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Writing a book and getting it published is no easy feat. It requires putting in a lot of effort on the manuscript and researching the field extensively. Fortunately, many aspiring authors don’t put in the extra work or research, so if you go the extra mile, your book could easily stand out from the rest. You’re in luck because you’ve come to the right place! The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators was created to guide people through their journey of writing a children’s book.
Step 1: Make your manuscript great
Before you start sending your story to publishers, you will need to make sure it is as good as it can possibly be. Revise, edit, rewrite, and then revise some more. Read it to other writers and listen to their feedback. It is not always easy to hear criticism of your work but it is essential to making your work ready for publication. Your regional chapter of the SCBWI can help you join or form a critique group. Attend local SCBWI events to meet other authors and illustrators. Read the SCBWI Bulletin and contemporary children’s books
Step 2: Find the right match
To find the right home for your manuscript you will need to research publishing houses and their imprints. Spend time looking over the publishers listed in The Book. When you find a children’s book you like, make a note of the publishing house. You will find that not all publishing houses will accept unsolicited manuscripts; this means that editors will only look at your work if they solicit it. In that case, you will typically write a query letter according to the publisher’s guidelines. You might also get the okay to send your work to editors you meet at SCBWI conferences.
When you are ready to submit, make sure you send your manuscript in the correct format. See “From Keyboard to Printed Page”
Beware of scams!
Unfortunately there are a lot of companies out there that prey on people who have a dream of being published. They will promise you great things for your book but in the end just take your money. Posting your writing on an online message board in hopes an editor might wander by and discover you is not recommended. Though your work is protected by copyright, it is much easier to pirate a story that is displayed free on the Internet. Editors don’t have time to search for stories, and these boards are known to attract unscrupulous vanity publishers. Only reputable, honest companies are listed in The Book. Two other great resources for uncovering scams and dishonest agencies are Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors.
Gaining entry into the field of children’s book illustration requires commitment to honing your skills and conducting research into the industry. Even if you have perfected your artwork, you must build a portfolio of pieces that are specifically tailored to the children’s book market.
Know the children’s market
Spend time looking at children’s books that catch your eye. Notice what makes the characters appealing. Read over the Illustrators’ Guide and Putting Together a Prize Winning Portfolio in The Book. Look through back issues of The BulletinIn each issue of our magazine, you can read an interview with the cover artist to gain insight into their career journey. Additionally, you can read Illustrator’s Perspective, Art Spot, and Art Tips, which are our regular columns. To further improve your portfolio, consider joining a critique group or attending a portfolio review event sponsored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Get your artwork seen
You should set up a blog as well as a website where you can frequently and easily put up new pieces. If you are an SCBWI member, submit art to the SCBWI Bulletin, set up your free portfolio in the Illustrator Gallery, and enter your work in the illustration awards.
Submit your work to publishing houses
Research publishing houses and imprints to find the right home for your work. Notice the publishing houses of your favorite books and use the market surveys and directories in The BookIn order to determine the correct destination for your work, it is advisable to look at the particular requirements of the publishing houses that you are considering. Typically, a postcard should be sent to the publishing houses you are interested in, and then they will contact you if they wish to review more of your work.
It is not necessary to copyright your work if you are planning on submitting it to a traditional publishing house. The publishing house will file copyright for you if your work is accepted. If you are nervous about your work being stolen during the submission process, know that the law is on your side: you own the work the moment you create it and legitimate editors do not steal manuscripts. On the other hand, if you are planning on self-publishing you should absolutely copyright your work. The process takes minutes at www.copyright.govProtecting your published book is essential, and the only way to do so is to copyright it. If anyone uses your work without your permission, you will be able to take legal action.
If your work is created in a country outside the US, check the copyright laws of that country. Most countries honor each other’s copyrights because of the Berne Convention.
A query letter is what you send to find out if there is interest in your project. Most publishers require a query for a non-fiction project or novel. Your query should present your project succinctly, much like the preview you read on the inside of a book jacket, along with brief information about your publishing experience, if any. If they ask for a synopsis, try to outline the story with the crucial points and main characters only. Show them how the story is unique. See the section on query letters in The Book.
