How to get a children's book published
January 13, 2006 7:58 AM   Subscribe

I wrote down a story that I made up and used to tell to my daughters at bedtime. I think it's really good, and that others would like it too. It would be my dream come true to have it published.

It's about 1300 words, and aimed at ages 5-8.

But what I've read about breaking into the world of children's publishing makes it sound totally impossible. Lots of people seem to think it's easy to crank out a children's book. And publishers are overwhelmed.

*sigh*
My question is this: does anyone have any good tips to share? Is it really as tough as it seems? What can I do to increase my odds of being picked up? What's the best way to present myself in a cover letter?
posted by quietfish to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
My advice would be to google "self publishing" and make the book yourself. Hire an illustrator (or do it yourself if you've got the talent) and then start selling it through Amazon, school groups, indie book stores, etc. If you can sell a decent number of them and get some good word of mouth, you've then got something to present to publishers.
posted by gfrobe at 8:31 AM on January 13, 2006


there are two different ways of publishing a book.

1) publisher (you get a royalty per book, etc.)

2) Vanity publishing

depending if you want to see it "in print" or how well you think it would sell, that is an option you might want to consider.

also, depending on age, children's books are many times mostly dependent on the artist that draws the pictures.

does your book need pictures? how many words per page?

closer to 20 or 100?
posted by Izzmeister at 8:31 AM on January 13, 2006


Depending on the specifics of your dream, you might consider self-publishing it.

If you dream is more about sharing your story and/or having a physical copy of the book in hand to share with family, friends and your local library than being a best-seller, self-publishing is an easy solution.

Places like LuLu.com have no setup fees or other upfront costs, and you can print just one book if that's all you want, or a batch of any size to share with friends. You can also sell online through them, if you'd like to attempt to promote the book on your own. (You can also get into things like ISBN numbers and selling at Amazon, but there you have to start paying some money). There are several AskMe threads about self-publishing if this interests you.

After having no luck getting my children's stories published, I decided to start posting them online. To me, the important thing was to get the stories out there rather than have them collect dust while I waited for some deal to come through. They are under a Creative Commons license so they are easier to share, or in case any artists feel like adding illustrations.

This hasn't led to any fame or fortune, but I enjoy doing it and knowing the stories are out there. It has led to working with an illustrator on another story, which will we probably self-publish and promote a bit more aggressively.
posted by mikepop at 8:47 AM on January 13, 2006


Try working with an agent. It will cost you, but you are paying for the agent's contacts with publishers. This could help your book get beyond the giant pile in the mailroom and to the desk of someone who can evaluate it properly.
posted by Miko at 9:10 AM on January 13, 2006


it's very tough to get a children's book published. if you really want to, there are lots of books and sites with advice on everything you're asking here. the best way to increase your odds of being picked up are to make sure the story is really good -- there aren't many tricks. here are some other basics:

read lots of other books on the market whose audience is the same as the audience you envision for your book, and see how yours differs. is yours less polished? too quaint or cutesy? is the reading level appropriate? is your story better told outloud than it would be in a book? these are some of the problems i've seen from people who want to convert stories they tell their kids into publishable books.

if you still think it's viable, show it several fellow writers first to get their feedback

finally, send it to agents, not publishers. publishers get armfuls of unsolicited manuscripts a day and maybe one in 10 years gets published from that batch.

i don't know if it's bad form to point to one's own web site, but i do have a page about the really bad unsolicited children's book manuscripts i came across as an editorial intern several years ago. there are some tips at the end.
posted by nevers at 9:13 AM on January 13, 2006


nevers: I don't care if it's bad form. It's damn funny.
posted by Miko at 9:21 AM on January 13, 2006


Just think of the unimaginative dreck that must flow into the office of a publisher of children's fiction. Harry Potter knockoffs written by fifteen year olds; submission after submission featuring goblins with alliterative names; Christian morality tales; the adventures of sweet little Tiffany, beauty contest and figure skating queen, written by Tiffany's mom; books written by people with dreams of their characters capturing the Walmart backpack market. That should give you some idea of how much attention your submission will receive, no matter how you package it. Whoever reads the first couple pages will probably be chatting with friends on MSN at the same time.

But all you need is one champion. Sure the odds are long but every year more books are published than anyone wants to read. Same with art, movies, music, all the creative industries. People who plug away at it do eventually have their work reach larger audiences.

When I did this I hoped to illustrate the book too, so I did rough sketches and assembled the story in the manner I thought the book should be designed. Then I photocopied it all and stuck it in an envelope. (However, it is usually advised that you don't find a friend to illustrate your story before submission. An interested publisher will find the right illustrator.) Don't send it to one publisher and wait for an answer. It will take a couple months for the rejection letter to arrive back, and after that happens three times you'll be disillusioned and give up. Pick five or six publishers and send it out. It's a lottery ticket.

In my case, one editor read and liked my story. Then I was called in to see the art director who needed to know if I could handle the illustration work. At the same time the company was negotiating with a distributor to contract for a certain number of copies to be sold into the US (I was dealing with a Canadian publisher). After six weeks of raised hopes, the marketing department decided the book was unsupportable and it was rejected. But the distributor that they'd been talking to was still interested (the distributor was also a publisher that had made it's fortune off Love You Forever, so picking up books passed on by other publishers had been good to it). That was the lucky fluke. Otherwise I probably would have given up after that rejection.

