The Secret of Selling
Many of us have written a children's book, and have written it from the heart. We write for children because we love to tell stories, because we have memories of the magic of reading or because we know children who delight in stories. Whatever the reason, we write that story.
Then we try to sell it. The high odds are that it will be rejected without any comment apart from a two liner wishing us luck placing it elsewhere.
Here, for one night only (nah, for as long as I leave it here) are the rules of the road as I have come to know them.
1. Write your manuscript for children-as-they-are-now. (Subtext, not for children-as-they-were, or for yourself-when-young, or for children-as-you-wish-they-were.)
2. Write your manuscript with recognisable emotions and/or situations. The main character(s) need not live in Everytown, but do tie into basic human desires for friends, for status, for status-quo, for power.
3. Write that manuscript to fit. That is, try to make it fit a specific genre, type of book, and audience that is common now.
4. When writing for the younger children, remember you have to appeal to adults too, because they are the gatekeepers and providers.
5. Write something that should have broad appeal, because publishers want to sell lots of copies. No matter how glorious and original, a rarefied piece pitched to a tiny percentage of readers probably won't sell.
6. Write it well and polish it. In other words, don't sub something that needs extensive editing. Oh, and unless you are at the top of your game, don't write it in present tense. Seriously, don't.
Even with all these road rules ticked into obedience, it can be difficult to place good texts, and of course there are always exceptions to every rule. The thing about exceptions is that they are (duh), exceptions and you can't depend on them. Too many people for their own good depend on exceptions, simply because exceptions are the ones that get the attention, and so look like better bets than they are.
This all seems harsh and indeed it took me decades to get my head around it. It runs counter to the gut feeling writers have that excellence will always succeed. It also runs counter to the mantra of to-dream-is-to-achieve. I've found the best way to handle this situation is consciously to split one's writing into two camps: books-written-for-market and books-written-for-me. I've been doing this now for a long time and sometimes I do manage to sell a book from the second category. Mostly I don't. I know I'm a reasonable writer because I've been published quite steadily since 1977, but I can't avoid the fact that most of my published books were written specifically for a market and a great many were commissions. This means that books I consider far and away my best work have never sold and probably never will. To make matters worse, the situation is still tightening so publishers who were once willing to take a risk will now settle for the low-hanging fruit.
The line in the sand is this: write what you love for yourself. Then go and write what others love for sale.