I Want to Write a Children’s Book

Childrens'_books_at_a_library

The children’s book market is as crowded as a library shelf. [Photo] ProjectManhattan/Wikimedia Commons

I’ve never had a children’s book published, or even written one. That doesn’t stop writers who are looking for advice on getting their children’s books published from contacting me.

What I know about getting a children’s book published is that it’s not much different than getting any other book published, with one caveat: It’s a lot harder.

The reason it’s a lot harder is that people think it’s easy to write one. There are a couple hundred words in a children’s book, versus tens of thousands of words in an adult novel or work of nonfiction. Books written for adults require a lot of research, too.

Since people think children’s books are easy to write, a lot of people write them. This means that children’s book publishers are overwhelmed with submissions – letters of inquiry, book proposals, and manuscripts – and most of them are not good. It also means there are a lot of good ones, too, so there is a lot of competition.

Children’s books are hard to write because every single word counts.

That’s true for any book, but because there are so few words in a children’s book, it’s even more true. If one of my books has 85,000 words and 8,000 sentences, I can bury a few bad sentences here and there, and most people won’t notice. In a children’s book, if you have even one bad sentence, people will notice. If there are only ten sentences in the whole book and one of them is bad, then 10% of your book is bad.

If you see a children’s book written by someone who is not a writer, say, a famous actor or singer, do not assume the person – in addition to their celebrity – is a talented writer. People with that kind of money hire other people to help them write books, and get them published. They may have the original idea, and it may be a wonderful idea, but writing is harder than you think, and often times the easier a book is to read, the harder it was to write. Good writers know how to make writing that’s easy to read, and celebrities can afford to hire the best writers to help them write their books. 

Publishers like to publish books “written” by famous people, because (a) the celebrity worked with a really good writer, and probably an illustrator, too, to get the words and illustrations just right, and (b) they don’t have to worry so much about marketing the book, because the celebrity will do it for them. I applaud anyone who writes a book, no matter how they got it done, but I think this practice gives the general public the impression that anyone can write a children’s book, when that is just not true. Sometimes it takes hours to write one sentence. This has nothing to do with “writer’s block,” which is a whole different thing. It just takes that long, sometimes, to get a sentence exactly right.

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When anyone asks me for advice, I am happy to provide it. I may not be an expert and I let them know that, but I am happy to provide them with the information I do have. So when I get an email or a letter from someone who wants advice about writing or getting published, I always reply.

It takes a while to write a letter, so from now on I’m going to post them here on my blog. That way, the next time someone asks me for advice on how to get their children’s book published, I can point them here. This will save me a lot of time, so I can get some writing done.

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Hi Andrew,

I read your letter of inquiry and book manuscripts. I really liked the books. The stories are fun and I can see how a kid would enjoy reading them. I also liked the fact that you included some information about yourself in the letter. Rather than edit them, I’m going to give you some advice. The reason I don’t want to edit them is because there is not enough to edit. A publisher is going to want a lot more information.

First, here are some things you should know about the publishing industry. 

  • The publishing industry, and especially the sector for publishing children’s books, is extremely competitive. This means you have to do everything right, or you will not get a contract.
  • The letter of inquiry is good, but generic. Every publisher will want specific information in your letter of inquiry. Likewise, every publisher wants to see specific information in a book proposal. The information they want to see varies from one publisher to the next.
  • Depending on the publisher you reach out to, they may want to see (a) a letter of inquiry, (b) a book proposal, or (c) your actual manuscript. Some companies don’t want to see a manuscript at all until they’ve read the letter of inquiry or book proposal, and then they will let you know if they’re interested in seeing your manuscript.
  • This may sound like they’re being “picky,” but publishers get thousands of letters and proposals, so they don’t even read most of them, and if you send them something they don’t want or didn’t ask for, they won’t read it. They’ll just send you a form letter or email rejection.

 

Here is my advice. 

  • Go to a bookstore and check out the children’s book section. Find books that are similar to yours – not ones that necessarily  “look” like yours or have a similar story line, but books that are about the same word count, and written for the same children’s  age range as your books.
  • The publishers of those books are the publishers that you want to be targeting. Every publishing company is interested in specific types of books, so if your book isn’t their specific “type,” they will not be interested.
  • Get a copy of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market 2016. “Writer’s Market” books are a listing of publishers. Look up the publishers you are targeting. When you find one, it will show you exactly what they want to see from you. Like I said, some publishers want a letter of inquiry, some want a book proposal, and some will look at a manuscript. Some do not accept work from new authors at all, and some of them will only accept work from an agent. Knowing this upfront will keep you from wasting your time contacting the wrong publisher with the wrong information.
  • The listings will also give you pertinent information like the name of the person at the publisher to contact, usually an acquisitions editor. This is extremely important, because if you send your stuff to the wrong person it will just get thrown away. People at publishing companies are inundated with inquiries, so they don’t go out of their way to read everything.
  • The listing will also tell you how to contact them. Some of them will accept email, and some will want hard copies.
  • The listing will also tell you the format to use for your work. Again, publishers are very picky. They may want everything in Times New Roman, 12 point font, double-spaced, and if you don’t send it that way they will not read it. I’m not kidding.
  • Once you’ve found a publisher that is interested in the type of books you write, and that is accepting work from new authors, follow the instructions on who to contact at the company and how to contact them.

My first book proposal was 13 pages long and included a lot of information, because that’s what the publisher wanted to see before they would even look at a manuscript. I’m telling you all this because I know how hard it is to get a book contract. It took me a long time. I will tell you that if you send a generic letter of inquiry without “doing your homework” about the specific publisher you are targeting, your work will not get read. If you send them a bulleted list of the manuscript, they will not read it. That’s just how it is.

Start with the letter and manuscripts you have prepared, but then follow my directions. You can buy a Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market on Amazon for about $20. I have several of them (they have different versions) and they are invaluable! In addition to the listings, they include a lot of great information about the market, getting an agent, and getting published.

Also, think about joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They have local chapters, and there’s one in your area.

I have a sister who has been trying to get a children’s book published for a couple of years, and she said the information she received from her local chapter has been very helpful. I don’t trust advertising for groups like this, but I trust my sister, and if she says it’s worthwhile I believe her.

After you do all of the above, and you have the right information for a specific publisher, written up in the proper format, and you would like me to look at it, feel free to send it on. I love to see new authors get published, but I also know how difficult it is. You have to do every single thing the publisher’s way, or your manuscript will not be read, no matter how good it is.

Good luck.

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