“How Can I Get Published?”

The number one question would-be and new-be children’s book authors ask authors like me is (no surprise) “How do I get my work published?” I understand, because I asked the same question when I was just starting out.

Here’s the thing: the publishing industry is a bit of a different animal than most. There’s no “shark tank”, no product application, no routine “I’ve got this idea” pitch forum. You can’t just walk into a publishing house and ask to meet Editor So-and-so. If you want to be published by a traditional house, whether one of the big five New York houses or one of the myriad smaller presses, there are certain ways to approach the business today.

The publishing industry has changed substantially since I began writing. For one thing, if you don’t want to work within the traditional industry, it’s very easy today to self-publish. I’m not going to discuss self-publishing here because there are plenty of other resources out there (and here’s just one I recommend.)

Today, many traditional publishing houses and editors are closed to unsolicited submissions. Some are still open, but you must know which ones and what their submission requirements are. Many prefer email submissions; some have reverted to hard-copy with SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) submissions. Some accept queries only. Some accept queries and the first ten pages or three chapters. Some want the entire manuscript.

And many houses are closed, which means you must first find an agent to represent your work, which is just as difficult as finding a publisher.

If you want to become a traditionally published children’s author, here is what I can recommend.

(Note: I’m making one assumption here. You have already studied the craft of writing, and polished your manuscript to a high shine. You’ve vetted your work with critique partners. In other words, you’re not submitting your first draft, because that’s a waste of your time and energy. For more on writing craft see this page, and my previous blog post.)

  • The primary resource for information on the publishing industry in the children’s field is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). If you are at all serious about being published, you should join. They provide mountains of information, including details about agents and editors and what they publish, how to submit, and who they represent. On a personal note, I would not be published today without SCBWI, and have been involved in the organization since my early writing days.
  • You can meet editors and agents at writing conferences or workshops, and those may be places where you can formally pitch, be formally critiqued, or be given the ability to send a query letter later. (But please – no unsolicited pitches during conferences. That is frowned on, big time.)
  • Having a paid critique from an author at a conference or other venue can be just as fruitful as meeting an editor or agent. An author can open doors for you if they think your work is ready. (However – asking an established author for a referral is only appropriate if you know that author very well, and if they have read your work, and if they have encouraged you to request a referral. It is not appropriate to request either a reading or a referral from someone you don’t know or barely know and who hasn’t read your work.)

Here are some further resources:

  • AgentQuery.com. About 1,000 agent listings and an excellent community/resource for any writer going through the query process.
  • QueryTracker.net. About 200 publisher listings and 1,000 agent listings.
  • WritersMarket.com. About 400 to 600 agent listings. $5.99/month subscription fee.
  • Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog is also an excellent resource for news and views related to literary agents.
  • http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
  • http://aaronline.org/ A professional organization of over 400 agents who work with both book authors and playwrights. Members must meet the highest standards and subscribe to the Canon of Ethics.


New Craft Books For Writers

Lately I’ve discovered some new writing craft books that have become staples of my reference shelf. I wanted to share my impressions of these recent releases, so I hope you enjoy.craft

THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION: HOW TO WRITE THE STORY BENEATH THE SURFACE, by Donald Maass (Writer’s Digest Books, 2016). I’ve long been a Donald Maass fan, and pretty much use every one of his craft books repeatedly, but this newest release is absolutely stellar. As usual, Maass sprinkles his essays liberally with exercises that can be applied to your work in progress. But the most important aspect of this newest work is that rather than dealing with the architecture of story-telling (i.e., plot, pacing, character, voice, etc.) Maass tackles the nebulous yet essential emotional journey the writer must invoke in the reader. I’ve long been a fan of brain science and have read a number of articles on the importance of story-telling to us humans, but this is the first time I’ve read a craft book that tackles the “how-to” of invoking our reader’s deepest emotions and tapping into our primal story-loving needs.

STORY GENIUS: HOW TO USE BRAIN SCIENCE TO GO BEYOND OUTLINING AND WRITE A RIVETING NOVEL, by Lisa Cron (Ten Speed Press, 2016). And speaking of brain science and story-telling…I read these two books back to back. They are a marriage made in heaven. It’s almost as if Cron and Maass were channeling one another. The difference is that Cron – who also plants exercises throughout – first taps into the character’s emotional journey through life and how that applies directly to her story, and then, in the second half of the book, delivers a very specific template for crafting a first draft based on the emotional path of the character. For me, the second half of this book didn’t work because I’m a die-hard pantser and abhor any boxed-in template. But the first half is dynamite. And if you like planning and outlining, you may love the second half, too.

THE HERO IS YOU: SHARPEN YOUR FOCUS, CONQUER YOUR DEMONS, AND BECOcraftME THE WRITER YOU WERE BORN TO BE, by Kendra Levin (Conari Press, 2016). Full disclosure: Kendra is my editor at Viking Children’s. I totally love this book. And…surprise! It’s another book about how the brain works and how we writers must harness our individual emotions as the heroes of our own journeys. Kendra has also created numerous exercises to help writers cope with those ever-present nay-saying internal demons, and her research and anecdotal examples are fascinating. Kendra is also a certified life coach and I’ve participated in a coaching workshop with her, and if you are a writer – or any artist – who is struggling with self-doubt or fear, I recommend both this book and her coaching.

And one that I’m looking forward to….

THE MAGIC WORDS, by Cheryl Klein (W.W.Norton, 2016). I’m a fan of Klein’s SECOND SIGHT, so I’ve just put this one on order. When I heard Klein’s lecture at last year’s New York SCBWI conference, I came away with pages of notes. I’ll let you know what I think!

What about you – do you have any recommendations for new craft books?

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