Q. I am a teacher [in Maine]. Last year you visited our school. I have always dreamed of writing a children’s book and after seeing you speak, I followed my dream and have just completed a book. Thank you for your awesome presentation that pushed me. I am now wondering what the next steps would be if I wanted to publish it. Where do I go now and who do I contact? [This is from a real letter.]
A. I always admire people who “just do it.” You have no idea how many people are “thinking” of writing a book–but never seem to. Here’s some general advice (for more specific advice, see resources below):
1. Get someone who is a writer or editor to look over the manuscript for typos and grammatical errors, if you’re not 100% sure of your technical skills. Make sure it is as good as it can be before you go to step 2.
2. Type it up DOUBLE SPACED. Put your name and address on the title page.
3. Do not bother to find an illustrator for it (editors prefer to see unillustrated manuscripts). The exception: if you are primarily an artist and want to do your own book.
4. Research publishers. Call them to find out if they accept “unsolicited” manuscripts. (Many do not, so you will need to use a literary agent; see the next Q./A. below.) Here’s a list of 30 publishers who take unsolicited manuscripts.
5. Send your manuscript to your favorite publisher, addressed by name if you know the editor, to “Editor” if not. Some people advise sending out three mss at a time, because it can take over three months to hear back from publishers.
6. For non-fiction, the process is very different. Your cover letter must stress why you have the credentials to write about your subject, and you need to submit an outline, rather than a finished manuscript.
7. Wait. Patiently. Say a few prayers.
8. Start again at Step 5 when you get your first rejection.
9. Some good references, and resources:
• Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul (Writer’s Digest Books, 2009).
New, readable, very practical.
• How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published by Barbara Seuling.
Good all-round writing–and illustrating–advice, if somewhat dated now.
Lists publishers and their needs.
• Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a national membership organization that will answer ALL your questions in greater depth than I can.
• And for Mainers, Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance in Portland, Maine, has wonderful workshops for writers of all levels (including children’s writers), a great newsletter, and is just a general all around great resource for writers. (Join!).
Q. Do I need an agent? And how do I get one?
A. You only need an agent to submit to publishers who don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts (the majority of them). My feeling about literary agents is that, if your story is good enough for an agent to take it on, then it’s good enough for an editor to accept it. That said, a good agent can be your best friend, provide editing advice, hold your hand through rejections, and negotiate the contract maze for you.
That said, here’s a list of 30 publishers who take unsolicited manuscripts.
Q. Where do I find an agent?
A. SCBWI has a list (see above).
Q. Will you look at my manuscript and give me some advice?
A. I charge for this service, but if you are interested, details are here.
Q. How can I get my students’ work published?
A. Here are some ways to publish student work. [Note: Beware “national poetry contests” that offer to publish “winners'” writing for a fee; they generally are scams.]
• Scholastic’s “Kids Are Authors” Competition. This is an annual competition open to Grades K–8 and is designed to encourage students to use their reading, writing, and artistic skills to create their own books. Under the guidance of a project coordinator, children work in teams of three or more students to write and illustrate their own book.
• Stone Soup Magazine is a national magazine that publishes the art and writing of children up to age 13. Send submissions via the web site or to: Stone Soup, Submissions Dept., P.O. Box 83, Santa Cruz, CA 95063. Include your name, age, home address, phone number, and e-mail address.
• PBS Kids Go! Writers Contest is a PBS-run yearly contest for young writers and illustrators from grades K-3.
• River of Words. Web site of the River of Words yearly student poetry and art competition for ages 5-19, generally on outdoors themes. This is a wonderful web site, with resources for both students and teachers, examples of past winners, and contest guidelines.
• Self publish. I do workshops with elementary through high school students that help them write, illustrate, and then publish (in hardcover) their own stories, whether written as a class, or individually. Contact me for details.