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What Makes A Book A Winner?

Chase-Man is #1 on The Gittle List 2017

The 10 winning books of the 5th Annual Gittle List Competition were just announced. (2017 winners.) Each year, I try to improve the contest that is exclusively for self-published authors of children’s picture books. One of the entrants, in providing me feedback on the contest asked, “How are the winners chosen?”

The 2017 contest rules describe this generally under Judging Process. But, I’d like to drill down a bit deeper to try to help indie authors understand why I place a book on The Gittle List (49 books to date).

To give you some idea of the subjective side of my decisions:
I enjoy books on a broad range of topics. For example, I’m agnostic, but I am hopeful to find a great children’s picture book about faith. The few I’ve read so far on this topic are more lecture than story.

I’m drawn to stories that are different. A book can be silly (Thumbpire by Stephen and Sarah White) or serious (The Amida Tree by Bonnie Ferrante). I appreciate stories that manage to tackle difficult topics in a child-friendly way. (GG and Mamela by Belinda Brock.) I hate “message” books. Don’t say, “We should be kind to one another.” Tell me a story where the characters are kind to each other. I’m very sensitive to adult dialogue coming out of the mouth of a child. The kids in the story should talk like kids.

Another Bev Stone book wins a spot on The Gittle List

Story always takes precedence over illustrations, but there’s a limit to this. I’ve had books where I liked the story, but the illustrations were so bad, I just couldn’t put it on The Gittle List. Honestly pains me. I’ve also been drawn to a cover with gorgeous illustrations only to be disappointed with the story.

A book has to feel great to read aloud. Bev Stone is a master at this. That’s why five of her books have made it on the list. 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014.

I’m a New Yorker, born and raised. So, I’m pretty tough. I’ve made friends with fellow authors online, but it has zero impact on my evaluation of their book. I’ve had authors submit their books year after year and not win. I feel bad about it. They’re nice people. But I just can’t recommend a book I would not personally spend my dollars on.

I’ve had authors submit a book one year and not win. They submit a different book the following year and it makes the list. And the reverse has happened.

#2 on The Gittle List 2014

When I fall in love with a book, I fall hard. You can tell the ones I’m wild about because you will see me mention them in later contests. Over the Under, and Around the Square by Craig Kunce. The most unusual children’s picture book I’ve read. My older grandson really enjoyed it. Frank the Gentle Viking by Lucy Elliott (the very first book on The Gittle List 2013). The Best You Can Be by Bev Stone. Bear With Me by Dan Stern. Tristan Wolf by Mariana Llanos (one of two books that inspired the contest).

I am not a professional judge. Nor do I have a background in traditional publishing. I’ve learned to self-publish from the ground up. I’ve self-published nearly 20 books since 2013. I’ve read hundreds of children’s stories. More importantly, I’m your target market: A grandmother and a lover of children’s picture books.

The Gittle List 2018 submission guidelines will be released in January. The Gittle List is exclusively for self-published children’s picture books. It is the only contest that gives entrants opportunities to get free promotion during the nearly year-long submission period.

Aviva Gittle hosts The Gittle List Book Competition. She publishes children’s picture books through her company, Gittle Publishing. Find all her books on Amazon.

If you initiate Amazon purchases from this website, I get a small commission. You get my undying appreciation. 🙂

Published inContest NewsGittle List WinnersThe Gittle List


  1. Hello Aviva,
    I must say I enjoyed the unveiling of each winner, day by day, of this year’s contest, however disappointing it was to not see my work there. I will try again in 2018. I’m hoping that I am not THAT guy who enters each year only to be left off the list. I’m confident, however, that ‘Oliver Phenomena’ will touch you in a way that elevates him to your expectations. I hope to see next year’s entry, ‘Oliver and the Little Ghost’, make the Gittle List. Thank you again for all you do to help self-published authors.

    • AvivaGittle AvivaGittle

      I’m glad you enjoyed The Gittle List contest. Obviously, everyone who enters hopes to win an award. But, savvy authors will enter early and participate as much as possible in the cross-marketing aspect of the competition. Several authors, who did not make it on the list, received promotion that was far more valuable than the entry fee. Looking forward to seeing your 2018 entry!

    • “Kitter’s Purrfect Home,” is my next picture book. I’m looking for a publisher.
      “When Kitter’s is forced to leave her purrfect home with Granny she must live with Jackie who feeds her brocolli instead of tuna and does all the wrong stuff! On a visit to
      Jackie’s friend Gg, Kitter’s shows Jackie—she’s staying there!

  2. Thank you for sharing with us what you look for and some of your favorites! I enjoyed being part of your contest and seeing the winners each day.

    • AvivaGittle AvivaGittle

      I’m glad you enjoyed the experience, Wanda. Please let fellow indie authors know about The Gittle List. Especially the part where if they enter early, they have more chances to get free promotion. 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about how winners are chosen. I enjoyed seeing the unveiling of the winners. Thank you for all you do for authors.

    • AvivaGittle AvivaGittle

      Thank you, Janice!

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