My 12-part guide to writing and publishing picture books for children
Inspiration has struck, you’ve put in the hours, your story is begging to be published and you’ve decided you’d like to take the traditional publishing route. The next step is to submit your manuscript to a publisher or a literary agent, usually via email. But, before you do, you want to be sure you are sending off your best work. This may be the one and only time your dream publisher casts their expert eye over your story, so you really want it to sing. My advice? Once you believe you’ve perfected your manuscript, engage someone impartial to critique it — not your best friend, who no doubt will be supportive, and certainly not someone without experience in the industry or in your genre, but an objective professional. Contact your local writers’ organisation to find a manuscript assessment service or locate a good editor who can help you polish your work. Then, once you’ve ironed out any problems and your baby is well and truly ready for its chance-of-a-lifetime audition, you can send it off with confidence.
But not too much confidence. A sobering statistic: apparently, around 97% of manuscripts sent to publishers are rejected. That’s a lot, isn’t it? Don’t despair. Many manuscripts have been rejected, sometimes multiple times, before being picked up by the right publisher. You may just have to knock on more doors to find the right home for your book.
In any case, to find a suitable publisher, you need to do some research. Spend some time in your local bookstore (buy a couple of beautiful books while you’re there) and find out who publishes your favourite books. A bookstore is better than a library for this particular task as you can begin to understand the trends and tastes of the current market. Make a list of the publishers who publish the style of work you are hoping to produce, then go online and find the ‘submission guidelines’ page on their website. Check to see if they are currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts, and specifically if they are accepting work in your genre. There is no point in sending your manuscript to publishers who are not presently open to receiving it. Some publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts period, in which case it may be necessary for you to secure a literary agent. Again, research literary agents to find a good match and then approach them with respect. A good agent can be an author’s best friend. (Read more about literary agents here.)
Once you’ve targeted a couple of suitable publishers, carefully read their submission guidelines and follow them. Don’t let a good story be relegated to the reject pile because you failed to comply with the guidelines. Write a considered and communicative cover letter and craft it with the same care you gave your manuscript. It represents you, after all. Check it and check again and, once you’re sure, press ‘send’.
Now, we wait … and you may need to be patient, as some publishers can take several months to reply. Some may send you a receipt of acknowledgement and then only contact you again should they have an interest in publishing your story. At least you’ll know if you’ve not heard from them within the specified period that it is time to send your manuscript to the next publisher on your list. Again, check your next publisher’s submission guidelines and follow them to a tee.
The whole submission process can take far longer than you had anticipated and it may be downright depressing. But, buck up, little camper, and take heart. You’re going to need all of the resilience you can muster to keep backing your own work, now and into the future. You may well face rejections, even after you’ve had one or more books published. Or you may, one day, read less than favourable reviews of your work, and you’re going to need to believe in yourself. So, should your manuscript fail to start a bidding war and you find yourself feeling deflated and defeated, you are going to need to pick yourself up and try again. Either revisit your manuscript with fresh eyes to find the problem, or keep sending it out in search of the right publishing deal. In the meantime, you can begin work on the next story, and the next …
On the other hand – and it does happen – a publisher may read your submission, become all sorts of excited and present it with enthusiasm to the publishing committee, who collectively decide you’re the best thing since unsliced sourdough bread and make you an offer. Hooray! Now, I’ll talk a little about contracts, advances and royalties in the next part of My 12-part guide, but, here, let me just say that beyond the thrill of the moment, this is only the beginning. You may have to wait for a surprising amount of time to see your book on the shelves of your beloved bookshop. From the time of submission to the time of release, it can often take a year or two or more. The publishers have a schedule to adhere to and they’ll try to find the best time of year to release your particular book. It may be that the book is perfect to launch just before Mother’s Day, or it might be a great fit for Christmas or spring. And just because the book has been accepted, it does not mean the publisher won’t want to make changes. It will likely need editing and re-editing, and, if it is a picture book, there is the illustration process to consider.
All in all, traditional publishing can be a sometimes frustratingly slow process. However, should you find a great publisher, who happens to believe in your book, they will help you to shape and shepherd it so that it becomes a work of which you are truly proud and one that will have a good chance of surviving, even thriving, in the competitive book market. Good luck.
If you found this post helpful, you may like to read other posts in the series: My 12-part guide to writing and publishing picture books for children. I will publish the posts over the coming weeks and announce them on Facebook and Instagram, but if you want to make sure you don’t miss a post, subscribe to my newsletter for free.
My 12-part guide to writing and publishing picture books for children:
Part 1: Know and love your readers
Part 2: Ideas and inspiration
Part 3: Character, theme, rhythm and rhyme, and all of that writing stuff
Part 4: Who’s who in the zoo (writer, illustrator, editor, designer, publisher)
Part 5: Editing and storyboarding
Part 6: Illustration
Part 7: Traditional publishing or self-publishing
Part 8: Submitting your manuscript — the slow business of traditional publishing
Part 9: Contracts, advances and royalties
Part 10: PR — book launch, web presence, book talks and more
Part 11: Who are you and who do you want to be?
Part 12: Resources