“I have this idea for a children’s book, but how do I get it published?” I have heard this so many times over the past few years — from dear friends and family, family members of childhood friends, girlfriends of ex-boyfriends :), blog friends, students, and strangers. I am no expert on this. My own entry into publishing is a bit fairytale-esque. But I do have a lot to share — from my experiences and what I’ve learned from working with my editor and publisher, and from friends who write and illustrate books. Still, I always wish I could share more.
When talking with some book friends last week about this, we all related. So we compiled links, advice, and thoughts that we’ve gathered along the way — so we could have it on hand to give to anyone who inquires. For any of you reading this who “have an idea for a book”, or who have a burning passion deep down to create children’s books in this life, we hope this provides you with answers to your questions and inspires you to make your books. Feel free to ask more questions in comments or share advice of your own!
Publishing FAQ: The Complex and Tricky Road to Getting Published:
Listed below are some very helpful websites, organizations, and tips that have been compiled by writers and artists working in the design, art, and children’s book world. This information will help you on your way to publishing your children’s book.
Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing Children’s Books: The Purple Crayon
This is written by an editor in the business and is very thorough and full of information!
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
This link will take you directly to the FAQ list and covers so much information.
The Heartland Writers Group
(for those in the Kansas City area looking for a critique group)
“The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market” is a book that should have all the information on what the different publishing houses are accepting these days, how they like to receive their inquiries, and who to address them to. It should also be able to direct you toward writer and illustrator agents.
Some helpful websites for self-publishing:
THINGS TO CONSIDER:
*Don’t be too eager to “just get published”. It’s important to learn your craft. Write and draw a lot so you can figure out your style and get really good at it. If a weaker story gets published but it doesn’t sell well, they won’t ask you for a second. If you put out an exceptional manuscript and it sells great, the publisher starts asking you “what are you going to do for us next?”
An editor likes to nurture relationships with authors and illustrators and build a career. Taking the time to finesse your manuscript at the beginning will really pay off because quality work always finds a good home.
*Take a writing or poetry class at your local University
*Take a field trip to your local library or bookstore and look for books that speak to you and are in the style and spirit that you’d like to pursue.
Take note of which publishing houses publish those stories. Those are the editors you’ll want to get in contact with. (See “The Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market”)
*Join a local critique group (or start one!)
Try to be open to other people’s critiques and suggestions. Build up a thick skin. If something in your writing raises a red flag it’s worth revisiting even if you decide not to change it. Writing is a process so you can’t fall in love with your own words too early. Don’t make a manuscript precious…make it malleable so it can be reworked from front to back and from inside out. You shouldn’t have to explain a thing—the words should stand on their own. Say what you’re trying to say in as few words as possible.
Keeping in mind that writing is a process, don’t share your idea too soon. Make sure it is fully formed before you get feedback. Create a little distance between yourself and the script before presenting it to a group. Sometimes putting that story away for a while can be revealing when you bring it out for a fresh look.
*If you are a writer AND illustrator, it is really helpful to make a ROUGH (B&W line drawing) dummy of your book. This will help you edit, see what is and isn’t working, and will help develop your story. Refine and revise this version and submit it to an agent or publisher with your proposal. This will show your vision in the best and clearest way. Be sure to follow the submission guidelines according to the SCBWI website (listed above). Here is my example of the book dummy process.
*Keep your query short and start it with the most exciting excerpt from your manuscript. Hook them right off the bat. Keep your letters professional without trying to sound clever or cutesy. Don’t add copyright signs (circle c) on each page because it is a sure sign you’re an amateur (heard that from an editor at a conference). Send in manuscripts with artwork only if you’re doing both. You can suggest an illustrator but leave that decision up to the editor. Most likely they will want to pair a new author with a seasoned illustrator and vice versa to help the sale of the book.
*Many writers and illustrators have an agent who takes care of their publishing connections, job inquiries, billing, contracts etc. If you plan to write more stories, you may consider getting an agent. Many editors will not look at a manuscript unless it is vetted through an agent, though this is not a hard and fast rule. The main reason an agent is helpful, (for both writing and illustrating when just beginning) is that they can give your manuscript priority over the “slush pile” since most editors have a huge stack of inquiries from writers of every level. Although an agent may require a 15-35% commission, (depending on whether the agent represents writers or illustrators) many writers and illustrators find it helpful to have someone else marketing their work, finding homes for their manuscripts, and taking care of the business end of the book world so they can concentrate on their art.
Publishers are being very careful about what they’ll accept these days because the future of the book as we know it is changing. But they will ALWAYS need new ideas and stories in one form or another!
*Attending an SCBWI conference is also a great way to make personal contacts with editors. There are usually one or two editors speaking at these events and most conferences have “pitch sessions”, one-on-one time with the editor, available for attendees.
Hopefully this information will be helpful to you on your journey toward becoming a published author. While the road to publication is tricky, remember that no two roads are the same, and with hard work, revision, and time, that road can ultimately be rewarding. This is best evident when you get to share your book with a child!
Here’s wishing you all the BEST in your endeavors!
Jenny Sue Kostecki Shaw
Laura Huliska Beith