Why can’t I … Why Someone Else Can Break This Writing Rule, But You Can’t

light-apple-books-desk-largeThere are a lot of rules when it comes to writing for children.  I’m always amazed at how many of them involve Do Not.

Do Not write picture books about inanimate characters.

Do Not create picture books with talking animal characters.

Do Not write rhyming picture books.

Do Not switch point of view characters.

Do Not have an adult protagonist.

Do Not have a protagonist who is younger than your reader.

And yet, we can all name writers who get away with breaking these very rules.  How come they can do it but you can I can’t?  There are several answers to this question.

  1.  Because they’ve done it successfully and you and I have not.  Whether our inanimate object character was shallow or we failed to help our young reader connect with your adult character, we did not get the job done right.  Period.  Which ever of these rules we tried to break, we didn’t do it well and we failed.  That’s why the editor or agent responded with the appropriate rule.
  2. Because the author has a following that you and I do not have.  The latter part of this response is a little cynical but it is also a lot honest.  If Rowling or Yolen or Scieszka  write something different or odd or unexpected, they have a following who will take the time to puzzle through it. “Oh, that’s what she was up to.  Cool.”  You and I?  Nope.  No followers to willingly puzzle through our cleverness.  Writing may be an art but publishing is a business and if your work isn’t going to be acessible enough to pay for itself and then some, it isn’t going to sell.

Does all of this mean that you should not try to break these rules? I sure hope it doesn’t.

I am currently marketing a picture book that seems to be a rule breaker.  Do Not create nonfiction without a strong and obvious arc.  Unfortunately this is exactly what I’ve done.  I think there’s an arc.  My critique group agrees.  In fact, they helped me hammer it out.  But the first agent I showed it to said, “No thanks.  No arc.” while simultaneously assuring me that there is a place in the world for this particular story.

All I can say is that if you chose to break the rules, don’t expect an easy sale.