When you first do this getting published is the dream. You don't think past that. But then it arrives in the stores and has a limited time window to sit on the shelves. Think of big movies that have that one weekend to prove themselves or they're out. Think of all that marketing clout promoting those movies. Now think of your little book that no one has ever heard of sitting on the shelves waiting for someone to love it. The publishing business is bizarre - unsold books get shipped back. I'm glad they stopped sending me royalty statements, because I tired of seeing how much I'd been overpaid.
posted by TimTypeZed at 9:23 AM on January 13, 2006


If you're willing to pay for help getting an agent, I highly, highly recommend Writers Relief. They're a New Jersey-based submission service: for a fee, they'll help you prepare the manuscript and target it to the most appropriate agents or publishers. Their success rate is amazing.
posted by rdc at 9:47 AM on January 13, 2006


Try working with an agent. It will cost you, but you are paying for the agent's contacts with publishers.

This advice puzzles me. A legitimate agent will NEVER, EVER, EVER charge you an upfront fee. Legitimate agents earn their money by selling your book and taking a percentage of your advance and your royalties. If somebody wants payment upfront, no matter what excuse they give, they are really saying, "I have absolutely no expectation of ever getting selling your book." Why would you want to sign with somebody who is telling you that?

I'm guessing that when Miko said "It will cost you," she meant that it would cost you because you'd have to pay a percentage of your advance and royalties. But I just wanted to make sure that you don't misinterpret that to mean you should pay an agent upfront.
posted by yankeefog at 9:51 AM on January 13, 2006


Look for publishing houses that specialize in children's literature. For example, Peachtree Publishing here in Atlanta does kids' books and certain types of non-fiction, and they do basically nothing else. Send it to a lot of places. Don't get discouraged.

Just think of the unimaginative dreck that must flow into the office of a publisher of children's fiction. Harry Potter knockoffs written by fifteen year olds; submission after submission featuring goblins with alliterative names; Christian morality tales; the adventures of sweet little Tiffany, beauty contest and figure skating queen, written by Tiffany's mom; books written by people with dreams of their characters capturing the Walmart backpack market.

Heh. One of my friends actually works in children's publishing, and if you can possibly imagine, it's worse than that! But they do care about putting out quality books.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:00 AM on January 13, 2006


Yankeefog is right. I meant that it would cost you in that the agent would take a contractual payment from any proceeds resulting from publication. Sorry I didn't make that clear, thanks for the correction.
posted by Miko at 10:02 AM on January 13, 2006


You might find The Purple Crayon: a children's book editor's site helpful, particularly the page How to get out of the slush pile.
posted by boudicca at 10:11 AM on January 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


Other tips:

- Find out where the children's books authors hang out online and go there.

- Consider going to industry events for children's books for networking purposes.

- If you self-publish, avoid Publish America. They are evil.

- If any a publisher asks you to pay them money, they are a vanity publisher, no matter what they say. If an agent asks, you to pay them money they are shady as hell and are probably scamming you.

- Research and due diligence. It's easy to get scammed by shady agents, cons, and other ne'er-do-wells if you don't know anything about the industry.

- Accept the fact that rejection is going to be a huge part of your life as a writer. If you submit to publishers and/or agents, you will get rejected. A lot. A whole lot. It could take years for you book to be published. If you are the type of person who can't handle that, who is easily discouraged, maybe self-publishing is the way to go.

- Find a crit group, either on-line or in person, or beta readers that you trust to be honest and have someone else look at your book.

- Remember - Publishing is a business. Agents and editors pick books if they think it will sell. If people don't think that they can sell it, even if they love it, they won't pick it up.

- Take your book to a library and volunteer to read it at story hour. This will give you way to gauge how people you don't know feel about it.
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:23 AM on January 13, 2006


No matter what the odds against or how hard it may be to break into publishing, you have nothing to lose but some postage. (which, for a 1300 word MS, is not gonna be significant.)

Don't give up before you start; don't go the vanity or pay-to-publish route until you've exhausted your avenues of real publishers. Don't even worry about getting an agent yet; it can wait until you have an offer, and if that happens, the publisher himself may put you in contact with one. Find the addresses of companies that publish the same kind of thing as your story, and start sending copies of your manuscript.

Be prepared for rejections, but if you never show it to a publisher, it doesn't have a chance in hell of getting published. If you send it out, you have a chance, however slim it may be.
posted by Rubber Soul at 12:45 PM on January 13, 2006


I have edited TimTypeZed's post just a little:

Just think of the unimaginative dreck that must flow into the office of a publisher of children's fiction. Harry Potter.

There you go.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:22 PM on January 13, 2006


I'm doing the same thing. I don't have time to do this all of time (yet), so I'm skipping on looking for an agent. However, when I have time to write more that is exactly what I'm going to do.

For now, I just want something to share and hold and see that it's real, so I'm going with the self publishing. This AskMe has some good resources.
posted by snsranch at 5:36 PM on January 13, 2006


Sorry this isn't a direct answer, but you sound exactly like this guy.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:23 AM on January 14, 2006


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