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For some time, I have been contemplating this subject, and lately, I have been receiving a considerable number of emails and direct messages requesting advice on how to publish a children’s book. I am more than willing to share what I have learned in recent years regarding this topic. Rather than responding to each inquiry individually, I would prefer to make this information accessible to all on my blog. If you have any questions after reading this post, please feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to answer it.
I would like to emphasize that this post is not about self-publishing. That being said, if you are interested in self-publishing there are plenty of great resources available. I am not one of them, however. It is important to understand that both self-publishing and traditional publishing are equally legitimate and neither is inherently better or worse. Both have their respective advantages and disadvantages.
My ProcessFirst, I want to quickly take you through my process of getting a book deal, because I followed the “traditional” route but my publisher and I ended up finding each other in an non-traditional manner. By “traditional route” I mean I wrote the manuscript, I did a lot of research, and I sent individual query letters (emails) with my manuscript to publishers and literary agents. This is the traditional route, and I have a lovely pile of email rejection letters to prove it, thankyouverymuch. However, what led to me actually getting a deal was that I wrote a blog post (yes on this very blog!)I wrote a post discussing the importance of disability representation, and I mentioned that I had written a children’s book that I wanted to get published. Rachel, who had come across my blog when her daughter was in the NICU, saw the post and offered to pass my manuscript onto her publishing house in Minneapolis, even though she was not the one making the decisions. And sure enough, she did!
It was shocking to me when I received a response from my editor Andrew at Beaming Books, six months after sending Rachel my manuscript. He said they were interested in publishing my children’s book!
Biggest MisconceptionBefore I officially move onto my tips I’d like to share what I believe is the biggest misconception about publishing a children’s book: Unless you are an author-illustrator (meaning you do both like Mo Willems, Eric Carle, Beatrix Potter) you DO NOT pitch your book with an illustrator! Like most people I had no idea about this when I first started, but this is definitely the biggest misconception I come up against. When you are pitching a children’s picture book as the writer, you are submitting the manuscript. That’s it.
(Some of you may be thinking, but wait Miggy, didn’t you know your illustrator beforehand? Didn’t you ask her to illustrate your book? YES! Back when I didn’t know any better, and we had just met at a conference I reached out to Merrliee Liddiard immediately to see if she was interested in illustrating my book. And she was! But, she also educated me about the misconception above. We briefly considered trying to pitch together anyway, but her plate was full at the time and she graciously had to bow out of the initial process. When I signed my contract, I asked my publisher beforehand if I could have a say in the illustrator. They agreed. When I presented Merrilee’s name they immediately loved her style, reached out to her and the rest is history. I’ve have since heard this is very unusual and that publishers almost always choose the illustrator.)
As a novice in this field, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge over the past few years. Even though I’m still learning, there are a lot of other resources out there to explore and seek advice. That being said, let’s get to the main part of this discussion….
1. Research! Research! Research!It’s not the most glamorous or fun part of the process, but it’s absolutely essential. I always point people to the two main resources I used during the process. First, you’ll want to join SCBWI or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, I believe the cost is about $90/year. Not only do many publishers want to know if you’re a member (street cred) but it is also a WEALTH of information. There are articles, local chapters you can join, national meetings (and I’m assuming international, as it’s an international organization), contests, message boards, and each year they make something called The Book: An Essential Guide to Publishing for ChildrenMembers of this organization have access to a variety of materials which are either available for download or can be ordered. Membership is required to take advantage of these resources.
The other source I always recommend (which is very similar to The Book I mentioned above) is the annual Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market which again is published every year. This book (which I checked out from the library FYI)I spent a considerable amount of time looking into different publishers and agents, gathering the information into one big spreadsheet that would let me decide which publisher and agent were the most suitable for my book.
I remember so many of my precious and few “work days” (when my little kids were with a babysitter)Spending days working on spreadsheets, creating lists and organizing emails can be a thankless task, as there is often little to show for it at the conclusion of the day. Although I wasn’t able to find a publisher through this work, it made me more knowledgeable and appreciative of the process.
Doing an online search can provide plenty of helpful information. Read the blogs and articles written by experienced professionals in the publishing industry to get wise advice. Be sure to take the time to research thoroughly.
I find it remarkable when I am asked questions about a process that it is evident the person has not put effort into researching. This is a common occurrence in life; it is important to do our own work and research before expecting someone to give us all the knowledge they have worked hard to get.