A cover letter should be included with your manuscript and should not exceed a single page. If you have already contacted the editor, you can simply remind them that they requested to view your manuscript and express your anticipation of their response (noting if the submission is exclusive or multiple). If you have not contacted the editor yet, your cover letter should include concise information about your project and yourself. If your resume reflects your knowledge of the subject matter or your publishing experience, you may also include it in the cover letter or query.
When submitting emails, only do so if specifically requested or if the publisher’s instructions permit it.
Finding an illustrator can be a difficult task. For those who are looking to illustrate a picture book, it is important to consider whether to get an illustrator prior to submitting the work.
In most cases, it is not the responsibility of the author to select the illustrator for their picture book manuscript. It is usually the editor or art director at the publishing house who makes that decision. There are rare occasions when authors and illustrators collaborate prior to publication, but this is not recommended. Illustrators should focus on researching the market and submitting their work directly to publishing houses. Unless the author is a professional illustrator, it is not advised for them to illustrate their own manuscript. Furthermore, it is not necessary to describe the illustrations in the submission. If the story cannot be understood through the illustrations, it may need to be revised. If the story relies heavily on the illustrations, it can be mentioned briefly in the cover letter, or annotations for the illustrations can be included on a separate page. However, explanations should not be included in the main body of the manuscript.
What will become of my manuscript submission? I am wondering why it is taking so long to receive any news. How much time should I give before I get in touch with the publisher?
Unsolicited manuscripts are typically first assessed by a reader, most often a staff member, to determine if the work is suitable for the publisher’s needs. If not, the manuscript will be returned with a form rejection letter, a process that usually takes two to three months. If the project passes the “first read,” then a longer wait for a response is expected. The editor looks over the manuscript, sharing it with colleagues if necessary, and the publisher may ask for a P&L (profit and loss) statement to estimate how well the book will sell and what it will cost to produce. They compare the manuscript to other books that are already scheduled or under consideration, as well as to the backlist. Usually, if the manuscript is close to landing a contract, the editor will contact the author by phone or email. However, there are cases where this does not occur.
The publisher’s guidelines will usually give an estimate of how long the waiting time should be, but this is often much longer than expected. If you have submitted an exclusive piece, and you have not heard anything after a few weeks, it may be worth contacting the publisher. Alternatively, you could send it to another publisher if you stated how long the piece was exclusive for. If the submission is solicited, you should be more assertive and follow up with an email or call. Sending a postcard may not be effective, so make sure your contact details are on the cover letter and be patient. Some publishers may now advise you to wait a certain period of time and then to look elsewhere, as they may not return rejected material. Therefore, it is important to keep up to date with their guidelines.
The editor suggested that they found potential in my manuscript, but they asked me to make revisions. What steps should I take to achieve this?
Revising is akin to a battle with a fiend; nearly everyone can compose, yet just authors comprehend how to modify. It is this expertise alone that transforms the amateur into a professional. – William Knott.
Remember that just because you revise something doesn’t mean it will be accepted. Make sure that you take into account comments from your critique group before sending it back to the editor who requested the revision. If the editor still doesn’t accept it, don’t give up hope. You may have better luck submitting it to a different source.
After submitting my manuscript for the past year with no success, I am wondering what my next step should be.
It can be discouraging to witness other books similar to yours being published and gaining recognition, while your submissions are returned. There are numerous potential causes for this. Perhaps the concept has been overused lately, or it is too fashionable or obsolete. It is also possible that the market for this type of work is weak. Alternatively, you may simply not have connected with the right editor.
Rather than expending excess energy trying to get published, focus on improving your writing craft. If the rejections are all form letters, it may be beneficial to take another look at your manuscript and consider revising. If it has been a while since you last read it, it is likely you have read a lot of contemporary books of the same genre and created many new stories with the help of your critique group. A fresh perspective can be useful. If you don’t know how to move forward, put it aside for now and proceed with your other projects. Over time, with commitment and effort, your tenth book might be the first to be published, and you can then go back and revise the other nine.
