Are you a risk taker?
I never used to be. When I first started writing, I realized how much I didn't know. I set out to educate myself, reading all that I could about how to write properly, finding writing mentors, carefully researching all the big no-no's of writing. I sifted through websites and forums to find out what editors wanted, what would sell, what would catch their eye. I focused on the rules, I tried to do everything right. In other words, I did what all of us have done at one point or another.
I believed that because I write for kids, my main characters had to be perfect--role models of a kind. I religiously followed all the rules about characters, striving to make them interesting and unique, to make sure they learned and grew as a result of the story. What I didn't realize is by trying so hard to mold my characters into all of these things, I had, well, missed the point completely.
Interesting, unique, character growth...all of these things are important. But if they don't feel authentic, then they won't catch anyone's eye. So how does one make a character authentic?
To make your character feel authentic, you have to risk everything. What I mean by that is you need to be true to the character, not the rules of writing. Let your main character dictate their actions, their dialogue. People aren't perfect in real life, and characters shouldn't be either. Let their personality show, let their flaws show. Trust in yourself that character growth and all the rest will come out on its own without you trying to force it. Just write their story, in their words.
The same can be said for other elements of writing: Voice, Characters, Style, Plot. Risk makes us honest; it makes us bleed. It makes our work authentic. We take the risk that to find an editor who completely gets our vision, we might run across a few that don't.
So know the rules. Know what is out there, know what editors want. Then shove it all in a dark corner with the dust bunnies and tell the story that needs to be told. The real story, the honest story. Take a risk and get it right--that's what will make your story stand out from the rest.