Understanding The Children's Market

How to select a publisher

Seminar for the Victorian Writers' Centre, 13 May 2003

Virginia Lowe

  1. The first step in writing anything, including children's stories, is - is it something publishers will want? Do you care? Anyway you have to enjoy writing it, whether finds a publisher or not. It may not - it's a hard cruel world out there! Also, if you haven't read many children's books since you were a child yourself, spend some time in the local library or big bookshop looking at what is on offer, and what is being published at the moment (you can also check out the review journals - see below).

  2. Know what you are doing, especially with picture books (how to fold and use a storyboard, the relationship between the words and the pictures). You can do a course or workshop, but unfortunately many don't give you these details. If you are working on shorter novels (easy chapter books like Aussie Bites) or complete novels, know who your audience is. If fantasy, know the parameters of your invented world, and stick to its rules.

  3. Before you even send it to an assessor, let alone a publisher, have someone proofread it for you, for typos, grammar, punctuation and the most obvious plotting flaws.

  4. Manuscript assessment. It is invaluable to know how a professional considers your work. Don't be too discouraged. Come back to the report again a week or a month later, and consider everything suggested. Of course opinions differ, but you'd be wise to think carefully about corrections, and decide whether to incorporate them or not. It needs to be a reputable one. The value of including an excellent assessment or recommendation letter to publishers is that it gets your manuscript off the slush pile. In fact it may not even be considered "unsolicited". The publishers appreciate knowing someone else has read it. They can't afford as much on editors as they once did, so have less time for nurturing potential, and for correcting typos too.

  5. Unlike other assessment agencies, CReATe a kids’ book will look at draft after draft - act as a tutor in fact. I give you a recommendatory letter to publishers - but only when it's good enough of course.

  6. Literary agents - what they do - contracts, negotiation, copyright - BUT I don't know of any who will take unpublished children's authors - not in Australia anyway.

  7. Submission to publishers. Layout - double spaced, one sided, indent paragraphs. include ssae and also might like to include a postcard for them to return acknowledging receipt of ms.

  8. Phone and ask first what they are accepting.

  9. Address cover letter to children's editor (find name).

  10. Research - in big bookshop, or a children's one (Little Bookroom, Books Illustrated or Oldmeadows at Dromkeen are the major ones for children's in Melbourne - but lots have quite big sections) to decide which publishers to choose. Also study review journals - Magpies, Reading Time, Viewpoint and even Australian Book Review, and join CBC, VWC, SCBWI, ASA and anything else relevant to children's literature and writing.

  11. One submission, or scattergun approach? (the pros and cons - most usual today is sending to several at once. Editors know this is what happens)

  12. Cover letter: you'll need a writing CV or résumé. Mention that you are including an assessment. It is good to mention if you've had anything at all published - poem, article - or been commended in a competition. This gives you some credibility. Mention these even if they're not relevant to children's work. Also mention the relevant societies you have joined.

  13. If it's a novel you need to include a synopsis (many people find this the most difficult part of the whole undertaking). Alternatively the whole picture book text (with notes to illustrators, if needed - see my text Yabby); or if picture book with pictures (by self or another) a mock up with two full colour pages and the rest sketched in.

  14. Keep a collection of your reject letters. Bookwork keeping track of who you've send it to, where it still is etc, is essential. You should ideally have a couple of manuscripts out at once, or at least be working on the next one, so that you're not waiting desperately by the letterbox.

If you want to have your work published as a "trade" picture book but feel discouraged by how few are accepted, try some school readers first - much easier to get into. Educational publishers (Macmillan, Pearson, Scholastic, Values for Life, others…)

You should also own the latest Australian Writers' Marketplace (being reprinted by the Queensland Writers' Centre).