So, You’ve Written a Children’s Book…Now What?
Read this advice from assistant editor Ariel Richardson before you submit that manuscript.
As you may know, Chronicle Books is one of the few publishers to still accept unsolicited children’s manuscripts from authors. We LOVE discovering debut authors and illustrators and cultivating them on our list. And some of our bestselling books have been found in our unsolicited mail bins! In fact, the text for Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, was an unsolicited submission by a previously unpublished writer — and it’s gone on to celebrate 3+ years on the New York Times bestseller list!
Chronicle receives about a thousand unsolicited children’s manuscripts every month, like the ones in the mail bins below. Every one of them is read by a children’s editor here, and I’m here to offer you some tips on how to make your manuscript stand out from the pack.
Before you submit your children’s project to Chronicle, I’d encourage you to immerse yourself in the industry, hone your craft, and do your research:
IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE INDUSTRY
- Read books similar to the ones you are writing. Visit your local bookstore or library and surround yourself with children’s books for an entire afternoon. At least once a month. Make a point of reading up on the ALA award winners every year, so you know what is being recognized as the best in our field. For as Stephen King says in On Writing, “The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.”
- Get to know how the industry thinks by reading the bi-weekly Children’s Bookshelf updates from Publisher’s Weekly (ALL of us read them EVERY week, so it’s a great way to know what we’re thinking about at any given time!).
HONE YOUR CRAFT
Learn about the craft of writing! And remember the power of revision before submitting to a publisher.
- As you get started in writing for children, you may be interested in joining SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. You can attend their conferences to meet editors, agents, and fellow writers and to learn about craft. They can also help you find a critique group where you can workshop projects before you submit to a publisher.
- There are many great books on writing and illustrating books for children, but some favorites are: Writing with Pictures by Uri Shulevitz, Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang, and Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Do your homework! Before submitting to publishers, research which publishers might be a good fit for your manuscript by visiting their website and immersing yourself in the books they publish.
- To find information on the submissions guidelines of children’s publishers and magazines (in addition to information on writing contests), reference the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (updated annually), stocked in most book stores.
- If you feel your work is a good fit for the Chronicle list, please do submit your manuscript! Chronicle’s Children’s submissions guidelines are listed on our website.
So let’s say you submit your manuscript to us…what happens when your manuscript arrives at Chronicle? The Children’s editors get cozy on the couches on our fourth floor once a month to review each submission. The submissions guidelines for the Children’s publishing group are different than on the adult side, in part because of the volume of projects we receive. With this in mind, we cannot respond to every submission, as much as we might like to, as we wouldn’t have any time left for making books.
Here are a few easy tips (other than following our submissions guidelines!) to make sure your submission stands out from the hundreds of other submissions we’re reading:
- No “Dear Sirs”: Currently we have only one male editor on the Children’s Editorial team, and unfortunately he works remotely. So chances are your reader will be female! Relatedly, proofread for obvious typos and mistakes throughout, such as misspelling the name of an editor, the name of the company, or the name of one of our bestsellers.
- No Pet Photos: The most common submission we receive is a picture book featuring the author’s real-life pet or child, photographs included. Certainly we’re all encouraged to write what we know, and there are so many wonderful books out there about the lives of animals — Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes is a personal favorite. BUT, in general the illustrator should be free to interpret the protagonist as they see fit, without keeping to the exact freckle pattern in the photograph…and stories about specific pets or children also run the risk of having too small an audience. Writing about a fictional animal or child often frees up the writer to make the story more exciting, more universal. OF COURSE there are exceptions — such as the adorable dog, Boo. But unless your pet is really that cute, leave out the photos.
- No Adult Protagonists: Sick Day for Amos McGee is one of my all-time favorite picture books, so there are obviously exceptions to this rule… but generally kids tend to read about books with protagonists who are just slightly older than they are. And adult protagonists often don’t feel concerned enough with the kid world for the stories to feel relevant. We also get a lot of submissions where the parent is the real protagonist of the story — the plot is about parental concerns, the parent is the one who has substantial character growth, and who performs all the problem-solving at the end. If there is a kid in the manuscript, they need to be the protagonist.
- No Need for “Gifts”: Reading submissions is our job! So there’s no need to send candy — especially unwrapped candy — along with your submission. Similarly, special packaging isn’t necessary. Keeping it simple shows you’re professional and likely well-versed in submitting to agents and publishers.
- On Mock-Ups: If you are submitting a novelty or gift project (such as an interactive board book), we do encourage you to create a dummy of your project to share how you envision the package functioning. However, if you’re submitting a text-only standard picture book, we don’t need art to visualize manuscript — for example, there’s no need to include Beatrix Potter’s rabbits to show what your rabbit protagonist could look like. We have lots of practice reading a text-only manuscript and then imagining how it would work visually. Just submit the text all on one page (DON’T submit it with one sentence per page). If you’re an illustrator as well as a writer and would like us to consider both art and text simultaneously, I’d encourage you to make it clear you’re willing to have someone else illustrate if that is in fact the case. We’d hate to decline a project just because we assumed you wouldn’t be willing to let someone else illustrate!
That was a lot of things you shouldn’t do… but what makes my heart glad when reading a submission? Here are just a few:
- If you include great backmatter along with your submission (if relevant)! Award committees and teachers and librarians love nonfiction educational content at the back of books — and so do we.
- If you reference some kind of research you’ve done for the book in your cover letter, showing you understand how seriously we take authenticity and accuracy.
- If you mention how your submission ties in with the curriculum for the age group of your intended audience.
- If you’re submitting a self-published project for our consideration and state in your cover letter that you’re open to revising — and hopefully even excited to dive in to the editorial process.
- If it’s clear you know and adore Chronicle!
I hope this gives you a little checklist to follow as you write, revise, and submit your children’s manuscript. We’re looking forward to reading all of those great projects you’ve been working on!
As one of my mentors told me, getting published is a matter of time, persistence, and luck. And it’s really all about connecting with the right editor who both gets and adores your project. So, if your project isn’t the right fit for us here at Chronicle at this particular moment, I don’t want you to be discouraged. Give yourself a short break from it, then dust it off, revise, polish, workshop it at a conference or critique group, do some more research about what different editors and houses are looking for, and try again. And maybe next time will be magic.
Originally published at www.chroniclebooks.com on December 17, 2014.