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5 Major Publishing Mistakes I Made (And How to Avoid Them)

Take the first step to writing your children’s book story. Download the free children’s book template here to help you get started.

In 2014, I had officially decided to publish a children’s book. My heart fluttered with excitement as I printed my manuscript and cover letter. What I didn’t know in that moment though, was that I was making some major publishing mistakes that would prevent me from getting my book published.

Instead, I sent that manuscript out with rainbows of hope and confidence that I’d have publishers fighting over the rights to buy my manuscript in a matter of weeks. 💪

Except, all I received in return were crickets.

I was devastated.

Since that experience though, I’ve discovered what those major publishing mistakes were that told everyone I was a definite newbie — and more importantly how to avoid them. So I’m going to share them with you. 👇

5 Major Publishing Mistakes I Made (And How You Can Avoid Them):

In the traditional publishing world, there are many rules in place that help authors not only get a book contract, but help the agents and editors have a process for dealing with an influx of submissions. This is known as querying, or submitting to them, while giving them a reason to read your story.

Before you ever decide to go on submission, however, I would learn from my mistakes and avoid them for yourself.

1. Make sure your story category is right for the target reader you’re pitching it for.

My first story was intended to be a picture book for 16 year-olds. I know—what 16 year-olds do YOU know who are picking up picture books to read?

Exactly. But like all confident writers, I knew that adult picture books existed, so I pressed on.

Except not every publisher wants a picture book for adults or older children. (Only a select few do, and most of them are closed to unagented authors.) Not knowing this, I sent my story to any publisher I could find that accepted picture books and waited.

That was the wrong approach. What should you do instead?

Before you start writing your book (and especially before you send it to publishers) understand the intended target reader for your category of choice. Read this guide here to help you.

Manuscript Checklist_Publishing Children's Books

2. Don’t send amateur art on submission. (Or believe you should be the illustrator just because you can draw.)

I’m a capable artist, but I’m FAR from a children’s book illustrator. Illustrators are storytellers with art in a way writers are with words. They are masters of digital creation and understand terms like DPI and layered file.

Not me.

However, I thought I had to create the illustrations to get this book published—mostly because I thought publishers preferred it that way. Plus, I wouldn’t have to split the royalties later. (It was a business decision. 😉)

That was the wrong approach, though. What’s the true answer?

If you plan to be the illustrator of your own book, you have to send in quality illustrations that are completed to a professional level. Not rough sketches you pencil drew at a coffee shop in one week. And you should have a portfolio of work to back you up.

If that sounds like a lot to you, as it did me, don’t worry. You DON’T have to be the illustrator or find one in advance before sending your story to a publisher.

Instead, simply include illustrator notes in the manuscript to explain the necessary visuals not made clear in the text and leave the rest to the professionals.

Download the free children's book template

3. Make sure your story is correctly formatted.

We’ve all been taught how to use Word or Google Docs to create a typed story. However, we haven’t all been taught how to create a story document for a publisher.

Which is why my young self sent a story without the proper headings along with a poorly drafted dummy. 🙈

What should I have done instead?

Created a manuscript using proper format. Here’s what that all includes:

  • In the Top Left Corner: Add Your Contact Information
  • In the Top Right Corner: Add your Age Level and Approximate Word Count
  • In the Header: Include your Title, Last Name, & Page Number
  • About halfway down the page: Add your Title in all CAPS with your name below as a byline
  • Be sure you’ve selected a Standard Script Font like Times New Roman in size 12
  • And make sure to double space your story
Formatting Your Children's Manuscript Contact | How to Format Your Manuscript | Tips for Manuscript Submissions | Publishing KidLit | Publishing Tips | Submission Tips | How to Submit a Manuscript | Tips for Writers | Writing Tips
This is an example of how you should set up Your Manuscript!

For a more in-depth look into formatting your manuscript, read this article.

4. Make sure someone with industry knowledge has read your story.

Like most new writers, I asked my mom to read my story and tell me what she thought about it. Naturally, she LOVED it — because she loves everything I do — and I felt confident enough not to ask anyone else to read my story.

What’s the problem with that? While I love my mom, she is not a qualified person to critique my story because she has never written, nor learned about, what it takes to truly write a good children’s book. So how can she give me quality feedback on whether or not my story is good?

The answer: she can’t. And most likely, neither can your family or friends either.

So what should you do instead?

Make sure to have your story at least peer reviewed before going on submission. (If you don’t already have a critique group, I cannot recommend them enough.) Because your critique group is looking at more than just grammar and spelling. They will be analyzing your story with the end goal in mind: getting it published.

Meaning, they will look at your word choice, how your plot is developed, if the story idea is even viable, places to tighten your sentences, etc. Literally, all the parts that tell you if your story really is good enough to send to a publisher.

So make sure you do this before ever considering sending your story out. And if you don’t have time to find a critique group, sign-up for an edit by a professional children’s editor. That will also give you the same information.

**Note: A great place to meet a critique group is at conferences or through a writer’s group. Check your library events page to see if any local writer’s get together. Or join SCBWI to connect with your region.

Children's Book Publisher's List

5. Don’t assume your manuscript will sell immediately.

This is probably my biggest rookie mistake. Because even if I had done all of these other things perfectly, it STILL could take my manuscript a lot of submissions and months of waiting before it actually sells.

Because the truth is: every author gets rejected. Even big name authors.

Like any art form, this is a very subjective industry so you need to be patient and believe in your manuscript. Only through persistence and continual submissions (after sufficient research into an agent or publishing house) will you be able to sell your book.

To help curb the number of rejections you receive:

  • Send your story to the right people — do your research ahead of time
  • Make sure you have a well-written story that’s really read for a publisher — don’t try to rush the process
  • And evaluate your submissions when you get rejected — you might need to make some tweaks before sending it again.

If you follow this advice, and avoid repeating the same 5 major publishing mistakes I made, you’ll be on your way to a publishing contract. Don’t give up!

And if you’d like help making sure your story is really well-written, take Kidlit Writing 101. It’s the best course to learn more about the entire writing process, plus, know how to edit your story. Learn more and sign-up here.

Download the free children's book template

PS. Check out these other articles on the site to help you:

Avoid These 5 Major Publishing Mistakes and You’ll be Golden!

Story Jumpstart | How to get started writing a children's book 5-day writing challenge

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