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Congratulations on having a finished children’s story that you’re ready to publish! While this is an exciting time, it can also be quite overwhelming. Which is why I’ve compiled this list of everything you need to know to publish a children’s book with a traditional publisher to help get it started.
Writing a book is fun, but actually getting it published, is where the magic happens. Now, parents can buy your book and children get to READ it! It’s what all of us authors dream of, right? But how do we exactly find a publisher for our book? Here’s how.
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Everything You Need to Know to Publish a Children’s Book:
This is everything you’re going to need in order to traditionally publish a children’s book. Be sure that your manuscript is ready to submit BEFORE you start submitting to publishers. Here is the breakdown of the article if you want to skip ahead:
- How to Write a Successful Query
- How to Find Your Dream Agent
- How to Find the Publisher that’s Right for YOU
- What to Expect at a Writer’s Conference
How to Write a Query for Your Dream Agent:
It’s very exciting when you finish your book, but the next step is to actually sell it. Once you find the perfect agent that you want to send it to, you have to write a query that will make them say yes.
But how do you do that?
I just sent my query out to over 30 agents and for the first time ever, I actually got a response to my queries! Here’s what I learned about writing a query that can help you sell your manuscript, too.
Start with the Proper Formatting when You Write a Query Letter.
There’s a specific order that you’re supposed to write a query letter in. It’s the way all professional queries are written and will make you look like you know what you’re doing.
1. The Greeting:
“Hello, First and Last Name” is the greeting I choose to use. This avoids using the wrong pronoun and keeps you from being vague, with a ‘Dear Agent’ greeting–Nobody wants to keep reading something that’s not even addressed to them!
2. Your Connection
This is a great spot to say how you know the agent and why you want them specifically to help you publish a children’s book. Sometimes I get submission offers from conferences, members-only mail, or even Twitter, and this is where I tell the agent that.
If you haven’t had the privilege of connecting with the agent personally, you shouldn’t skip this step. Research the agent and find something you can relate to your story or you about that will create a connection.
For instance, they love bagels and so does your MC or they’re from the suburbs and so are you. Even a stretch is better than nothing. I always use Manuscript Wishlist, Literary Rambles, or interviews to find interesting facts to include in my query.
3. The Story’s Hook
What’s one sentence that will intrigue your reader? You want to evoke curiosity and make them think that they want to find our more. The hook and connection can be reversed when you write a query, but most suggest listing your connection first to get the agent to care.
I recently heard an interview with an agent at a conference who said to avoid questions. Especially, if they can answer no because the agent won’t see the reason to care (They’re looking for a reason to say no and who can blame them! They receive hundreds of submissions to sift through a month.)
Instead, think of a statement that will introduce the reader to your story–sometimes a strong first line will work here, too!
4. The Summary of Your Story
After your hook, you will give a summary to explain your story in more detail. I would avoid introducing any words, places, or characters that the agent won’t have any reference to–Unless you plan to
When I had aspects of my world listed, a reviewer told me that those features only confused the reader, since they didn’t have the context of the story. They had me cut those parts out and only focus on the main details to get the agent to read the first pages.
Your goal here is to make the reader hungry for more and turn to your attached manuscript. Use that as your inspiration as you think of how to sell your story!
5. Your Bio
You want to tell them about yourself, but you don’t need to go in-depth. This should be limited to 1-2 sentences on why you’re the most qualified to publish a children’s book like this.
Maybe you’re writing a picture book for schools and you’re a teacher or you’re writing a
Try to think of something more than just “you’re a member of SCBWI”.
6. Your Sign-Off
This is a conclusion when you write a query. I normally state that the story is either below or attached (Depending on their specifications) and what all they are looking for.
For example, below is the first ten pages of NAME OF AWESOME KIDS BOOK. The manuscript is complete and can be submitted at your request.
Then sign your letter with at least sincerely, your name. But I like to include ‘thank you for your consideration’. 😊
The Things to Avoid When You Write a Query Letter:
There are a few key elements you should DEFINITELY avoid if you want an agent to either read your query or choose to read your manuscript:
- Spelling/Grammar Errors–It needs to be proofed. (Tip: I read mine out loud to make sure I didn’t miss any errors)
- Photos/Graphics–This is not a craft project.
