Advice for Children’s Book Authors

You’ve written a children’s book? Congratulations!

Stack of Manuscripts copyYou’ve heard all the stories about traditional (the big 10) publishers having huge slush piles. You are worried your picture book or chapter book won’t be discovered by the children’s publishing world? Maybe you don’t know what a slush pile is? Traditional publishers get thousands upon thousands of manuscripts for children’s books. So many, they usually don’t have time to give them the attention they need or even find time to read them. They get thrown into a big pile that they may or may not even read. Your book must be so original and perfectly written, it stands out from the pile.

Maybe you’re convinced you will never make it through the publishing gauntlet, but still want your book published. Self-publishing is an option. Be very careful, very, very careful! There are many in the publishing business who prey on inexperienced new authors. A good place to start is SFWA Writer Beware website is devoted to exposing the publishers, agents, and editors who prey on the hopeful and inexperienced.

1. Join SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, $85.00 USD / yearly. Yes, it seems expensive at first, but it’s a great value. Attend local and national conferences. Take as many workshops as you can. Also, join a local critique group for your specific type of writing. “The Book” written by SCBWI  is sent to all new members and can be downloaded every year for up-to-date reference. It is a very valuable resource. It also helps when you are querying agents or editors to mention you are a member of SCBWI. It shows them you are serious.

2. Join a critique group for your type of children’s books. Don’t be afraid to share your work. The SCBWI has critique groups in most cities that meet monthly or more often. The more honest educated eyes on your manuscript the better. Your group will find ways to make your story even more finished. Don’t rely on friends and relatives, to put it bluntly, they lie to make you feel good and they usually have no idea what a good children’s story needs to have.

3. Join the Blue Board  Go to the SCBWI website,  look for the link and join. The Blueboard is an extremely active message board created and run by Verla Kay. It covers everything about the children’s book publishing business. There are areas just for SCBWI members and other areas for everyone.

4. Have you really studied children’s books? You must know what is current and what is selling. Older classic picture book had many more words on each page. Picture books today are usually under 500 words total. Strive to read and study 100 new children’s books as well as the classics. Study the story arc of each book. What makes you want to turn the page? I check out 5-10 picture books a week form my library’s “New Books” shelf.

5. Make sure your book is original. There are certain themes that are overworked in children’s literature. Be unique. 

6. Is your book in Rhyme? If it is, you will have a hard time convincing a publisher to take it on. Many editors have rules that they will take no rhyming books AT ALL. We all loved rhyming books as kids, and kids today still love them. But, they must be REALLY good. Most rhyme for kids is not great and editors are really tired of reading bad rhyme. Hint don’t forget about the rhythm.

7. Use reliable websites for information If you do a search on Publishing children’s books, many vanity and predatory publishers will come up in the search. Don’t fall for their come-ons. Only use reliable websites: The Purple Crayon, The BlueBoard started by Verla Kay, ICL Transcript Pages. Also, buy or read the library copy of the latest copy of the “Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market” book. This book has up-to-date information on publisher, editors, and agents.

8. If you do want to self-publish Look into a Print on Demand printer (POD). One who doesn’t charge a huge fee to start. KDP Print (CreateSpace) and IngramSpark are two good ones. Do your research! Many small publishers are really “vanity publishers” their business model is to get as much money out of you, the author, as possible. They will tell you they aren’t a vanity press, they just like to help new authors. Be very careful. Some services are set up to “help” you with the self-publishing process. Make sure you really need what you are paying premium prices for, some packages include useless services that you can do easily yourself. It’s not hard to self-publish.

9. If you are approaching a traditional publisher (the big 10) you do NOT need to hire an illustrator. If you send your manuscript to a traditional big publisher with illustrations created by an illustrator other than yourself, it may actually hurt your chances of being published. It will show them you are inexperienced and don’t know, that publishers hire the illustrators directly. You will have very little control over the illustration process with a traditional publisher.

You don’t have to pay traditional publishers anything. If they accept your book, they hire the illustrator, edit your book, print your book and pay you an advance and royalties. This is a great deal for you. The problem is, out of the 10s of thousands of manuscripts submitted, they only pick a few. It’s good to be famous already.

10. If you are self-publishing you WILL need an illustrator for your picture book. One-half of your picture book story is told visually. If you are self-publishing, you need the best professional illustrator you can afford.  No matter how great your words are, the book will suffer from awkward or amateurish illustrations. Professional illustrators know how to pace your page turns, create memorable characters, put everything together in a professional manner and work with your printer to give you the best-finished book. You owe it to yourself and to your book if you are serious about your writing.

Visit my website, to see if my style fits the story of your book. Email me and we can talk about your book.

Hope this helps.

If you have done all of the above things, you are on the right path. Take your picture book manuscript out of that drawer. Read it again. Do you think it has the potential to get published? If so, get to work. Revise, revise, revise. Have it critiqued. Revise it some more. Make sure it is perfect before you send it off to a publisher or have it self-published. Remember your spouse, your children, relatives, and friends will not tell you the truth. You need to find beta readers who know about your genre or children’s book critique group to give you true feedback.

Good Luck with your publishing career!

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