Though you don’t need an agent to submit to many publishers, some publishers only accept agented material. As an illustrator, you can submit promo pieces and dummies to most publishing houses without an agent, but an agent can be very helpful with developing your style and finding new work, not to mention negotiating book deals. However, finding a good agent can be as difficult as finding a publisher. Many will not be interested in you until you have a contract offer, but others are actively seeking unpublished clients. Agencies accepting new clients and their submission guidelines can be found in the Agents Directory.
Self-publishing can be an advantageous route for some authors, though it is important to note that you do not want to invest your entire life savings into a publication that is not ready to be released. You should be aware that you are competing with books from traditional publishing houses in terms of content and design, and thus it is essential to be well-informed on all the available options if you wish to succeed. Do not make the mistake of believing that self-publishing is an uncomplicated process; you must equip yourself with the necessary knowledge to make it a success.
Be wary of companies that offer to self-publish your book. Some publishers may ask you to pay for some or all of the costs, or to find a sponsor to cover expenses. They may advertise their services as free, but their basic package typically does not do justice to your work, and you may end up paying for additional features. These types of publishers are known as subsidy or vanity publishers. Protect yourself by researching all of your options thoroughly.
Creating and selling books through Print-On-Demand (POD) and eBooks is a better choice if the publisher is not a subsidy and pays royalties. Companies such as Create Space and LuLu provide the opportunity to print copies as needed, which can save a lot of money initially.
No matter which method you choose to make your work public, keep in mind that when you make your work available to the public, your reputation is at stake.
For more information on self-publishing, read the SCBWI Publication Self Publishing: Best PracticesThe article provides an overview of self-publishing and can assist in deciding if it is the right option to pursue. It provides insight into the advantages and disadvantages associated with this publishing route.
Crafting children’s books is not typically a profitable endeavor, particularly for a first book. While some authors have been able to make a profit, for a 32-page picture book, the author and illustrator would usually split an advance in the range of $8,000-$12,000, with the illustrator typically receiving a larger portion. Additionally, each party would earn 3.5%-6% royalties off of the advance, after it has been completely earned back. On average, hardcover picture books sell between 5,000-10,000 copies and go out of print within two years. Very rarely do picture books get printed in paperback. Similar circumstances apply to easy reader books. With novels, the author receives the entire advance (typically $5,000-$8,000) and earns 7-10% royalties.
Royalties are usually based on the retail price of the book, however some publishers use a percentage of “net price” which is the price of the book after their discounts and/or expenses are figured in. Read your contract very carefully and get advice on the things you don’t understand. Compensation for magazine articles varies widely depending on the publication, its circulation, and the type of piece being submitted, but payment usually ranges between $25 – $500. Though not as lucrative, magazines are a great way to build your writing/illustrating credentials and gain publishing experience. Authors and illustrators also supplement their income by doing workshops and school visits.
Frequently asked questions
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What are the key elements of a successful children’s book?
A successful children’s book typically has a few key elements. It should have an engaging story with characters that children can relate to, a strong message or lesson, and an interesting plot with a resolution. It should also be written in a style that is appropriate for the age range of the target audience.
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How do I create characters that children will love?
Creating characters that children will love is all about creating characters that they can relate to. Think about the age range of your target audience and create characters that are similar in age and have similar interests. Give your characters unique personalities and traits, and make sure they have a strong connection to the message of the book.
What should I consider when writing for a younger audience?
When writing for a younger audience, it’s important to keep the language simple and understandable. Make sure the story is exciting but not too overwhelming, and that it has a clear message or moral. Consider the age range of your target audience when writing, and make sure the story is appropriate for that age group.
What topics are good for children’s books?
Good topics for children’s books are those that both entertain and educate. Consider topics such as friendship, family, adventure, diversity, acceptance, and self-esteem. There is also the potential to explore more difficult topics such as death, bullying, and prejudice in an age-appropriate way.
How can I make sure my book appeals to children?
To make sure your book appeals to children, consider what they would like to read. Keep the story engaging and the language simple, and make sure the plot is age-appropriate. You can also use illustrations to help bring the story to life and make it more enjoyable for children.