was so unpleasant on the telephone that I actually called him back to say his ill treatment was way out of line.
I emailed a toy shop suggesting that perhaps I could come over on the day of a popular parade, sit outside the store, and offer my book for sale. No response.
When I blasted an email to all the libraries from Montauk to Moriches, I received exactly one response: from the librarian in Sag Harbor. I then scheduled a book reading for a Sunday, but, unforeseen, I was without a car, and so had to cancel. I asked if the librarian might read in my place. Yes, she would, if she had a copy of the book. I donated a hardcover. She drove over to my house to collect it.
I am still utterly dumbfounded that libraries here hadn’t acquired their own copies.
I’ve been brushed off by the local press and bookstores alike, even told once that my first holiday gift book, published by Peter Pauper Press, a house in Rye Brook, N.Y., “had no literary value.” Really? I haven’t shopped at that place since.
It’s been a rocky road, for sure. My first picture book, “Hush, Little Beachcomber,” published by Kane Miller in 2011 with illustrations by Holly McGee, went out of print within a couple of years, which was heartbreaking, but my second, “1, 2, 3 . . . by the Sea,” was on Bank Street College of Education’s list of the best books of 2014, and continues to sell and generate royalties.
Writing for children has not earned me fame or fortune. Actually, my last 20-plus magazine submissions have been rejected. I haven’t sold a poem, craft idea, or story in about three years. As for books, my latest manuscripts have been almost completely ignored, as houses no longer bother to send out rejection letters.
My last book, “Going on a Ghost Hunt,” from Doodle and Peck, has not galvanized the masses, but children like it and that pleases me no end. That’s what matters most.
So, I continue on, keeping my dream alive.
Dianne Moritz lives in North Sea. Her kids’ book “Going on a Ghost Hunt” was reviewed in the Oct. 27, 2022, issue of The Star.