Frequently Asked Questions About Children's Writing
by Jon Bard, Children's Book Insider
I HAVE A STORY I'VE WRITTEN FOR CHILDREN. DO I
NEED TO FIND SOMEONE TO ILLUSTRATE IT BEFORE I
CAN SEND IT TO A PUBLISHER?
In fact, in cases where the author of a picture book
is not also an artist, the publisher prefers to find its
own illustrator for the book. The reason for this: often
a publisher will match up a new author with a more
experienced illustrator who has some name-recognition
among book stores and teachers. Also, publishers have a
stable of illustrators they have cultivated, and are
always looking for new manuscripts for these illustrators
to work on.
Finally, publishers have a certain "look"
they have developed for their individual lists, and the
illustrator you choose for your manuscript may not have a
style that fits with other books already published by
If you do know an artist that you want to work with,
you can submit illustrations with your manuscript, but be
prepared that the editor may like only the writing or
only the illustrations and won't want to buy the entire
- WHERE SHOULD I SEND MY MANUSCRIPT WHEN IT'S
Finding the right publisher for your work involves a
bit of detective work. A story that's wrong for one house
may be perfect for another. To conduct your search for
publishers, follow these steps:
- Purchase Children's Writers & Illustrators
Market (Writer's Digest Books). You'll find
it any large bookstore. It's a thorough listing
of every important children's publisher, listing
needs, personnel and more.
- Subscribe to a publication that will keep you
informed of changes, new imprints and changing
publisher needs. At Children's
Book Insider, we devote the first two pages
of each issue to such market news.
- Spend lots of time in your local bookstore,
reading newer books. Look, in particular, for
books that have a similar tone or theme as your
manuscript. Note the name and address of the
publishing company, and send for their catalog
and writer's guidelines.
- Join a writers' group. You'll be amazed at the
dossier of information most experienced
children's writers have compiled about publishing
- Scan the Web for publishers online. We've
provided a link to many of the publishers on our
- THERE'S SO MUCH ABOUT WRITING AND SUBMITTING
STORIES THAT I DON'T KNOW AND I'M QUITE
INTIMIDATED. WHAT'S THE BEST WAY FOR A BEGINNER
- Buy Career Starter --
it will answer all your questions without costing
- Join your local chapter of the Society of
Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (call
323-782-1010 for more info.) In Canada, join
- Get online and ask questions! Our message board is filled with very knowledgeable
folks ready to help.
- HOW DO I GET A COPYRIGHT?
These links make it easy!
* Great all-purpose copyright site: http://www.copyrightwebsite.com/
* Copyright forms direct from the government: http://www.loc.gov/copyright/forms/
* Copyright info for the United Kingdom:
- WHAT ABOUT MULTIPLE SUBMISSIONS? SHOULD I SEND
MY MANUSCRIPT TO ONLY ONE PUBLISHER AT A TIME?
Multiple submissions (also called "simultaneous
submissions"), once taboo in children's publishing,
have become commonplace. Editors understand that since it
often takes them several months to respond to an
unsolicited submission, it's only fair that writers be
able to send their manuscripts to several publishers at
once. There are still a few publishers, however, who only
take exclusive submissions.
The best thing to do is send a SASE (self-addressed,
stamped envelope) to the Children's Editorial Department
of each publisher to whom you plan to submit, and ask for
writer's guidelines. They'll mail back their current
guidelines, explaining what format submissions should
take (query letter, entire manuscript, etc.) and whether
or not they accept multiple submissions.
When we've spoken to editors about this practice,
they've all said it makes absolutely no difference in
their final decision as to whether or not they're going
to buy a manuscript, as long as the author states in the
cover letter that it's a multiple submission. The editor
simply likes to know that someone else might have your
manuscript as well. We suggest, though, that you limit
your submission of the same manuscript to five publishers
at once, because it's easier to keep track of who has
responded and where the manuscript is at any given time.
It's not a question easily answered, but one which
must be addressed as your writing career progresses.
