Under Cover

I am down to my last assignment for my on-line class about writing a child’s picture book. The process so far has taken me from drafting a statement about one of my own childhood (think 1950’s) experiences to transforming that brief essay into a modern day story and finally editing a reflective piece into a page-turner imbued with a cliff-hanger type of suspense.

What I found to be surprisingly helpful was the requirement of creating a dummy layout. Not that any publisher would necessarily follow what I inserted as page breaks in the manuscript. The point was to force me to place the sequence of the story within the confines of a picture book’s page limitations to better understand what a child would see or more likely hear as an adult (parent, grandparent, guardian or teacher) read to them this epic tale of baseball lore. This caused me to make some further edits.

To complete the final assignment I spent a good deal of time researching the picture book publishing business in order to find a likely publisher for my book. This was another insightful episode as I had never really looked at what the expectations are in this field of writing and how extensive the competition is for gaining a publisher’s attention let alone acceptance of a manuscript. Depression ensued. Publishers are generally helpful in providing you with their guidelines for how and where to submit your story. But many will also tell you that they are so inundated with submissions that they will only respond to those in which they are interested. This can take anywhere from four, six or nine months during which time a would-be author is left to speculate in solitude and silence about the fate of his or her labor of love.

Rejection, they say, is not a reflection on how poorly your writing skills are. It is just the reality of not fitting into their current publishing interests. This may be true, but I suspect it is a ruse to avoid being honest about the fact that your work is not marketable. Publishing children’s books is a business, after all, and the people making the decisions about the fate of your manuscript are as mindful of making a profit for their company as they are in discovering a new artist of childlike proportions. Depression reigns.

Sunday midnight is the deadline for submitting my final assignment to my digital teacher and the primary piece she wants to see is the cover letter that will accompany my manuscript, which I am to mail to the publisher I selected based on my research. The letter has three parts to it; all briefly stated since the people in the publishing profession are constantly harassed by all of us wannabe writers and therefore have little time to linger over a lengthy letter describing any personal visions of fame and fortune as the next great Dr. Seuss. So here is the breakdown of the cover letter I will submit to my instructor.

Paragraph one is brutally brief, stating title, genre and targeted age level. I wrote: Charlie’s Golden Glove is a picture book manuscript, targeting 4 – 8 year olds, who love sports and most especially baseball. The current word count is 1,132 words. (Note I added the word count as a bonus piece of information to instantly satisfy their curiosity).

Paragraph two is a little more expansive, allowing you to use three sentences to summarize your entire story. The instructions emphatically state that you are never to leave the reader-publisher wondering about how the story ends, suspense not being an inherent part of the cover letter. I wrote:  Charlie loves playing baseball more than anything else in the world, but he has one major problem and that is catching the ball with his old glove. He is reluctant to say anything about it as opening day of the Little League season draws near until his parents surprise him with a special gift, his grandfather’s carefully preserved Mickey Mantle model glove made by the Rawlings Company. Charlie’s dreams come true on opening day, when he makes the game saving catch worthy of a Golden Glove Award.

Paragraph three is about you. Or should I say me? It entails what is supposed to be a brief biographical statement with any possible emphasis on prior writing experience and here I waxed eloquent. I wrote: During my professional career in museum management I had several opportunities to write educational and promotional materials, in addition to the monthly financial and administrative reports. The range of my output included research articles published in our in-house magazines, website and brochure text, scripts for television and radio commercials, and a weekly web log series on museum management, which I used to achieve greater transparency for the organizations I led. What was missing was entertaining and age appropriate materials for young children, one our largest audience segments. Now I wish to make amends by launching a new career in storytelling for young children.

That last little bit truly states why I am in the game. Half of my career involved managing railroad museums and what they uniformly lacked was good material for children despite the fact that young families with small children form a large audience segment. And there is in me the spirit of a teacher, frustrated by early career decisions, which led me away from the profession my educational choices prepared me for. Now I am trying to make amends for all of that by writing stories that children will likely hear read to them, ideally in the comfort of their own homes and the nurture of a loving parent, grandparent or guardian.

I am not sure my instructor will be attuned to all that or grade me on my good intentions. But I will say the journey so far has been enlightening for me. The greater challenge will be in not being discouraged if my submitted manuscript is rejected by my chosen publishing house after a protracted silence, while they sort through their workload. The approved therapy during that time will be to keep writing. For me this includes these weekly messages and my next great picture book epic.

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