Wednesday, June 10, 2009

So, How Do You Publish That Children's Book You've Finally Created?

So, How Do You Publish That Children's Book You've Finally Created?

Thanks, Lia L., for posting the above question. It's the Number One Question asked of all children's book creators, even of those who may not also teach Writing.

(The Number Two Question, by the way? "How do I get an agent?")

Your timing couldn't be better. My Writing for Children Workshop "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" this past weekend at the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest answered that very question.
[note: photo by Julie Bridgers-Schatz]
My Top Five Writing for Children Truths, shared with an enthusiastic crowd?

(1) infinite writing and publishing possibilities exist
(2) writers write
(3) writers read
(4) writers connect
(5) writing and publishing opportunities abound

I bet you know all about the writing (i.e. learning and honing your craft) and the reading, too, of the very best children's literature published today. (Check the links we've listed in the "Children's/YA Lit Reading Lists" sidebar to access recommended titles.)

But what about those possibilities?
What about those opportunities?
And how does connecting, especially via SCBWI, connect those two?

First and foremost, ground yourself in today's Children's Book World. Familiarize yourself with the publishing segments, the formats, the countless possibilities for telling your story the best way possible.

Recommended primers include Barbara Seuling's How to Write a Children's Book and Get It Published (John Wiley, '04), Harold Underdown's The Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books (Alpha Books, '08) and the annual Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (available every August).

Also, be sure to subscribe to Publishers Weekly Children's Bookshelf, an e-newsletter dedicated to children's book publishing, available every Thursday, after noon.

Second, do your homework to identify and target likely publishers for your manuscript. The parent in you wouldn't send off your child to play at his new friend's house without first checking out a few important facts about the home and the residents, right? Establish that same mind-set when sending off your crafted, polished manuscript. How likely is the welcome and acceptance? How story-friendly, format-friendly are the recipients?

One assignment might be to purchase, page through, reread, study Publishers Weekly's upcoming July 6 Children's Book issue, listing trade children's book publishers' Fall 2009 lists and highlighting notable books. [Note: Spring books are listed in the February Children's Book issue; the issue's available in libraries and bookstores.]

Another? To visit the website of the Children's Book Council. Study the list of publishers, across a variety of publishing segments; then visit publisher websites to read (and study) their current catalogues and submission policies.

Next, seek out, at your local children's bookstore and your library's children's book department, and then hold, in your own two hands, books published by your targeted publisher. Know their work, how yours compares, how yours would sit comfortably on that publisher's list.

Third, connect the dots by joining SCBWI, if you haven't already(!). The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is the only professional organization for children's book writers and illustrators, numbering 23,000 children's book creators around the world. Membership is guaranteed to connect and maximize those infinite possibilities and abounding opportunities.

Don't forget to utilize SCBWI'S website-available updated For-Member-Only marketing guides specific to our industry's publishing segments - i.e. trade, educational, magazine, religious, e-zine, etc. Each guide lists publisher focuses, needs, submission policies, acquiring editors and their titles.

Remember to access Arthur Levine's For-SCBWI Members-Only editor guide, also available on SCBWI's website, listing trade editors and the books they've published.

Read the bi-monthly SCBWI Bulletin, online or hardcopy, highlighting editorial moves, calls for manuscripts, contests and niches needing filling. Soon you'll realize the gold to be mined in the Events Calendar which lists agents, publishers, imprints and editors.

Attend a Writer's Conference, especially an SCBWI-sponsored Conference, to connect with a particular editor and/or agent, learn his or her editorial needs and preferences, receive a critique from a faculty member and submit a manuscript to a participating editor whose publishing house is closed to unagented work.

Consider applying for SCBWI grants and contests, often judged by editors and agents. This is yet another way to get your manuscript read. SCBWI offers a variety of grants, including the Work-in-Progress grants, the Don Freeman Grant (for illustrators), the James Giblin Grant (for non-fiction), the Barbara Karlin Grant (for picture book writers) and the Sue Alexander Manuscript Award for a manuscript critiqued at the Summer Los Angeles SCBWI Conference. The Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market lists a variety of additional contests available to published and unpublished writers.

So, to summarize?

Ground yourself, do your homework, connect the dots.

Soon, Lia L., that good story you told so well - so well, in fact, it's certain to re-sound in a young reader's heart, will find a home and publishing house.

Writer's Workout

Many children's book publishers sponsor contests for unpublished writers to enter, including Lee & Low, Random House, and Milkweed. Indeed Christopher Paul Curtis credits his publishing success to the Delacorte Contest. His submitted entry, The Watsons Go To Birmingham, didn't win the contest but won him an editor's interest and invitation to revise, allowing the book to go on to win a Newbery Honor.

Simon & Schuster's Spoonfuls of Stories Contest accepts entries from unpublished authors through July 15, 2009. The 2008 winner, Lori Degman of Illinois, won $5,000 for her rhymed picture book 1 Zany Zoo, and went on to sign a two-book contract and sign with an agent as well.

We writers need to grab that Golden Ring, even when it's disguised as a Cheerio!


Lori Degman said...

Thanks so much for mentioning me on your blog (which I love by the way)! I wanted to clarify that I did not get a two-book contract. I was excited for a second thinking maybe you knew something I didn't but, alas, it's not true!

I encourage any picture book writers reading this to enter the contest - it's been a fantastic experience and opportunity for me!


Esther Hershenhorn said...

Oh, sorry, Lori, and sorry, readers, for the inaccuracy.
Mea culpa.
But, Congrats again for your win, and thanks for encouraging picture book writers to enter the S & S Contest.
Esther Hershenhorn

Anonymous said...

Great advice, Esther!
I was just at the library Monday checking out books from a publisher I hope to submit to soon.
I'm also saving my pennies so that I'll hopefully be able to connect at this year's PW Day.


Sarah Campbell said...

This is a great post! I have written emails to new writers with some of the same information. I just emailed a link to this post to three people. I couldn't agree more with your advice. One last thing I sometimes say is that you should expect to serve a kind of apprenticeship. Expect to write, read, research, network, etc. and consider those early stories and steps part of the journey. Without the early stuff that you can't sell, you'll never get to the good stuff that you can.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks, Sarah!
And, I couldn't agree more with you re The Journey Aspect of writing.
I wear a ring with the inscription, "The journey is the reward."
I advised my Printers Row Workshop attendees Saturdays: keep that Day Job, especially if it provides Healthcare, and definitely, if dental services are included!
Esther Hershenhorn