2. Write. The. Book.Seems obvious, but A LOT of people say “So I have this idea for a children’s book…” and while that’s great, publishers and agents don’t get on board for an idea (barring your enormous celebrity status). So write it! Also, this is where the rubber meets the road; Can you do it? (Yes!) Will you do it! (Yes!) When I first started writing When Charley Met EmmaI had a clear idea of what I wanted to convey in my story, but it was still a challenge to figure out how to put it into words. Coming up with the right language to express what I wanted to say was a difficult task. Furthermore, there are so many possibilities when it comes to writing a story – what words to use, how to start, who the characters should be, and what the setting should be.
While everyone has a different writing process (and perhaps you already know yours and don’t need this advice) I find it’s easiest to just get started. Don’t worry about how it flows, the characters, the setting, etc… just get the ideas on paper and start
3. EDIT!It’s easy to think that because they’re short, a children’s book is easy to write. I sure did! But, the tricky thing about children’s books is that you are trying to say a lot, in as few words as possible. I went through 16 drafts before I came to the manuscript I felt good sending out. In my research I found out that many publishing houses won’t even consider a picture book manuscript over 1,000 words. Sure, I thought, but my book has this super important message and it just has to be longer… in other words, my book is a special unicorn. I was wrong. My manuscript was around 1,300 words. When my publisher agreed to publish my book, they did so with the understanding that we would work together to whittle it down, which I was totally on board with. In the end When Charley Met Emma was around 750 words–almost in half! And it is such a better book for it. It would be a great idea to find a few people who would be willing to read your book and give you feedback. In hindsight, I’m very grateful my publishers were willing to see the diamond in the rough that was my manuscript, because it could and probably should have been edited more. (Even though I did my best and had a friend who is also a writer look over my drafts.)
One of the main reasons for brevity that has stuck with me, was when my editor talked about reading books with our children. Do we like to read books that go on and on and onI asked my daughter’s father to help me work out which books we had read together had longer word counts than the others. To my surprise, many of the books that I thought of as being quite lengthy were in fact only 650-700 words! This made me realise that when it comes to parents buying and reading books, the word count is very important.
And lastly, every word counts. Personally I love getting to the final nitty-gritty of editing and thinking about each and every word and defending it’s position in my book. Just like any art form, the why’sI believe that the words I choose are incredibly important, and the fact that I take time and care when selecting them gives me the assurance that what I am sharing with the world is meaningful.
4. Respect the Industry.The publishing industry is an old, traditional industry.First and foremost publishing is a business and when they choose a book to publish it’s because they believe it will sell. I had to get over the idea that someone was going to publish my book solely because of its important social message. That might be part of why they were attracted to it (and I believe it was!)Many people thought not only could this bring them joy, but also that it could bring in lots of money.
Also, in my research I came across the idea again and again, that publishing is a traditionalNavigating the publishing industry requires adherence to certain rules and processes. When sending a query letter, it is important to maintain a formal and professional yet personal tone. You cannot send the same query letter to multiple publishing houses or agents; instead, you must follow the guidelines for format set by each individual. To make the letter personal, start with something that demonstrates that you have researched the publisher or agent, such as “I see that you are looking for stories featuring female protagonists…” Before sending the letter, make sure to double and triple check for any spelling and grammar errors. Above all else, make sure to get the recipient’s name right.
Again, this is part of the research, so I will not elaborate too much on this, but just bear this in mind.
5. Put it out into the UniverseNow to get a little woo-woo. When I first had the idea to write a children’s book I was giddy with excitement, but also very, very protective of my little baby idea. I believed in it, yet I wasn’t ready to share it with the world. Ideally, I would do all this work behind the scenes and then one day I’d announce out of the clear blue, “Ta-da! I’ve written a children’s book and it’s getting published!”
And that’s what I did for a long time–kept it to myself, telling only a handful of people. Until one day I felt a nudge to put it out into the Universe. (Yes, that would be a nudge from the Universe, to put it out into the Universe.) That was scary. What if it never got published and every one knewI was determined not to be someone who had written a book that never saw the light of day.
The day I wrote the fateful blog postI wrote a post and made sure not to mention the book I had written. However, a feeling inside me told me to go ahead and talk about it. I followed the prompting and added a paragraph about the children’s book and republished the post. Whether you call it spiritual prompting or something else, I followed my intuition.
I’ve since had the chance to meet Rachel, the woman who reached out about my manuscript, face-to-face. I told her about my experience writing that post and how I actually went back and added that part about my book a little later. She told me her side of the story… (paraphrasing from memory here) she said when she read that post, specifically the part about me having written a children’s book, she immediately knew she needed to reach out and ask me about it. She felt somethingI remember that she told me she stood up in her cubicle and said something to her colleague in the adjacent cubicle. The individual she spoke to was Andrew, whom I later found out to be my editor. Her words were along the lines of “I have a feeling about this book…”.
