Before I talk about the wall, let me mention that I've pasted in a description of the form's relevant categories at the end of this post, in case that's helpful.
Okay, back to the wall. My first impression was that there were a lot of books on it! Of course, I've visited many picture book walls in my life but never with a form to fill out. I feel heretical saying it, but this seemed like plenitude. Really, it was hard for me to decide which several books to treat.
I recognized some author's names, including Mo Willems, Jan Brett, and Jane O'Connor. I decided to skip those.
Instead, because I'm an illustrator, I chose books whose pictures I liked. Unless I find a reason not to, I'll probably do this every time I visit a picture book wall with my form. I think that's fine. After all, pictures are content in picture books.
So I found five books whose pictures I liked, but first let me backtrack and say I like Mo Willems, Jan Brett, and Jane O'Connor. I'm the mother of a five-year-old girl, so I know these authors' work not only out of professional interest but because I have a child who likes them. I understand even better why they make it to the wall since the form. It's easy to recognize their work from the covers alone and to trust that they have good hooks and multiple selling points and probably reasonable plots to describe (and Willems' are always great). I think it boils down to recognition and trust in a crowded field.
Recognition, I suppose, is why I chose Lauren Child's "Who Wants To Be A Poodle? I Don't," despite myself. It felt like cheating, but I love her Charlie and Lola books, both text and illustrations, and so does my daughter. "Who Wants To Be A Poodle?" was infused with familiarity and trustworthiness, but it was new.
The Sales Handle was printed on the back of the book, so I didn't have to draft that myself. So far, so good.
I read the book with my daughter, who seemed only faintly interested in it. I could tell she wanted to like it better than she did. So did I. The problem, I believe, was that it was for grown-ups. The jokes were for grown-ups. The tone was for grown-ups. The main human character was a grown-up. There are a lot of winks and nods in that book.
But I could fill out the form for it easily. I could find multiple hooks. There was a decent (if not surprising) plot to describe. It would probably be harder for an editor to fill out the form if Lauren Child weren't well known. But as things stand, any editor would feel confident filling it out and passing it along to the next person in the house.
So what have I learned from this one, mainstream book? I'm left wondering who reads the books represented on the forms. The editors are intimately acquainted with them, but the next group in line, the people who sell the books to the outside world? (Disclaimer: I'm not completely sure these are the next people in line.) I think they often rely on the forms, not the books. If a form seems really promising, they might actually read the book. Maybe. Really, there are so many books to read.
I'm not sure who in the sales chain studied "Who Wants To Be A Poodle?", perhaps no one, but I also believe that most good picture books, especially by new talent, do have surprising plots and good hooks and that these tend to generate selling points. Of course, authors should write about what interests them, what they love. But after the writing is done, it might be an interesting exercise to see if a story's merits come across in a several catchy sentences on the form. Try it with stories you love (or that you've written), and see what you learn. I'll do that, too, next time.
Picture book editors must sell the works they've acquired to the people within their houses who then sell them to bookstores. They do this with a form they fill out for each book they edit. Below are the most important categories on the form:
Sales Handle – "The hook." The hook isn't the plot. It's one sentence about why the book is worth opening. You'll sometimes find the sales handle on the back of the book's jacket.
Book Description – The plot, in brief. It's akin to the copy on the inside front cover of the jacket flap, only shorter – as in, "what is this book about?"
Selling Points – There should be multiple selling points for any book. Selling Points may be interesting hooks beyond the one used for the sales handle. It should also include who the target audience is, why the book would appeal to the target audience, who the author is, and whether he/she is published with a track record or if this is a debut. In short, anything the editor can think of to sell the book!
Sales Competition – Basically the same as amazon.com's "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought."
Publishing Comparisons – Books that will complement the title, for example books that would work well with it on a table in the store: other counting books, other dog books, or other fairy books.