Because I’m often asked for advice on how to submit a children’s book to a publisher or agent, I’ve accumulated a set of suggestions for writers who have a manuscript and aren’t sure how to proceed. Before you send off your work to a publisher, perhaps something in the advice below will help you take it up a notch or two in quality.
—Join SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). It’s made up of writers at all stages of accomplishment, and its website has tons of resources, including lists of book critiquers whom you can pay to evaluate or edit your book. If there is an SCBWI group in your town, you can meet with other writers who may give you the benefit of their experience. Check the national organization’s site to find your state and regional organizations and local cell.
—Read all the books you can that are similar to what you want to write, especially the more recent award-winning ones. Children’s books have changed in amazing ways since we were kids, to include diverse characters, sophisticated humor, and edgy situations. In young-adult books almost no topic is off the table. And almost every genre is now a candidate for back-of-the-book discussion questions, resources for related reading, and sometimes even notes and bibliographies, Your librarian can help you find the books you need.
—Avoid these common pitfalls:
- Writing from an adult point of view; using adult main characters, humor, or agendas that won’t click with kids
- Instructing or moralizing instead of discovering from the child’s point of view
- Failing to write with the reader in mind (Will a child read the book? Will an adult read it to a child?)
- Illustrating your manuscript. For reasons of budget, aesthetics, and marketing, the publisher normally requires control over the number, genre, size, and, medium of illustrations. What’s more, book illustrating is a special area of expertise—artistic talent is only part of what it takes to illustrate a book professionally. An editor will put a lot of thought into pairing a book manuscript with the perfect illustrator. Unless you are a professional illustrator (and even then), resist sending illustrations with your manuscript.
Of course, all conventions may be ignored for reasons of genius! But beginners are usually better off observing the rules until they understand how to break them brilliantly.
—Look at the annually published Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, which you can find in most libraries and bookstores. It will tell you everything you need to know about sending your work to publishers. It tells which publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts (as opposed to work sent via an agent), what kinds of books each publisher is interested in acquiring, and whether a publisher works with first-time authors.
—Find and read reviews of kids’ books. The best review journals include Horn Book, School Library Journal, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews. Subscriptions are expensive, so try the library. Professional reviews are also posted for many books at Goodreads and Amazon. Reviews will tell you what’s new and valued, and they can give you ideas for self-critiquing.
—Explore online. Here are a few excellent blogs and websites. All of them lead to many other sites:
- Elizabeth Bird, A Fuse #8 Production: A School Library Journal Blog
- Children’s Book Council
- Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing Children's Books: The Purple Crayon
- Children’s Book Insider’s Write for Kids; Change the World
—Consider self-publishing. At user-friendly platforms like CreateSpace, AuthorHouse, and XLibris you can publish print-on-demand or electronic books with little or no financial investment, depending on your technical skills. The days of taking out a second mortgage to fill your garage with copies that might never sell are (thankfully!) over.
Do you have experience in submitting your work to publishers that might benefit others? If so, please share in the comments below.