RYS Contest Results Diagnosis and Prescriptions
Every year, as the Judges review the contest entries, we like to cull their comments for the most common issues we come across in the submissions. We hope that these notes will help next year’s entrants, as well as to shed light on common issues and provide solutions or food for thought for writers to integrate into their present writing routine.
SUBMITTING / FORMATTING:
DX: Two preliminary submission / formatting issues are that many did not send to the correct address (RYSSpeedpass@gmail.com), but instead to the e-mail address for questions (RYS.CyberOffice@gmail.com) and also many did not use the proper format for the subject line. While these things are small concerns, it does speak to following directions.
RX: So always read and re-read the contest instructions to make sure you follow them. You always want to start off on the right foot!
DX: Another formatting issue was page numbering. Picture books are generally 12 - 14 spreads of art/text. We saw some paginated from page 1 to 32 which would be 16 spreads and quite rare, especially for a debut author with no proven track record.
RX: Allow for endpapers, title page, or CIP/copyright info. While there are 40-page books and 48-page books, it’s not often authors are afforded that as it is more costly. Picture books often start on ⅘ or 6/7 and wrap up at 28/29.
DX: Many of the submissions were either by far too long, or by far too short for a picture book.
RX: Count pages on every picture book you read and take notes as to the title, author, publisher, publication year, and length. This can be tricky to count because sometimes pastedowns or endpapers are included in the count, so feel free to show up to one of our book chats and discuss this. But a good way to get a sense of length is to read current picture books (as many as 100)!
SENTENCE LENGTH / PARAGRAPHS:
DX: Too Long / We noticed several submissions that were comprised of long, unwieldy sentences and big blocks of text.
RX: In general, when writing for 4-8 sentences should be, on the average, 4-8 words long, sometimes more, sometimes less. Keep in mind the more you add to a sentence, the less the child will retain from it. Keep writing vivid with strong nouns and active verbs and try to avoid passive verbs, prepositional phrases (as they are usually pictured in the art), as well as adjectives and adverbs. Remember that picture books should manifest a good amount of white space.
AGE OF THE MAIN CHARACTER:
DX: Across the genres we witnessed main characters that didn’t seem to fall in line with a main character of the target group for the category. In general, most characters skewed older than they should have.
RX: Be sure to be aware of the age group of the reader and target age of the main character. For example for picture books 4-8, the main character would likely be around 5 /6. Use what would be believed as natural dialogue, thoughts, desires and action for the age.
THE STORY PROBLEM:
DX: At times, the story problems seemed to be absent, or just didn’t feel all that important enough to form the basis of a compelling story.
RX: Amp up the problem to something more interesting, as well as the main character's motivation to solve the problem, and the stakes (what will happen if the main character doesn’t solve it. Importantly, also, make the problem one that a kid can identify with on some level.
CHILD FRIENDLY TOPIC:
DX: From time to time, we noticed the lack of a child-friendly topic.
RX: Start with a compelling title (which promises what the book is to be about and delivers and does so in an intriguing way). Strive to create a book a kid will definitely pull off the shelf and get pulled in, as well as want to read again and again.
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
DX: Several story ideas did not feel unified as that one main story idea and supporting theme. They seemed to ramble off in different directions, often infusing adult POV and sometimes whatever went into the main character’s head.
RX: When writing a picture book, it should be linear and every word, sentence should move the story forward. If it veers off the story path, cut it! Stay as close to the child’s point of view as you can and be sure that the child / reader can understand and navigate what is going on.
A CHARACTER READERS CAN CONNECT WITH:
DX: Some characters weren’t likable, or just didn’t give the reader anything to connect with.
RX: Make sure you have an active and likable, but flawed main character that the reader will connect with on some level, either through the character’s personality, the flaw, or the story problem.
LACK OF STORY STRUCTURE AND CONVENTIONS:
DX: The story didn’t seem to stand up, didn’t pace well, didn’t have tension, and/or a satisfying ending.
RX: Brush up on your story elements. Here are some of the things that are crucial to stellar story: Setting, Motivation, Stakes, Structure, Pacing, Tension, Active Attempts, Deep Dark Moment, Satisfying Resolution.
UNFAMILIAR WITH PICTURE BOOKS
DX: Some stories had a multitude of components that just didn't align with the picture book genre. Main characters are too old. Problems were not kid-friendly. The language and sentence structure and syntax was not geared for a child. The story was not formatted as a picture book. The theme was not relatable. There was no takeaway value for the child reader. Any combination of these gave us pause.
RX: The late and great Richard Peck once said, "Read 100 Books in a genre before you try your hand at writing one." Take that to heart. Read 100 books in your genre and really study it (what works, what doesn't work, and why) to get the best chance for success.
These are just a few of the things we saw, but we do feel it’s a good start for revisions of your stories. We do recommend trying our services in 2024 to really get a sense of how to navigate feedback and to help improve your writing craft through our writer aides, crafty webinars, as well as to further yourself on your path to publication with our various opportunities.
Honestly, there were several stories that we really wanted to love! Often, we loved the idea, or the writing, but the execution (storytelling) had too many issues to merit making it a winner. We felt very sad for these authors / stories. So we encourage these writers and all of you to work your very hardest at learning your craft and improving your skills.
We hope it will help all of you as you move forward on your writing journey. We hope you keep these tips in mind and will join us for 2024's membership and contest!
Here's our 2022 DX/RX Contest Post: