A Monkey Could Figure Out What Publishers Want



It is bedtime, and I am reading a book with my five-year-old son called Monkey Makes Pancakes.* And it…well…sucks.

*Name has been changed to protect the innocent crappy literature.

How in the bleep-bleepin’-bleep-bleep did this get published, I think to myself as I try to feign an enthusiastic performance for my son. But the more I wonder, the angrier I get. Like, as angry as I got when I tried to read Fifty Shades of Grey** without letting my insane belief that only talented authors should get to make I-can-buy-my-own-yacht amounts of money selling books.

**Name has not been changed because even E.L. James knows it is crappy literature.

Okay, okay. I will admit it. Part of that anger is born out of jealousy. I am working on my own children’s book after all. And despite the fact that I have never sent it to a publisher…or even finished it for that matter…I have already written it off as “rejected.” Why would I think could publish a book? I mean, I obviously don’t understand what publishers are looking for. I would have never green-lighted Fifty Shades of Grey OR Monkey Makes Pancakes.

My suspicions that I just don’t have the kind of chops deserving of published prestige were confirmed when I took one of my manuscripts, based on a quirk my daughter had at the age of five, to a local children’s literature peer writing group. I was excited to take part for the first time and had dutifully read everyone else’s submissions before the round table meeting. And I was feeling pretty good about my own.

But when it came time for the critique of my piece, the worst thing that could have possibly happened did: awkward silence. No one wanted to volunteer the first comment. Really? Not even the lady who wrote the clichéd story about superhero vegetables who battle germs, about which I politely gave the encouraging and generous comment of, “I bet this would lend itself to some fun illustrations”?

Okay then.

Finally the moderator of the group must have felt it her responsibility to get some conversation going. So she offered her two cents, which mostly consisted of pointing out everything I had done that publishers DON’T want. A few more women piggybacked on some other things that publishers DON’T want, which was apparently almost everything I had written. The moderator wrapped things up with a final comment:

“I read it to my ten-year-old son and asked him what he thought about it. He said he didn’t really like it and wouldn’t ever want to read it again.”

I sat there, looking at my manuscript for a picture book about a five-year-old little girl, which was apparently reviled by a ten-year-old boy and likely by the entire children’s literature publishing industry. I spent the rest of the session in silence as I listened to the group continue to critique works based almost solely on what publishers wanted. These women seemed very sure of what that was. Ironically enough, none of them had ever been published.

Still, they obviously had more experience dealing with publishers than me. And they were simply trying to grow as writers based on what might make them successful. No one can fault them for that. And I do think they legitimately felt they were helping me as well.

However, I’m a stubborn pain in the ass sometimes. And the ways in which they wanted me to change my writing just did not feel right to me. Or authentic. And I kept coming back to Monkey Makes Pancakes. Seriously! SOMEONE PUBLISHED MONKEY MAKES PANCAKES! You can NOT tell me that moderator’s ten-year-old son would have wanted to read Monkey Makes Pancakes again. You just can’t. Because I would refuse to believe it. Yet there it sits, on our bookshelf at home, with the stamp of approval from an honest-to-goodness legitimate publisher.

So now, here I am. I never went back to that children’s literature peer writing group. I still haven’t published a book. But I have written more manuscripts. And I have even begun illustrating one of them. I may have kept a few of the suggestions from that round table in the back of my mind, but I am writing my books the way I want to write them, for I have this feeling my work is exactly what some publisher out there wants.

Oh, yeah. And I’m going to self publish.

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