Bolstered by my recent back-to-back wins, I entered The Ella Zoo into another national Indie Book Award. This time, because there were no specialty book or design categories, I entered in the Children’s Book category, a first. And this time, I did not win. I have faced my first loss.
Thankfully, I received written commentary from one of the judges (see below). And now, having had time to work through my disappointment and reflect — I expected it. Still, after receiving the review, I realized, I was still honored by the judges!
Clearly, when judged on its merits, The Ella Zoo is a well-received book. The Ella Zoo had received the highest marks in all criteria used to evaluate book entries in its category, except two. In these, it had not received low scores, instead it had received NO scores. It had been disqualified. And I’ll be honest — upon reflection, this was not surprising.
In the early stages of writing and developing my book, I had shopped The Ella Zoo to a number of publishers. And as many writers do, I received impersonal form rejection letters but also few more descriptive, insightful dings. It became clear that I was taking a few risks with my book. The Ella Zoo simply didn’t fit easily into standard genres and reading levels. Despite some favorable reactions and interests, there were risks that publishers were not willing to take, primarily related to:
- Character My main character changed. Unlike Charlie Brown or Lily and Her Purple Purse, she looked different on EVERY PAGE, vastly different. Not only did her clothing change, but also her size changed because her age changed and her interests changed. In terms of publishing criteria, my character was not well developed. However, my key interest in my collection of poems was that my character evolved. I wrote poem after poem enthralled by my daughters changing appearance, changing interests and our changing relationship — it was that evolution that captivated me. In recognition of this risk, I added her most-loved doll (his name is Papoo) into the illustrations so there would be one unchanging element, an identifying accessory. But otherwise, I was steadfast in my determination that my character evolve, as all children do.
- Age My story uses poetic forms and vocabulary that are “old.” Even though it had children’s book appeal it did not fit into a children’s reading level. However, while I was raised on plenty of nursery rhymes, my mother also read poetry by Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Eugene Field and more to me. I was enthralled by their soft rhythms and deeper mystery. Because of its musicality, I believe poetry is ageless, or certainly can be when a parent reads it to you, full of understanding and intrigue. If the parent is engaged, I know the child will be engaged and inspired. This is an ideal book to share between parents and children.
I understood these risks. However, I adamantly believed they were key to my poetry collection. And so, while I revised my design and story to include elements to engage readers of all ages and address these issues, I remained steadfast in my belief in my story and that the merits of the risks were worth it. This is why I made the decision to self-publish my “family book.”
So please, do me this favor. If you believe in its merits too, please share a review on my Facebook page, on Amazon or on Good Reads or simply share it with your friends. I could use your support to help The Ella Zoo find its audience!
Below is the complete commentary I received from Judge 4 of the 23rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.
THE ELLA ZOO by Elizabeth Dimmette Coyne is a delightful book of poems illustrated with verve that is sure to be appreciated by children and the adults they love. This is one of those books that children will keep and pull out as adults, re-reading with new appreciation when they are older, I think.
The production values of this book are lovely. Choosing a black and white motif with a hint of red actually makes this book stand out among other books on today’s market. This reminds me a little of Shel Silverstein. The back cover copy is clever, and it’s great that we learn where to buy the book.
“The Pellegrine” is one of the more interesting poems, in my view. It made me chuckle. Moles are quite odd and I still am not crazy about them even though I am long past childhood myself. Thank goodness for dermatology! That aside, children certainly can strip one of vanity very quickly. Thankfully they can also build you up even more quickly. Of course, the other poems were also cute and witty. I enjoyed the collection in its entirety, along with the delightful illustrations.
I very much appreciated the notes inside from both the author and the illustrator, along with photos of both. This is a warm and personal book, sure to be cherished by friends and fans alike. Nice work!