Tips for Getting Your Children’s Book Manuscript Published
by Robin Preiss Glasser, Illustrator of FANCY NANCY
RPGBioPix.jpgIn the four years that I have been illustrating Fancy Nancy, I have had the opportunity to meet literally thousands of people who love children’s books, which is a real perk for me. I adore speaking to new people and swapping stories. And invariably, wherever I go, people tell me that they have written a children’s book, or they know someone who wants to be an illustrator, and they look to me for advice. Although I don’t have all the answers – everyone’s success story is different – I do have some basic tips and bits of advice for those of you who are interested in trying to get a children’s story published.
The first thing you should know is that it isn’t easy or for the feint of heart. Be prepared for rejection. After four years of art school, it took me another five long years before I got my first book deal. And even after that it wasn’t instant success. People weren’t knocking down my door! But I knew that this was what I wanted to do, and with a lot of hard work and perseverance, I finally made it.
Tip #1
In my opinion, poets are our best children’s book writers. I’m not suggesting that the best children’s writing is in poetry form – it’s just that poets know how to express so much in so few words, something you find in the most successful children’s books. So poem or prose, if your manuscript is longer that one to three pages, double spaced, start editing.
Tip #2
If you are a writer, but not an illustrator, do not feel that you need an illustrated manuscript to send in to a publisher. That’s the job of the editor, who matches manuscripts to the right illustrator. Case in point is my work on Fancy Nancy. I did not even know author Jane O’Connor before our wonderful HarperCollins editor Margaret Anastas put us together. Jane works in New York City, and I am located in Southern California. Isn’t technology great?
Tip #3
Take classes in writing children’s books. As in any profession, you need to be a specialist of the form. Despite popular belief, not everyone can successfully write a children’s book. You need to learn the basics of what works and what doesn’t, and then you need to write, write, write.
Tip #4
Talk to the people in your class to see if they want to form a writing group. Peer feedback can be very constructive. In addition, it can be hard to stay motivated in a vacuum. Setting deadlines keeps you going!
Tip #5
Talk to your local children’s librarian. They can offer suggestions on what to read. It is important to know what is out there, and you learn so much from reading other people’s work. In addition, children’s librarians are often passionate readers of children’s literature themselves, and may have some wonderful insights to offer on the subject. In addition, look over the books that are on “best of the year” lists and objectively compare your work to what you are seeing.
Tip #6
Find out where the nearest book festivals are being held in your area. Try to attend as many panel discussions as you can so you can hear different writers talk about their work and their approach. (I live near Los Angeles, so I recommend the L.A. Book Festival. It is one of the biggest and best in the country. People come from as far away as Arizona to attend. Plus I’m always there, so stop by to say hello!)
Tip #7
Look into joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) www.scbwi.org. SCBWI hosts two annual conferences – one in New York in the winter and one in L.A. in the summer – as well as regional conferences and panel discussions. These conferences are excellent places to hear talks by people in the field, attend workshops, and garner opportunities to talk to editors, agents, and published authors and illustrators.
Tip #8
Don’t just stick to one favorite story or idea that you have. Instead of sending out the same manuscript over and over, send out lots of different stories, so editors or agents can see you are versatile and maybe start to remember you. Look for trends. This can be a good way to get your foot in the door.
Tip #9
Check out the book Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market by Alice Pope, updated and published annually. This invaluable manual is filled with everything you need to know about getting published, as well as current names of publishers, addresses, and the editors who work there. Editors move around a lot, so you need to have up-to-date information.
Tip #10
Once you have a manuscript that is in the proper form — something you can learn from the book Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market — send it out to publishers and agents. When you receive rejection notices, keep them. If that princess story you wrote back in 1992 is resurrected and sold in 2010 now that pink and girly subjects are a hot trend, these will be fun to show at book talks!
Final Tip:
If your 10-year-old wrote a manuscript that you think is brilliant, remember that publishers are looking for more mature authors. (My first grader wrote and illustrated my favorite story of all time, The Three Little Tushies and the Big Fat Head. I thought it was genius, but refrained from sending it to my editor at Simon & Schuster.)
And finally – good luck. I’ve been making art my whole life, but now, at 54, I feel like I am finally getting the hang of it. Don’t give up, because eventually someone might take notice!