Final Words of Advice Believe in yourself and your voice. You have an idea for a reason! It chose you! Do something with it! (I highly recommend reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic while you’re at it and find out what happens if you ignore that wonderful idea.) You are no more or less qualified than anyone else to write a children’s book, so do it! YOU CAN DO IT.
Be realistic with your expectations. One children’s book is not going to skyrocket you to fame, fortune or even necessarily a career as a children’s book author. You’re not going to make a living (or even a lot) on one book. Most successful authors write many, many books before quitting their day job (again, see Big Magic)If you are considering becoming an author of children’s books, it is important to be aware that many writers in this field supplement their earnings with activities such as school visits and other forms of income. However, if your aim is to become a children’s book author, go for it! Just make sure you are realistic about your expectations, time constraints and dedication.
It took me much longer than I expected to write my book. I began writing my book in January of 2016 and it wasn’t until December of 2017 that I was able to secure a book deal. Finally, my book was published in March of 2019. This process of writing and publishing a book is a slow one, but it is important to be patient and make the most of it.
I hope this has been helpful and encouraging. You have no idea how much I believe in you. Again, if you have additional questions feel free to leave a comment below! I thought about telling you to email me, but I think it’s great to make the questions and answers public so others can benefit from them as well. I am not an expert, but I will give you my best answer based on my experience.
As an author, artist, and disability advocate, I live with my spouse and three daughters in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are an incredibly handsome husband and gorgeous daughters!
Frequently asked questions
How do I get my children’s book published?
You can get your children’s book published by submitting your work to a publisher, either directly or through a literary agent. You can also self-publish your book if you prefer.
Watch more videos on the same topic : HOW TO GET NOTICED BY A CHILDREN’S PUBLISHER | what to send to a publisher
Looking for how to get noticed by a children’s publisher? or tips on how to get noticed by a publisher, what to send to a children’s publisher – or perhaps you’re are wondering what to do with my picture book next?nnHow does my children’s book get seen? you may be asking yourself. Or you might be pulling your hair out, thinking I don’t know what to do with my children’s book next! nnWhat you need to do is find out what publisher submission policy is, and I’ll give you hints on that, plus tips on how to send a picture book to publishers, or any book idea to publishers. Then you’ll need to know how to get noticed by a publisher. Hold on to your hats, we’re in for a ride.nn👇 GOODBYE GUESSWORK! see my video course 👇nMAKE A PICTURE BOOK: step by step nhttps://www.julesmarrinerbooks.com/make-a-picture-booknn👇 GUIDE TO CHILDREN’S PUBLISHING – SIGN UP HERE👇nhttps://www.julesmarrinerbooks.com/nn👇 and other video tutorials on drawing and publishing here 👇nhttps://www.julesmarrinerbooks.com/coursesnnnSay hi -nINSTAGRAMnhttps://www.instagram.com/julesmarriner/nnWEBSITEnhttps://www.julesmarrinerbooks.com/nnFACEBOOKnhttps://www.facebook.com/julesmarrinerbooksnn#publishingn#booksn#childrensliteraturenhttps://youtu.be/tlTV1kta3ZcnnPhoto Credits:n2 people talkingnPhoto by mentatdgt from PexelsnnWriting letternPhoto by Ryutaro Tsukata from PexelsnnWoman studying at picnic benchnPhoto by Charlotte May from PexelsnnArty people meetingnPhoto by Tim Douglas from PexelsnnOne person working at desknPhoto by Karolina Grabowska from PexelsnnSnailnPhoto by John from Pexels
What’s the best way to start the process?
The best way to start the process is to research the market and find publishers who may be interested in your book. You can also research agents who may be able to help you get your book published by a traditional publisher.
How long does it take to get a book published?
It can take anywhere from a few months to several years to get a book published, depending on the publisher and the process. Self-publishing can take less time, but it is important to take the time to ensure your book is of a good quality before publishing.
What are the costs involved in getting a book published?
The costs involved in getting a book published depend on the publisher and the process. Generally, a traditional publisher will cover the costs of printing and distribution, but you may be responsible for some of the costs associated with editing, cover design, and marketing. If you self-publish, you will be responsible for all costs.
Should I hire an editor?
Hiring an editor is a good way to ensure that your book is of a high quality before you submit it for publication. An editor can help you ensure that your book is well-structured, mistakes are corrected, and the language is appropriate for the target audience.