Getting Published: Resources for Today's Tough Marketplace Part I

By The editors of LEE & LOW BOOKS

First-time authors and illustrators trying to break into children's book publishing are faced with fewer places to send their work as more publishers close their doors to unsolicited submissions. This means that the ubiquitous slush pile is now bigger and more competitive than ever. There is no magic solution to getting published. However, the following basic tips can't hurt–and hopefully will help improve–your chances.

1. Before submitting… If you're writing more than three paragraphs, learn as much as you can about the children's book market – go to the library and look up the last year's worth of magazines such as PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, and read the reviews to get a sense of what's being published and how the new books are being received.

Go to the bookstore and browse through the children's section. Compare your project to what's already out there. If you've written yet another book on trains or the alphabet, what makes yours different? Even if you believe your project is 100% original and unique, ask at the bookstore or library for books with similar topics or themes – you might be surprised.

Finally, be sure to use an up-to-date listing of publishers' addresses, needs, etc. when deciding where to submit. see "resources" at the end of this list.

2. Submit your best work. If you don't know whether a manuscript or an illustration sample is "done," then ask the advice of someone familiar with the industry. Knowledgeable book people can be found in almost every community: at your local bookstore and library.

Reviewing work is a big favor–it requires time to read, think about, and respond constructively to a project. If you're asking a local bookseller for her opinion, then offer to purchase a gift certificate at her store as a thank-you. A children's librarian might also appreciate a bookstore gift certificate, or even a cup of coffee.

You might also consider joining a critique group. People looking for optimum networking might try to find a group that includes at least one published author or illustrator. To find out about groups in your area, inquire at local bookstores, libraries, and colleges, or call the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

3. Submissions 101: guidelines.If you only follow one piece of advice, let it be this one: Send away for submission guidelines. Most publishers that accept unsolicited work have guidelines available; send an SASE. (or save yourself a stamp and read ours by clicking here)

Once you get the guidelines, follow them! If the guidelines state that only picture books are being considered, for example, then don't send a novel, with hopes it will be the exception.

For more info on submissions, see our note on "The Submission Process." Artists should refer to our instructions on submitting samples and portfolios.

Submissions 201: research. Say your story is about a migrant farm worker family. Does the publisher you're sending it to already have a book about a farm worker family on its list? If so, chances are the editor won't be looking for another one.

How can you research publishers' lists? Looking up publishers' Web sites is easy if you have access to the Net. You can request a catalog from the publisher; be sure you send the proper size SASE with correct postage–some catalogs are quite large. You might also try asking your local children's bookseller to show you some titles by the publishing company you're interested in.

Don't put editors you've never worked with in the position of doing your research for you by cold-calling and running your book idea by them. This unfortunate "tactic" seems to be on the rise. At L&L, too many cold calls by authors and illustrators forced us to adopt a policy of never discussing queries over the phone.

You can find publishers' addresses in books such as the Children's Writers and Illustrators Market. The Children's Book Council in New York also has an up-to-date listing of its member publishers and contact names (call 212-966-1990 for more information).

Good luck!

Children's Writers and Illustrators Market
Includes addresses, contact names, and current needs of most U.S. children's book publishers. Available in your local bookstore or library.

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
345 North Maple Drive, Suite 296
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 859-9887

SCBWI is a professional organization for writers and illustrators of children's literature.This office can refer you to local critique groups and regional conferences. Write or call for an application and brochure. You can also visit their website.

Children's Book Council
568 Broadway, Suite 404
New York, NY 10012
(212) 966-1990

CBC offers an up-to-date listing of its member publishers and contact names. Call for more information. You can also visit their website.

Part II of article

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