- Rambling on for too long–Get to the point and stick to it.
- Querying before the book is ready–If it’s not finished or polished, it’s not ready to send. No exceptions.
- Know what the agent sells–Check what they’re selling to know if they’d even be interested in your genre.
- Missing Word Count, Genre, Target Reader, etc.–Even if they’re at the end, they need to be there somewhere.
- Sounding cocky–Don’t say this is the next best-seller or they’re going to love it. It gives a bad vibe.
- Lying about yourself–Don’t stretch the truth just to seem credible. It’s better to be yourself because eventually, you’re going to have to be.
After I start submitting, I create a Google spreadsheet to keep track of my submissions. This way I know who I’m waiting to hear back from in case I get an offer for representation or publication. It also lets me know how long it’s been since I sent a query to know if I need to wait longer.
The querying process does take time and most authors don’t get an offer for representation the first time they submit. So be persistent and believe in your story!
The Best Way to Find an Agent for Your Book:
An agent is a great resource to help you sell your children’s book to a publisher. They work as the go-between for you and the editor and can help you negotiate the best deal. But how do you find an agent to help you sell your book?
Like an open publishing house, you will need to go “on submission” for a children’s book agent. Here’s how you can do that.
What does an agent do?
A literary agent works as a mediator between you and the publisher. They will help you get the best contract and negotiate for other things, like foreign rights and media rights. In return, they will earn a commission off your writing advance and sales.
Think of it as the middleman who does the selling work for you. 😉
To make sure you find a good agent that will get you the best deal though, you need to do your research. (Having a bad agent is worse than not having an agent at all.)
When do you need an agent?
There isn’t a set timeline on when to find an agent. Instead, it will depend on you and your goals for your story because you can get a publishing contract without an agent. These publishers are known as “open” because they accept “unsolicited” manuscripts from unagented authors.
However, if you want to submit to a “closed” house, like one of the big 5 publishers, you will need an agent to connect you. (Learn the difference between small and big publishers in this article here.)
You cannot send the same story to both publishers or agents, though, so you will need to decide which path is right for you BEFORE you go on submission.
What do you send to an agent?
While submission guidelines can vary from agent to agent, you will always need to send them a query letter. A query letter is simply an introduction to you, your story, and why they might be interested in reading it. (Think of it like a job cover letter.)
Your query should be less than 300 words and should be focused mainly on the one book you’re trying to sell to them. Along with the query, you’ll want to send them any additional information they requested like a set number of pages of your manuscript, comp books, synopsis, etc.
The #1 way to find an agent is to do your research:
In the traditional publishing world, there’s a lot of competition to sell a children’s book. This means an agent will receive THOUSANDS of queries every single month from authors seeking representation.
In order to help yourself stand out above the slushpile, you need to do your research and know what agents you’re sending your story to. Don’t mass email a canned query to a long list of agents!
Here’s how you can find an agent that is right for your story.
Where should you look for an agent?
There are three spots for you to find an agent in the children’s market:
All three are beneficial in their own way.
1. The Book from SCBWI
If you are a member of SCBWI, you get a FREE resource known as “The Book”. It has a list of all the publishing houses and agencies, along with contact information for both. This book is updated regularly throughout the year.
Although the book is free, the membership is $85 for the year. So, if a membership is not in your budget, then you should consider getting the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market book instead because it contains the same information.
2. The Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market
This is a very cost-effective resource for less than $20! The children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market is a comprehensive list of publishers and agencies with their contact information. Plus it’s updated yearly!
I like to get the hard copy and highlight the agencies/publishers that work best for each of my stories. And I try to find an agent that will sell all types of the children’s market since I write for the whole spectrum–or would like to!
3. Online Literary Agent Search
Although this isn’t a great place to start, it can be very helpful to learn more about an agency or agent you’re interested in working with because it will help you find more articles about them and what they’re interested in.
You’ll want to use sites like Literary Rambles, Publisher’s Marketplace, and Manuscript Wishlist to help you find out more about what an agent is interested in reading. Then, you’ll need to go to their websites to find out more about their submission guidelines and if they’re open to queries.
