Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Gate Keepers - Lynne Garner

As a picture book writer I'm very aware I have to write a story not only children will love but also a story that a whole list of people I call 'the gatekeepers' will enjoy. This list consists of:
  • Commissioning editor
  • Marketing department
  • Bookseller
  • Purchaser 

This is a lot of people to get my story passed before it lands in front of the eyes of a child. I therefore have to ensure my story fulfills the criteria each one of these gatekeepers has. So let's consider each of them:
Commissioning editor
It's very difficult if not impossible to work out what editors want. However I've found many prefer a story to be character led. So when writing I have to try to create a strong character. Often this character has to overcome a conflict or shows signs of 'growth' during the story. So a plot has to have a strong start, an interesting middle and a satisfying end. 

Marketing department
A marketing department require a book that can be sold globally. This is the reason some publishers prefer animals as main characters because they can cross most borders. The marketing department also want a book that will sell well to a parent or grandparent but also someone buying for an institution such as a school or library. 

Similar to the marketing department a bookseller require a book they can place on their shelves and will sell itself (they don't have the time or money to 'push' every book they hold in stock). This is why so much time is spent on the 'look' of a book. 

Let's be realistic although a picture book is aimed at children it is an adult who purchases it. They are looking for a story they won't mind reading 10, 20, 30 or more times. So they are not only looking for a book that is interesting to read but also one they find visually pleasing.         

So I was wondering what picture book have you picked up recently and thought these gatekeepers know/don't know what makes a good book.


  1. You've really got to the nub of it all here, Lynne. Yup, there are certainly picture books I don't like but it's all a matter of taste, I guess, and in the end kids like the weirdest things. I've decided I want to think upside-down, as it were, and circumvent some of these rules, and I'm working right now, this very minute, on something with no story and no characters....Hmmmm, will anyone say 'yes' or will it go past the gatekeepers onto the internet? We'll see!

  2. Moria - you can get books out there with no story and no character you just have to find an editor with an open mind. Good luck and when it's published you can write all about it for us!

  3. I agree, Lynne, though sometimes books can get past all the gatekeepers but they don't really appeal to the children! There are quite a few sophisticated picture books on my shelves that I adore, but I wouldn't try sharing them with 90% of children (and in some cases I've tried).

  4. Those gatekeepers can be very frustratingly conservative, and there is many an urban myth about a wonderful book which nearly didn't make it through the gate. Sometimes as a author you can have a fabulously wacky idea which you love, but they don't. It can be such a crushing experience to hear that, although your editor likes the book, Sales and Marketing don't think it will sell. Good luck with yours Moira x