Three is a magic number. Not only because it’s the age when tiny toy parts no longer pose a choking hazard to your toddler, but because the universe is full of threebies.
Three square meals a day.
Three strikes and you’re out.
Three ring circus. And three ring government. (Excellent analogy, Schoolhouse Rock.)
Then there’s the “rule of thirds” design principle for composing visual images with tension and interest.
Ever heard of the FOUR LITTLE PIGS? Of course not. There’s just three, like THREE BLIND MICE and THREE BILLY GOATS GRUFF. Heck, there’s even THREE STOOGES.
In picture books, you’ll often find the protagonist struggling to solve their problem three times before finally succeeding. This technique encourages the reader to become invested in the hero’s journey. If the character were to try once and triumph, what fun is that? There’s no time to root for her!
Likewise, you’ll often see groups of three drawings on one picture book page. Three offers a nice balance because two is too few and four is too many. Like Goldilocks and the THREE Bears know, three is “just right”.
So today I’m going to extend “The Rule of Three” to you, the aspiring author. How so? I encourage you to have THREE polished manuscripts ready before submitting to an agent or editor.
Three manuscripts means that you’ve been writing for a while. Not a month or two, but most likely a year or two…or yes, even three. You’ve taken the time to hone your craft. Three manuscripts also means you’ve got a body of work an agent can review. If they don’t like your first story, but they see potential, they will ask for some more. Wouldn’t it be a missed opportunity if you didn’t have more?
In fact, even if they LOVE your first story, they will ask to see more. Picture books are a difficult sell, so if the first manuscript doesn’t find a home, they’ll want something else to submit. Three stories lets the agent know that your body of work, your style, resonates with them. On the flip side, they may LOVE your first book but not see a market for your other stories, or personally dislike them. Their lack of enthusiasm means they are not the right agent for you. You want to know this BEFORE you sign with someone, not AFTER….’cause breaking up? It’s hard to do.
And listen, if you have three manuscripts ready, I’m going to go a bit further and suggest you get FIVE ready. Because five is shiny, like “five golden rings” or “The Jackson Five”.
Yeah, it’s easy as A B C, 1 2 THREE.