It’s a long process to find an agent, but with the proper research, you will be able to find an agent that will be best for you and your story!
Remember these tips before you submit to an agent:
- Know if Your Manuscript is Ready to Submit
- Be sure Your Formatting is Correct
- Be Sure to Target Your Perfect Reader
How to Choose the Publishing House to Publish a Children’s Book for You:
If you research children’s publishers, there’s an endless list of options! So how do you choose the publishing house that’s going to work the best for you and your story?
A publishing house is the company that publishes your story and turns it into a book. We all know publishers like Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Penguin Random House but there are so many other houses that publish kids’ books!
I interviewed authors who have published with both a small press and the big five publishing houses to find out which is best. They laid out the pros & cons of both options from their publishing experience. Here’s everything I learned about choosing a publisher that’s the best home for your book.
Benefits of Choosing a Small Press:
A small press is a publishing house that earns less than $50 million per year or produces 10 or fewer titles a year. This has both positive and negative aspects if you choose the publishing house in this category.
A lot of smaller publishing houses acquire unsolicited manuscripts, which is GREAT for new authors. Especially if you haven’t landed an agent yet. However, with these open submissions, there will be an influx of competition!
Since they produce a small number of books, you will want to write a query that will help you jump out of the slush pile (Read these tips to help you write a successful query). And you will want to understand their lists–doing so will help you choose the publishing house that best fits your book.
One of the biggest benefits of choosing a small press is having a say on your manuscript. Some of the authors I’ve interviewed have been able to help choose their illustrator and have direct talks about their ideas for the marketing process (Normally during the initial meeting of the publishing process).
That’s a BIG deal for an author! Especially if an illustrator doesn’t have the same vision for your book.
Marketing is the most important aspect of selling any book. It doesn’t matter how amazing the writing is, if the book isn’t promoted, people won’t know to buy it. You will want to choose the publishing house that will not only produce your book, but will also add in the marketing.
At a small press, budgets are limited and there might not be any money reserved to market your book. But that doesn’t mean you can’t choose a small house. It means that you will need to utilize as many resources as you can to get your book out in the world.
(Check out my guide to help you EASILY market your book! Lots of great tips in there. 😃)
A huge benefit to getting a book published through anyone is getting it out in the market–especially compared to self-publishing. After you choose the publishing house that you want to work with, they will talk to their bookstore contacts and set up your ISBN–which is crucial to selling your book to schools.
A small press might not have as big of a reach into the retailers nationwide. This means that you might not see your book in many local stores or large quantities at Barnes & Noble. However, you will always have Amazon, which holds a ton of buying power!
Benefits of Choosing a Big Publishing House:
A big publisher qualifies as a house that earns over $50 million in book sales and has a lot of titles on their release list. Big names include Scholastic, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc.
It’s a HUGE deal to get signed at one of these large houses–an author’s dream most of the time. But there are still positives and negatives to going this route.
Since these houses are so popular, and everyone wants to sell a book to them, they have stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts. This means that you can’t submit to these houses directly–unless you received a connection from a subscriber list or conference.
Instead, you must be an agented author, which can sometimes take as long as it does to get published! If you want to choose the publishing house in this category, check out my tips on how to find an agent to help you attract the one that will work best for you.
Big publishing houses have TEAMS of people to help with the book production. This is their business and they’re good at it. They know what will sell and what might not, and they create a hierarchy of attention based on this knowledge.
As a new author, you most likely will not get much say on your book. It’s not to say you won’t get any–I have a friend that was able to provide her input on the cover design with Random House–but it means they don’t have to take it. They’re going to do what’s best for the sales of the book.
Big house, more marketing dollars, right? Depends. Choosing a large publishing house doesn’t mean you won’t have to market your book.
The marketing budget is determined by your contract–a good idea for where you stand is based off your advance, but your agent will also be able to let you know what the publisher has agreed to do. The rest is up to you.
