Getting a children's book published
May 27, 2008 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Anyone published a children's book, or work at a publishing house that does?

I am writing a children's book, roughly for ages 7-11. It is a story of anthropomorphic animals who have to rescue one of their friends. You could say it is about problem-solving and friendship. I am researching agents and publishers myself, but if anyone has direct experience with this, I would like to hear any insights on the business. I do not currently have an agent and have not yet been published.
posted by Penelope to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This site is full of useful information about publishing children's books, and I strongly recommend that you read through the "Basic Information" material carefully.

Many publishing houses are closed to unsolicited submissions, but getting an agent can be difficult, especially if you write for a younger audience. You may want to consider attending a conference (such as an SCBWI conference) where you can have your work critiqued by an editor. Often, editors who attend these conferences allow particpants to submit for a certain amount of time after the conference.

As an aside, I just wanted to mention that the story you've described sounds a bit younger than the age group you've specified.
posted by cider at 11:38 AM on May 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yes I wasn't really sure about the age group, as this is a new arena for me. I may have to shorten the words if it works better for a younger audience.
posted by Penelope at 11:58 AM on May 27, 2008

I would definitely recommend reading as many recently-published children's books as you can. This will give you an idea of what type of books are being published today, and will help you to get a sense of the writing style and subject matter appropriate for each age group. It may also point you toward the right publishers/editors for you, as you'll get a sense of who's publishing what.
posted by cider at 12:29 PM on May 27, 2008

It sounds like you're at the very early stages of your research. The very first thing you need to do is finish your manuscript. You shouldn't be looking for agents or publishers until you have something you consider very polished.

Then, you need an overview of how the process works. Both the "For Dummies" and "Complete Idiot" franchises have guides on how to write/publish children's books. I always feel like a jerk recommending them because--you know--but just rest assured that I don' t think you're an idiot or a dummy, just that you could probably use a beginner's guide to how it works. (See this entry on the fabulous illustration blog Drawn!) It's not something an average person would know.

There are tons of people out there writing for children and trying to get published. Often they find each other through their local chapter of SCBWI.

And here are some blogs you may find illuminating:
Editorial Anonymous
Kristin Nelson, agent
Fuse #8 is a librarian--she won't tell you much explicitly about getting published but she really keeps her finger on the pulse of children's book publishing in general. It's good to know what's going on.
Miss Snark is defunct and not children's specific, but her archives are a wealth of information about the submission process, and much of it applies to all types of publishing.

Also, length of words is not usually a big factor in what your book's age range would be. I'd suggest a lot of market research--as cider says, just reading a lot of books that you think target the same audience (and some that target different audiences as well, for contrast).
posted by lampoil at 1:21 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

get an agent! i used to work at a children's book publisher and it was extremely rare for us to pick up a non-agented manuscript.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:10 PM on May 27, 2008

I sold a young children's book a few years ago to a biggish school & library publisher without an agent. It might not be relevant to you, since it sounds like you're writing fiction, but here's what I did:

1. I researched a true story that hadn't been covered much in kids' books.

2. I identified a non-fiction series that I wanted to get into and read several books in the series to get a sense of their style and length. It's an early reader series.

3. I wrote my book in that style and wrote a cover letter pointing out that the story hadn't been written for kids that age and that it would fit well in the series I was targeting. I sent the full MS and cover letter to the publisher during the one-month window that they allowed people to send stuff.

They bought the book, and it has sold more than 120,000 copies so far, which doesn't mean I've made a lot of money. I would make more if I did author visits in schools, but I have a business that I like so I focus on that instead.

If the first publisher hadn't accepted my MS, I was going to tweak it to suit another publisher I had identified and send it there.

I've got a young adult novel that's waiting patiently for my final polish. I think that will be a lot harder to sell, because I didn't write it with a particular publisher in mind, and it's fiction.
posted by PatoPata at 6:16 PM on May 27, 2008

My friend just quit a small children's book publisher three months ago; I'm pasting her response to your question in below:
I worked for an independent children’s book publishing company as of 3 months ago, specifically reading the slush pile, so I have quite a bit of experience with this.

My first suggestion would be to do your research. How many books like yours are on the market? Is your idea unique? What age group is it intended for? Is there a demand for this kind of book in the market? If there are other books like yours out there, what is going to make a consumer buy your book over the others? These are the questions the submission editors will be asking themselves as they read your story. And I have to be honest – I read hundreds of anthropomorphic animal stories that taught a lesson. Obviously there is a place for this kind of book, since they sell very well, but you need to make sure that your story stands out and will be adding something new to the market. You also need to make sure you aren’t being didactic – there is nothing more boring than a story that is written first for the lesson. Focus on your characters and storyline first and what the child should learn second.

It’s very important to find a writer’s group, a place where you can get critiques and ideas. A great resource is the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, a group of people interested in, obviously, writing and illustrating children’s books. You do not have to be published to be a member, though there are lots of published authors and illustrators in the group. They have conferences where you can meet editors and get critiques and lots of writing groups.

Even if you don’t join SCBWI, you need to join a critique group of some kind. Getting feedback from your peers, NOT your children, their class at school, parents, or close friends is key. You need people with experience in writing, who are also going to give you honest criticism and helpful feedback and suggestions. You need thick skin to be in this business and you need to be able to take criticism and edits and apply those to your writing. Find someone whose opinions you trust and take what they say to heart.

