Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Submissions Nuts & Bolts

This spring, I’m leading a workshop for writers interested in children’s picture books. Some workshop members wanted to know more about the submissions process—how to get picture book manuscripts out and published.

I developed this FAQ list* for the workshop but am sharing it with all Story Slinger readers. Let me know what I've gotten wrong or left out. I'll be looking for your comments...

How should I format my manuscript?
The short answer is typed, double-spaced, adequate margins, page numbers, your title centered, the text flush left and non-justified in an easy-to-read font, your contact information on the first page. The long answer is at Harold Underdown’s Purple Crayon website:

Should I include illustration notes in a picture book manuscript?
Generally, No, not unless you could never in a million years understand the story without them. There’s a quick take on Mary Kole’s website:

I was lucky. I submitted the manuscript for this picture book directly to an editor I had met. She liked it enough to make an offer of publication!

How do I find the right publisher?
The Children’s Book Council ( maintains a list of its member publishers:

2014 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market by Chuck Sambuchino also contains an annotated list of publishers.

The other tried-and-true method is to read children’s books and notice which publishers publish the books you like best.

Should I get an agent?
Sure, but bear in mind that it’s hard work finding a good one—one who will appreciate your work and put your interests first. Chuck Sambuchino’s book above has a list of agents to start with. You can also find many lists online.

FYI, some publishers only accept agented manuscripts for consideration.

What’s the difference between an editor and an agent?
Good question. Generally, they are people with distinct roles and needs. The editor dreams of finding the perfect manuscript but has to turn a profit. The agent loves children's books but generally represents writers whose work will sell quickly and easily. 

Here’s an overview from former agent Mary Kole:

FYI, agents charge a fee for the service of finding a publisher for your work and selling all rights, but that fee (usually 10-15%) is only ever collected as part of the sale of the manuscript—and never as an up-front fee.

What and where are agent’s guidelines?
These are lists of dos and don’ts, usually found on the agency’s website. 

Here’s an example from Andrea Brown Literary Agency:

What and where are publisher’s guidelines?
These are lists of dos and don’ts, usually found on the publisher’s website. 

Here’s an example from Cricket Magazine:

Sometimes the guidelines are very short and say simply “We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.”

What is an unsolicited manuscript?
It’s a manuscript that arrives in a publisher’s inbox or mailbox without having first been requested by an editor. When a publisher receives an unsolicited manuscript, the publisher may return it to the author, but will generally simply file it in the trash.

FYI, agents can get manuscripts into a publisher’s inbox and mailbox, even if that publisher says “We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.” That’s because good agents have professional relationships with editors and have an idea of what individual editors are looking for.

Should I submit online or on paper?
Online is generally preferable. In many cases, it’s the only way you can submit.

How important is a cover letter?
Very. Think of it an a way of introducing your story to your audience. A good cover letter will contain sentences that could end up as part of the “flap copy” on the published book. You will need a cover letter when submitting to an editor or an agent.

Here’s a nuts & bolts introduction from Cynthea Liu:

Descriptive phrases from my cover letter to editor Wendy Loggia found their way into the flap copy for my first middle-grade novel, Chig and the Second Spread (Delacorte).

When can I expect a response?
Plan on never, so you will be pleasantly surprised if you do get a response. Many publishers and agents give you a ballpark idea of their turn-around time in their submissions guidelines. Add two months to that ballpark. Then, if you’ve heard nothing, move along. Don’t take it personally.

*FYI, This is all general advice. I am not specifically endorsing any source listed. My answers are just that: my take on things. Always do your research before submitting your work! And thanks for reading The Story Slinger...

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