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How to Get Published

By Rukhsana Khan

I am often asked, "How do you go about getting published?" So I decided to write an article on the subject and answer most of the questions that arise.

This article includes all the information I can give you. Please do not email me further because frankly I don't have time to nurture your writing career when I'm busy with my own.

I do not have the time to read your work or hold your hand in the process. Ultimately your story has to stand on its own merit.

Most people think that they need to provide illustrations with their story. This is a very bad idea. It can limit your prospects. The publisher might see the manuscript and illustrations as a package deal and might reject it as a package when they might have accepted it as a manuscript. Unless you're a professional artist never provide any illustrations for the story. Doing so, is actually the mark of an amateur. The publisher has their own art department and if they want your story they prefer to choose their own artist for the job.

Athough childrens’ books may look easy to write because they tend to be short and simple, they are not. Many people look at children’s publishing as a stepping stone to adult publishing because they assume its easier to break into. This is absolutely not the case.

The competition is fierce. Even small publishers receive thousands of manuscripts every year and most of them are woefully inept. So much so that increasingly publishers are closing their doors to these unsolicited manuscripts and are only looking at work represented by agents. This work has been "pre-screened" and meets at least the minimum standards.

 
Agents

Many novice writers think that getting an agent is the key to breaking into children’s writing. This perception is both true and false. Despite the dwindling number of publishers willing to accept unsolicited manuscripts- for the new writer, getting a contract directly from a publisher is often the best approach. This is because getting a good agent can be just as tough or even more so than getting published. This was the case with me. Even though I had five books published before I approached different agents to represent me- I was rejected several times before I found my agent.

Agents are so inundated (especially the good reputable ones) with unsolicited manuscripts that they also tend to have slush piles and be so back-logged that they’re effectively taking no new clients. What I have learned is that the odds are heavily stacked against anyone really succeeding at children’s writing.

I say this not to discourage anyone from pursuing this field, but rather to realistically portray the current publishing situation. (Besides if such negative information could so easily dissuade you- you really don’t belong in this business). As a children’s writer, you will face rejection at every corner. And there are no guarantees of success. This is something I learned the hard way. You have to really do your research in this career field as in any other- that means staying abreast of what’s currently being published. Reading, reading, reading, absorbing through a process akin to osmosis, what it takes to write a good children’s book. And in order to be able to do this you need to almost love the genre. I do. Even before I started seriously writing for children, the books I primarily read were children’s books. There’s even a saying "Read a hundred books in the genre you want to write in- then go write your own." I think this is excellent advice.

The thing to beware of regarding agent representation is that having no agent is better than having a bad agent. If you sell a piece of work through an agent, that agent will be connected to you for as long as that piece of work is in print. All the money for the work goes to the agent- not you- and the agent sends you your money.

There are many disreputable agents out there. There are even agents out there who prey on the desperation of people who want to be published and charge fees for even reading and considering their work. Perhaps more so than in other fields, the writing field is fraught with hucksters. While some nominal fees such as photocopying and postage can be expected (although my agent has yet to charge me a cent besides commission on the sale) beware of anyone who asks for money to read your work! No reputable agent would do this as it would blacken their name and might even mean expulsion from the AAR (Association of Artist Representation). Make sure your agent is a member in good standing!

There are a number of books that list agents and their requirements. I have used Guide to Literary Agents published by Writer’s digest books. That said it is possible to succeed in this business without agent representation and there are a number of very successful authors who negotiate their contracts themselves. But they have taken the trouble of familiarizing themselves with these aspects of the business.

What most novice writers fail to realize is that even with a very good agent- you still have to produce a quality piece of writing. Writing does not sell on an agent’s reputation alone, and many agents only represent work they feel passionate about.

It is often harder to find a good agent than it is to find a good publisher. And I strongly advise you to get a sale (commitment from a publisher before approaching an agent). Although you’d be giving up some commission (about 15%) on a sale you made yourself- you’d be in a better position to shop around and negotiate with a reputable agent. And the agent in turn can help negotiate a better deal and ensure your book gets better marketing. Increasingly I have found that a book’s success often comes down to marketing and distribution. You can write the best book in the world but if it gets no marketing and distribution nobody will know about it to buy it.


 
Finding A Publisher

There are a number of organizations that have regularly updated lists of publishers who are accepting unsolicited manuscripts. In Canada, for a nominal fee (I think it’s $10) you can receive a whole package with useful information on manuscript presentation (vital in presenting yourself as a professional) and the nuts and bolts on getting published. Contact The Canadian Children’s Book Centre

In the US there is a very useful website with all this information on it called www.cbcbooks.org. You can download a list of publishers. Also check out this publication. Every year it is updated so make sure you get the most recent edition. CWIM Children’s Writer’s & Illustrators Markets. It contains many useful articles and information on getting published.

Ultimately getting published and being successful in this field depends on so many factors beyond your control. The only thing you can control is your own attention to the proficiency of your craft. Become the best writer you can by writing what moves you, what you feel passionate about, and let publishing come afterwards.

This is the attitude I’ve tried to cultivate and this is the attitude that leads most to peace of mind. Children’s publishing is an incredibly stressful field. There is a good book out there called "It’s a Bunny Eat Bunny World" - The world of Children’s Publishing. Keeping your serenity is one way to weather the pitfalls.

Take a class on children's writing! You will get valuable feedback from other aspiring authors and you will get feedback from the instructor who is usually a published author.

Join the SCBWI. I think the membership fee is about $80 per year, but it's well worth it. The newsletter contains excellent advice on writing craft and marketing opportunities.

Or join CANSCAIP, which is a Canadian organization that helps aspiring authors and illustrators.

If you're an illustrator hoping to make it in the world of children's books, most of what I've written applies to you as well. You will need to develop your portfolio and try to get an agent. It helps to join SCBWI, the "I" at the end is for Illustrators.

Work hard and good luck!

Links for learning to write and getting published

 
Glossary

Slush Piles - The industry term for piles on unsolicited manuscripts

Manuscript - The final draft of your work

Unsolicited Manuscripts - Any manuscript that a publisher has not requested to see.

This article is copyrighted by Rukhsana Khan and cannot be transmitted or produced without her express written permission.