So You Want to Get
a Children's Book Published?'s Hints for Creative Grown-Ups

So you want to get a children's book published? Your chances are good…after all, readers make the best writers. But if you've read a lot, you also have a sense of how competitive the field is. Some folks believe getting a children's book published is even more difficult than getting a book for adults in print. To give yourself an edge and familiarize yourself with the trade and submission guidelines, read How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books and Get Them Published by Treld Pelkey Bicknell and Felicity Trotman and the excellent resource guide, Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, current year, edited by Alice Pope. Here are some additional hints:

Spend time reading and writing.
Learn from example be experiencing the wonderful works of others (visit's blogfor reviews and links to the best children's literature available). Write every day; journaling is a great way to practice observing the world around you and finding your unique voice. After reading and writing becomes a large part of your life and you have become skilled, you may find something you want to say using the vehicle of a children's book. Concentrate on making it the best book it can be. Then decide how important it is to you to get it published. After all, getting published doesn't make a book good! You may be satisfied by sharing your work with family and friends. If you feel strongly that you have said something that you want to share with a wider audience, go for it!

Mail yourself a copy of your own work.
Put your manuscript in a sealed envelope and mail it to yourself. When you get it, don't open it. Put it away in a drawer somewhere. The postmark acts as a kind of copyright; you can prove when you created this intellectual property. You will probably never have to use it, but it may help you to relax about showing your work.

Focus on getting an agent, not a publisher.
The children's book market has changed a lot since we were kids. Editors receive thousands of unsolicited manuscripts every year. If they read them all, they wouldn't have time to thoughtfully edit books that are accepted. So usually, these unsolicited manuscripts end up in a "slush pile," where readers at the publisher pick through them and if something catches their eye, maybe it will be passed on to an editor with decision-making power. More likely, an unsolicited manuscript will be returned after weeks or even months, without even more than a few sentences read. There are two ways around this sad state of affairs. One is the "query letter," in which you write to an editor to synopsize your book and politely ask if they would look at it. (Sample queries are in the books recommended above). If your query is accepted, then the editor is expecting your manuscript and you aren't wasting the cost of postage. The best way to get your manuscript read is to find an agent. Many reputable and successful publishers will not even look at your manuscript unless it is presented by an agent. While finding an agent takes time, in the end it will save time, because good agents are well-connected and familiar with what publishers are looking for. Look for an agent in the current year of The Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents:Who They Are! What They Want! and How to Win Them Over by Jeff Herman or Writer's & Illustrator's Guide to Children's Book Publishers and Agents by Ellen R. Shapiro. Remember, too, that getting an agent is simply an "in," it's no guarantee you will be published.

Become familiar with publisher's lists.
Each publisher is different. Some publishers don't publish non-fiction, some specialize in poetry. Some publishers are hungry for school stories, some are top-heavy with them. Request publisher catalogs before submitting. Look at what's in the bookstore, too…what publisher packages books in a style that appeals to you? If you like their style, chances are, they'll like yours, too.

Do not submit your work to authors.
Authors are not publishers. Authors are not agents. They can't get you published. They are busy peddling their own wares. A few authors are willing to read unpublished manuscripts for a fee, you can inquire if this is the case. But the rule of thumb is, if you don't know them well enough to have their home phone number or their birthday marked on your calendar, reading a manuscript is a tall order, on the level of helping you move or driving you to the airport. Don't be offended if they say no, just turn to the many resources available on line and in books. Or, join your local chapter of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators to find a circle of friends who may be more willing and able to peek at your rough drafts.

Do not say, "my children just loved it!"
This is the equivalent of hearsay in a court, and such a comment will most likely be thrown out. Some publishers are even turned off if you announce that you have kid-tested your own work, which is too bad, because I think it actually is a good selling point! But oh well, they're the bosses!

Do not look for your own illustrator.
Your best friend may in fact be a great artist, but then she should submit independently as an illustrator. Publishing houses generally have their own illustrators or sources for illustrators. It generally puts a publisher in an uncomfortable position if two first-time talents submit together. What if one is suitable, and the other is not? Do you reject one and not the other? Rather than deal with the situation, a publisher may just say "no" to both. On the other hand, you may illustrate your work yourself. Also, sometimes spouses are successful; Russell and Lillian Hoban, Alice and Martin Provenson, Harve and Margot Zemach and Leon and Diane Dillon are legendary husband-wife teams, and Doug and Kim Kennedy are siblings. But above all, they are extraordinarily talented. Aspiring illustrators would do well to peruse Uri Shulevitz's insightful book Writing with Pictures.

Keep your chin up!
Patience is a virtue. Unless you are very lucky, getting published is a goal that could take years. So what? Years pass anyway, so why not put just a little effort into each of those years to make your dream come true? Consider rejection letters as steps toward your goal. Keep a scrapbook, they'll make nice curiosities after your book is a bestseller. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was rejected 64 times. My own first book was rejected 35 times. Was I discouraged? No, I was delighted! I was accepted in half the time it took Charlotte Bronte!

Other Links of Interest:
Children's Literature Web Guide - Resources for Writers and Illustrators
Verla Kay's Website
Children's Writing Supersite
The Purple Crayon
The Children's Book Council

See you at your booksigning!

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