Victoria Fanning is the Assistant Publicist at Eerdmans and a half-time student at Aquinas College, majoring in Psychology. She loves photography and, in 2010, was a contributing photographer for ArtPrize.
You’ve written the perfect children’s story that has taken your blood, sweat, and tears to become a reality. You have the illustrations boldly pictured in your head (maybe even sketched out on paper), and everyone tells you it simply must be published. So how do you go about making that happen?
You already know that getting published isn’t easy, and everyone certainly knows that writers must avoid typos, personalize their query letters, and follow publishers’ submission guidelines. But what about using proper submission etiquette? Or avoiding certain assumptions? What about obeying the unspoken rules that aren’t published in The Non-Celebrity’s Guide to Getting a Children’s Book Published? As someone who once sorted through the slush piles of submissions, I have some insider advice for you.
Do your research
Make sure the story or idea you are pitching fits the topics your prospective publisher accepts, and make sure the topic hasn’t been overdone. ABC picture books are kind of a dime-a-dozen nowadays. You’ll get further if you submit a story line that’s new and interesting.
Creativity counts . . . sometimes
Creativity and uniqueness are two key elements to possess when writing a children’s book. Actually, they’re monumental. But an envelope decorated with Disney characters or your query letter formatted in a fun or fancy font won’t get you noticed, though creativity and originality in your story might.
A note on spelling
Yes, you must spell correctly, especially in your query letter. But just for fun, here’s an example of what not to do. I once saw a query letter that was intended for someone in our office named Judy. However, the person sending in the letter spelled Judy’s name J-u-c-y. True story. (I was quite hungry for some fresh fruit after that one.)
Paper should smell like paper
This advice gets a little personal, but keep in mind that your manuscript will smell like the environment it sits in, whether that’s of fried food or cigarette smoke. Please do what you need to do to make sure your paper smells like paper when it arrives at the publishing house.
Coffee cups and paper are not friends
In other words, we highly recommended you do not send in your query letter or manuscript with a coffee cup ring on it. (Yes, this happens!)
Save your money
I understand that your manuscript is your baby and that you are eager to get it published. But paying extra money to overnight your work to the publisher isn’t going to help much. The truth is, submissions take several months to process, so paying to get your manuscript in a couple days earlier probably won’t make a difference. No doubt you’ll see a season change while your manuscript is being considered.
Do us a favor
If you need to use a padded envelope for your submission, do the assistants a favor and stay away from the kind with fabric-like filling. Guess what, those material-filled envelopes make a dandy of a mess when they are quickly cut open. Of course, using a messy envelope isn’t going to stop you from getting published, but it will save someone the trouble of vacuuming later.
Let us illustrate your book
Oftentimes, submissions come in with the story and illustrations. I’ve seen everything from finger paintings by five-year-olds to really nice pencil sketches. But I have to tell you, your publisher will more than likely hire a professional illustrator to illustrate your book. So keep in mind that while it doesn’t hurt to send us some ideas for illustrations, it’s probably not worth your money and time to come up with them yourself.
Rejection is the norm
Don’t give up. Rejection is the norm. Learn and grow from it.
I don’t want you to feel discouraged after reading this post. On the contrary, I want you to feel like you can do better now that you know some of these secrets. If you are a first-time author, I know you may feel like giving up after sending your hard work to publisher after publisher, only to get a rejection letter. But please don’t give up. When you think of it, every experienced author was at one time a first-time author. Do your research, check your spelling, and wait patiently. One day, you may get the congratulatory letter.
For more practical advice for aspiring authors, check out Rachel Bomberger’s post “To a Young Author.”
Dear Ms. Fanning,
I enjoyed your comments – especially the “coffee mug ring” saga– hard to believe!
A quick question- I sent in an exclusive submission to Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers in October of 2010. I know the guidelines have recently changed, but I thought I would still get a reply at some point as was the previous policy.
I have written a recent letter to inquire about its status– but still no response.
I know it is impolite to bug them with e-mails-
Just wondered if you’d have any advice?
Meanwhile, I am busy working on other projects–
Thanks for your thoughts! Billie Little
Thank you for your comments, Billie! I know the waiting part is the hardest but it is, unfortuanately, the nature of the process. Best of luck on your newest projects!
I’m having fun with a new project called “Layers”, At this point it seems to be leaning towards a fantasy- my main character is a young boy, the oldest of three, who feels a bit overlooked at home when he stumbles into an adventure in a previous “Layer” of his home neighborhood-
I do appreciate your reply.
Thanks for writing your article. I am a mom with a lot of creativity, and I have just written a rough draft of a children’s book. I feel like someone like me doesn’t even have a chance at publication because I don’t have access to an agent or want an agent. Getting contact info for submissions is ridiculously difficult, yielding me nothing.
I am about to give up. My daughter read the draft and actually laughed at what I wrote. It made me feel good. I am afraid she is going to be the only one to read it.
How can I get started without having to hire people to get this done?
Tina, I wish I could reply to your notes (both here and through our contact us page) in as much detail as they deserve. I’ve asked the folks down in our children’s imprint, EBYR, to help me put together a follow-up blog post soon that answers a few of the common questions that you and so many other aspiring children’s book authors have about the acquisitions and publications process. I hope that we’ll be able to post it within a few weeks. (They’re really busy down there at the moment.) In the meantime, I can tell you that we do accept unagented, unsolicited manuscript submissions — as long as they follow our submission guidelines. Here is a link to our guidelines for your convenience: http://www.eerdmans.com/youngreaders/submit.htm
What a breath of fresh air! For a little while I was starting to feel like some sort of outcast.
And yes, a blog on this topic would be helpful, there are, I am sure, more people like me.