Before we begin, one important point: if your work is
not salable, no agent-even the world's best agent-can
sell it. The time to start thinking about agents is when
you feel you've invested enough time and effort in your
work to truly call it professional.
First let's look at what the three main activities of
- Guiding the client through the publishing maze.
- Putting manuscripts on the desks of key editors.
- Negotiating the best possible deal for his or her
Agents are not paid directly by the client, rather,
they earn a commission (usually 15%) from any money
received from a sale. The client is responsible, however,
for any expenses-postage, photocopying, long distance
phone calls-generated on his or her behalf. Agents bill
their clients periodically or subtract the expenses from
an author's advance and royalty payments. A good agent is
combination sales person and business manager, with a
knowledge of the children's publishing market and of
particular editors' preferences. Unless you're using a
critique service, an agent is the first reader of your
Only after an agent agrees to represent you will he or
she help correct flaws and improve your work. The next
step: your manuscript is sent to appropriate editors
until it sells, or you decide to terminate the submission
process. If a sale is made, the agent negotiates the
contract (including amount of advance and royalties),
offering certain rights to the publisher and sometimes
reserving other rights for future sales (such as book
club or paperback rights).
Your agent will also represent you in any dealings
with the publisher when problems arise. Besides being
able to decipher royalty statements, for example, an
agent can challenge inaccurate payments without damaging
your relationship with your publisher. Agents handle all
the little things that occur during the publishing
process that you don't understand or don't have patience
Once the book is published, an agent tracks royalty
payments, makes additional sales on any rights the author
has retained, and sometimes assists the publisher in
marketing the book. Agents are also useful in opening up
new avenues for the writer's second book. Many agents
actually generate projects for their clients, by
perceiving that an editor is looking for a particular
type of book, and matching that editor up with his or her
MYTH: An agent can make you a better
writer or illustrator.
REALITY: If your story has been turned
down by 25 publishing houses, representation will not
make the story more salable, or appear to be better than
it is. Only your own hard work will improve your skills-and
your chances of success.
MYTH: You will make more money-and
faster-using an agent.
REALITY: Strike one against that myth is
the fact that an agent will take 15% off the top of
anything you earn. Strike two is that editors really
don't have a prejudice against unrepresented authors.
They're just looking for the best stories they can find.
(Some larger publishing houses have instituted a policy
of reviewing only those submissions sent by agents, so
check in advance if you're representing yourself.) Strike
three is the simple truth that it takes a long time and a
lot of hard work for anyone-represented or not-to make
substantial money as a children's book author.
MYTH: Hiring an agent means a guaranteed
REALITY: A surprisingly common
misconception is that once an agent decides to represent
a client, the work is as good as sold. Would that this
were true! Agents take on clients they think they can
sell, but publishing is subjective to the tastes of
editors and shifts in the market, so nothing is ever
Myths aside, here's what a good agent can provide:
- Knowledge of the marketplace.
- Knowledge of the publishing contract.
- The time and energy to send your manuscript to
- The ability to have your work read faster than if
you submitted it yourself.
- Career advice that-if it's good-can help you for
years to come.
So now, back to the question: Should you hire an
agent? We are, of course, going to weasel our way out of
answering that directly, and with good reason-the choice
must really be your own.
We will, however, sum up by saying this: If you are a
talented writer it is possible to get your first book
published without an agent. It takes perseverance, an
understanding of the market (visit book stores and see
what publishers are up to), and confidence that you can
handle the business end of your career.
An agent can simplify the submission process, find
opportunities you may not be aware of, save you time and
effort, give good advice and, hopefully, provide some
encouragement. If this is worth a 15% commission to you,
follow the steps above and find the right agent. If not,
be comforted by the fact that many non-represented
authors find success on their own.
Recommendations from other writers are the best
sources for names of agents. Here are two books that can
- Guide To Literary Agents
published by Writer's Digest Books (updated
- Literary Market Place published by R.R.
Bowker (updated yearly, found in the research
sections of most libraries).