(Check out my guide to help you EASILY market your book! Lots of great tips in there. 😃)
This is probably one of the best reasons to choose a big publishing house: their massive pull! Not only will your book be on Amazon and in Barnes & Noble, but these companies have contacts at retailers like Sam’s Club, Target, Publisher’s Weekly, etc. And local bookstores are more likely to pick up a book from a big publisher first.
The name alone feels like validation that it’s a good book–regardless of what’s inside.
There isn’t a wrong or right choice when you’re picking a publisher. Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of both options before you choose who to publish a children’s book with. Only you know how to choose the publishing house that’s going to work best for your story!
What to Expect at a Writer’s Conference for New Authors:
Writing conferences are an AMAZING resource for writers of all skill levels, but you might not know what to expect at a writer’s conference the first time you go. As a seasoned veteran of conferences, I’m here to help prepare you so you don’t look like a newbie. 😀
When I went to my first-ever children’s book writing conference, I was like an eager child on the first day of school with shiny new pencils and perfectly, pleated new skirt with cherries on it. I even had business cards made and printed out the first few pages of my story to share with anyone who was prepared to read it.
I was filled with fresh hope and optimism . . . the kind that goes against all unwritten writing conferences. Never self-promote. 🙈
As a new writer, it’s important to know that you aren’t going to a conference to find people to buy your book. Sure, there are editors and agents there to lecture during breakout sessions or teach at intensives or offer critiques, BUT YOU CANNOT approach them with your story. (I want to make sure I yelled that at you.)
Instead, you should use this opportunity to learn and make connections in the writing world.
Here’s what you need to know before you go:
1. What should you bring to a writer’s conference?
Don’t make the same mistake and bring copies of your manuscript. You CAN submit a manuscript for first pages or critiques before the writing conference, but you need to sign-up for those at the time of registration.
Instead, bring something for people to contact you later if you make a connection. I like the business card idea because you’ll be networking with a lot of other writers that you will want to talk to later. However, you can also put their information in your phone or write it down, old-school style.
Other items that you MUST bring are:
- A writing utensil
- A notebook
- A computer
- Ready-to-learn attitude
That’s it. So long as you have something to take notes with and come ready to learn, you’ll be in great shape.
2. What happens at a conference?
There are a couple of things that you can expect at a writer’s conference no matter what genre you write for: breakout sessions and guest speakers. However, some of the long weekend conferences will also offer intensives and keynote speakers over dinner.
All of these are opportunities to learn from published authors, literary agents, and editors in the publishing industry. They give you tips to help you write a better manuscript and to escape the slush pile.
Some of these can cost extra (Like the intensives), but they’re worth the investment if you can afford them.
“The best investment you can ever make, is in yourself!” – Warren Buffet
3. What do you get out of a conference?
The number one BEST thing about attending a writing conference is the opportunity to submit your manuscript afterward. Especially with people who are normally closed to submissions! (Like an editor at one of the big 5 publishing houses 😲)
Sometimes these submissions come with a deadline, so you will need to be prepared to make adjustments to your critique or to have something ready before the time period closes. Or you can wait until the next conference comes around.
Bonus Tips for a Writer’s Conference:
Like I said making an investment is one thing you can expect at a writer’s conference, especially if you’re traveling out of town or spending multiple days at a hotel there.
If you want to save some money, reach out to the organizer of the event or the regional head of the conference. They can connect you with roommates to share hotel rooms with and find people to carpool with you.
Also, look into the smaller conferences that are close to you. They might not have some of the big names that the national writing conferences get, however, you’ll get more one on one time with some of the professionals to make a better impression.
I’m a member of SCBWI, which is where I suggest you start to find writing conferences for children’s writers near you.
Have an open mind on what to expect at a writer’s conference and prepare to socialize. You can’t make new writing connections if you hide in your room nor will you get any benefit from the lessons if you think you know everything.
It’s a long process to publish a children’s book, and you may experience rejections before you FINALLY get the yes. But you will get there if you’re persistent and prepared.
Also, check out these other articles to help you on your publishing journey:
- Know if Your Manuscript is Ready to Submit
- The 6 Best Writing Books all Writers should Own
- 30 Publishing Tips from the DSM Book Festival
- 3 Things All New Writers Need to be Published
- The Children’s Book Template to Help Your Story