Leaping that Final Hurdle
November 9, 2009

The other day I came across a tattered, unlabeled sheet of paper I'd picked up somewhere. It is a list of questions a children's books buyer asks of picture books during sales calls.While some of these questions should not be on the mind of writers when they are approaching agents (specifically, those questions about packaging and the publisher), other questions having to do with target audience are so savvy that they are worth asking of your own manuscript—whether you are writing a novel or a picture book. These are the sorts of challenges put to your book after it has found an agent, after it has found a publisher, when it is facing that final hurdle to get real estate on a bookstore's shelf.Without further ado: Questions from a children's book buyer

  • What age group is it for?
  • Is it appropriate to that age group?
  • Do the illustrations and the text agree in age level and mood? [I'd switch out "tone" for "mood" here.—MS]
  • Who is the author/illustrator? Where do they live? Are they celebrities? What are their previous track records?
  • Will adults and children like this?
  • Is it enticingly packaged for the age level?
  • Is it unique enough in the marketplace to catch the customers' eye?
  • What is the subject matter? Is there a need? Is there a better book from the competition? Does the format fit the subject?
  • Is the book up to date in subject and appearance?
  • Who is the publisher? What is their reputation? What is the print run? How will the publisher market the book? Does this publisher carry through with support that matches their announced print runs?
  • Will the book have media attention?
  • Does the book tie in to any planned seasonal promotions?
  • Why should I—or anyone else—buy this book? Is it worth fifteen to twenty dollars?

But maybe I'm wrong, and writers shouldn't have any of this in mind. Certainly not while they work, but after they have a draft in hand? No? When do you think of the market? Before, during, after, never?[And apologies to anyone if this is your intellectual property that I picked up at a conference or wherever. There really are no identifying marks on the sheet. I'm happy to give credit or pull it entirely if you send word. Thanks —MS.]