Why get an Appraisal for a book written for kids?
I had a Manuscript Appraisal done of my first children’s book, Scoter and Friends Take a Vacation. And it’s a good thing that I did, since my story ended up somewhat differently than it had begun. And all for the better!
When I was first talking to the man who later became my publisher, and I was trying to decide if I would go with his company, he and I exchanged a lot of emails. I asked him numerous questions about the publishing business, in particular. I had sent him a copy of my manuscript, and he asked me several questions about it, and about me, as well. My story had animals as main characters, and I knew I wanted it to be illustrated. But that was as far as my thinking had carried me. So when Ocean, my now-publisher, asked me in what category of children’s book I wanted to put my story, I had no idea. He described the three main categories as 1) chapter books; 2) picture books; and 3) early reader books, yet even after hearing about each of them I still wasn’t sure where my book belonged. So I asked him what he thought. And that was when he told me I should consider putting my book through the Appraisal Process. He directed me to his website where I could read what an Appraisal entailed, and once I understood the process, and it’s goals, I proceeded to have one done.
The Appraisal process took about two weeks, and when it was finished I received a written report. This report was over eight pages long, and very detailed. As I began to read it, I found it quite daunting in the sheer volume of things that I was being asked to change. So I put it aside for the weekend, so I could just chew on it. I found that once I had digested the contents I not only understood the reasoning behind what was being suggested, but I also agreed with the logic of what I was being asked to do. So I got to work, and once I began to implement the suggestions I found the changes were relatively easy to accomplish.
The appraiser’s first suggestion was to put the book in the Children’s Picture Book category. The only problem was that this category is usually 1,700 to 2,400 words, and my story was weighing in at 3,150 words. Hmmm. Another issue was my story’s sub-plots. Since younger children have short attention spans, the sub-plots would be distracting. I found my first solution and it covered both of these issues! By eliminating the distracting sub-plots I was also shortening the book. So far, so good.
The next two issues I tackled were the suggestions that 1) unique animals were better than more ordinary ones in a children’s book, and 2) to not have so many characters that younger children might find it hard to keep track of them all. At that point my story had seven main characters - a red fox pup, a hedgehog, a bear cub, a raccoon, an owl, a swallow, and a beaver. So starting with the “unique” issue, I decided that we see a lot of bears in stories, so Cubby (that was the bear cub’s name) was scratched off the list. And because he was one of the main characters, once his scenes were gone, my word count went down even more. More progress – yippee! There had been a scene where Cubby got swept down a river and ended up at a beaver dam. The appraiser thought a beaver was more unique than a bear cub, and I agreed, so the beaver took Cubby’s place in the original line-up. The next characters to “not make the cut” were the owl and the swallow. They both had somewhat less important roles, so the main story wasn’t affected. And a few more words got cut, as well. Now I was really making progress.
Another issue was that none my characters were female. I hadn’t made a conscious decision to do it, but I had started out with only young male animals. I decided to have Scooter (the red fox pup) become a girl, and Bones the Beaver become Betsy. Wow – this editing was actually fun! And the decision to change Scooter to a female worked well with the storyline. Scooter had become the main character,and I liked having a female in that role. And since I felt like I was on a roll, I converted the beaver (whose name had been Bones because of all the sticks he used to build his house) to Betsy. And to add more personality to the role I made her a fiddle player, and made her a singing beaver, to boot.
I know that the Appraisal I received made my story stronger, and ultimately much better suited to the young audience I wanted to address. And once I got over initially being stunned by what seemed like a mountain of changes to be made, I got to work and thoroughly enjoyed the process, which went surprisingly quickly.
Once finished with the Appraisal process I began the next phase of the journey – The Editing!