Once you feel your story is in good shape (and by good shape I mean has been professionally edited or at least edited by someone with some writing experience), you are ready to begin sending it out. DO NOT simply starting mailing it out. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Nothing will get your story rejected or thrown into the slush pile more quickly than the following mistakes:
  1. Sending it to the wrong type of publishing house. Publishers specialize. They either do it by only publishing a specific genre of book, or have an imprint that serves the same purpose. Before you send a book to a publisher, do your research. Go to their website, check out their front list. Better yet, go to the bookstore and read several of their books. Look for the topics they publish, age groups they favor, the genres they focus on. Make sure this is a house that your story will fit in to.
  2. Read the submission guidelines. If a publishing company is accepting submissions, it should say so on their website. They will usually provide a list of guidelines on how they would like to receive submissions, like how many sample chapters, electronic or hard copies, biographical information. Follow these guidelines and do not deviate.
  3. Do not add extraneous materials to your submission. Adding a plush version of the character from your story or even a bag of jelly beans is not going to give you a leg up. It makes you look a bit desperate and would you eat something you received in the mail from a stranger? No. Also, do not send items you will want returned or originals (documents or artwork). Publishers receive thousands, THOUSANDS, of submissions a year. They do not have time or the bandwidth to keep track of that rare family photo you sent
  4. Other things to avoid: organic materials - do not travel well and rotten potato will not give your story that extra something. Living objects – they tend not to survive the journey. Not a nice surprise for the person who opens the package. Anything that makes your package huge and hard to store – your submission will be going in a stack someplace, so make it easy on the pile and make it easy to store.
Make sure you are as professional and clear as you can be in your cover letter and bio. This is not the place to be cutesy, clever, or overly verbose. The cover letter should be no longer than a page and contain the following information: The title of your story, a 2-3 sentence synopsis, any previous writing experience or bio information that is pertinent to the story, a polite thank you. If the company asks for an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope), enclose one. It’s good manners and makes it much easier for the company to communicate with you.

A great resource for getting more information on publishing companies and literary agents is The Writer’s Market. This is a listing of every publishing company and literary agent in the company and what they take/are looking for. This publication is issued every year, and they get their information from the publishers directly, so their information is usually very accurate (I filled out these for my company, so I know). Use this as a starting point for your search.

Another great resource for children’s publishers specifically is the Children’s Book Council - This is an organization of children’s book publishers and their member list is a fabulous way to find out info on specific publishers. They also do awards lists, which is a good way to see what types of books are getting attention and recognition.

My company was smaller, so we did take things directly from the slush pile, but it is getting harder and harder to find companies that operate in that way. An agent is a great way to get your foot in the door. However, there are pitfalls here as well. Be careful and again, DO YOUR RESEARCH. There are lots of companies that are looking to take advantage of inexperienced and uninformed writers. A good rule of thumb is to see if they provide a client list. Remember, you should NEVER pay money up front to an agent. They will be paid when you are: after you get a contract. I heard from several people over the years at my company telling me how they had paid a “literary agent” a fee to send their book out, then never heard from them again.

The same goes for publishing companies – if they are asking for money up front to publish your work, they are not a real publishing company. They are either a self-publisher or vanity publisher and will not provide any of the marketing or editorial services a real publisher will.

I hope this information helps and good luck in your publishing endeavors!
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:27 PM on May 27, 2008 [5 favorites]

I have contacted a few agents here in Canada, and found one who does represent children's lit. She charges to read (and edit) - her letter outlining what they do sounds reasonable, and it would likely cost me about $300 to have it read and edited by her people.

Is this a red flag, that she charges to read? She states in her letter that she represents one of the top ten children's authors in Canada, but doesn't name the person.

I am not currently part of any writers' group where qualified people could read it and give comments, etc. I have given it to a couple of friends with kids to read, but haven't heard back yet, and anyway they are not lit. experts and their kids are younger than my target audience.

So I am tempted to pay the agency the $300 to read, but not sure if this is just a scam.

Anyone with experience have any insights?
posted by Penelope at 8:31 AM on May 30, 2008

From my friend again:

Your agent is not your editor, and so it probably does cost something to have that person read your manuscript. The fact that she does not name the person she represents is kind of fishy. It would be better in the end to join one of the groups named above and get feedback that way, rather than paying someone read the manuscript.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:19 PM on June 7, 2008

Reputable agents don't charge to read manuscripts, no.

Freelance editors do, though. That's very different from an agent. Agents make money by selling rights to your book. They take a percentage (usually 15%) of what your publisher pays you and forwards you the rest. Money should almost never flow from author to agent.

You have every right to ask a prospective agent for references--real clients that you can contact yourself--and also a list of projects they've sold that you can look up on amazon and see if they're published by established publishing companies. (Read Miss Snark, which I linked above. She has so much info about all this stuff).

There are a lot of shady and/or clueless people out there claiming to be agents.

Peer feedback is better, anyway at this stage. It's free and it's also valuable to read and critique otheres' work. SCBWI, community center writing workshop, online writers' group, whatever. Get an agent when it's ready to be represented.
posted by lampoil at 12:44 PM on June 11, 2008

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