So you want to get your children’s book published?

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman Cover

My first published children’s book. Only a nine-year process!

With some regularity, I get e-mails from people who have written a book for children and would like advice on how to get it published. The first thing I always tell them is “Congratulations! Writing a book is a huge┬áaccomplishment!” (Seriously. It took me seven years to write my own first children’s novel, All Four Stars, and then a few more years of revising, agent-seeking, publisher-seeking, and editing before it hit the shelves.)

In any case, since I recently wrote out a long response to one of these e-mails, I thought that I would share here what I would currently know and advise for those who seek traditional publication for a middle-grade, YA, or picture book. (And who, I assume, actually have a finished manuscript, not just an idea for one or a half-finished draft.)

Join SCBWI and attend a conference: One of the best things a newbie to the kidlit world can do is join SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), if you’re not already a member. There are branches all over the world. This is a great way to start learning about the children’s book industry, and if you attend a conference (either a regional or national one–highly recommended) not only can you take workshops with published children’s authors, but you can also interface with agents and editors and sometimes have a chance to pay for a critique from an agent, editor, or published author. Some branches have mentorship programs available as well. And if your branch has monthly meetings, that’s a great way to meet some other childrens’ writers in your area, form a critique group, network, and learn. Membership costs around $80 a year, and attending conferences costs more, but remember, it’s all tax-deductible. ­čÖé

Get critiqued: Join/form a critique group with other writers (preferably other people writing for the same age group you are, whether middle grade, young adult, or picture books) if you haven’t already. Having your work critiqued by other serious writers, whether aspiring or published, is an important way to get feedback and improve your work.

(And going back for a moment…Step 0? Hopefully you are already doing this, but read widely in the genre/age group you are attempting to be published in. Have you read at least 50-100 books for that age group that have been published in the last 5 years? If not, do this before anything else, so you can see if and where your work may fit in the market and come up with some current “comp” titles that you can later use in your query letter.)

Seek an agent: When your manuscript is revised, polished, and absolutely as good as you and your critique partners can make it, then it’s time to look for an agent.

You will need an agent if you seek to be traditionally published by one of the large or medium-sized US children’s publishers (the “Big 5” are Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, Macmillan, and HarperCollins, and other well-established companies like Scholastic, Candlewick, Algonquin, Bloomsbury, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Sourcebooks are also in this category), as they don’t accept unsolicited submissions. (The one exception to that is that sometimes editors who are presenting at an SCBWI or other writing conference open their submissions to attendees for a certain period after the conference.)

Good places to start to research agents are querytracker.net,┬áliteraryrambles.com, and the Absolute Write forums. What are you looking for? An agent who is with a reputable agency; who ideally has at least some sales record in the genre/age group you are writing in (or, if they’re new, are at an agency with a strong record); and who, in interviews/on social media etc. expresses something that makes you think they might be a good fit for your work.

You should also check out pitchwars.org, and there are sometimes other opportunities/hashtags on Twitter for pitching your work to agents, such as #DVPit, which focuses on amplifying diverse and underrepresented voices. (Twitter is a good place to be in general if you’re seeking an agent, as many are active on there and might tweet about what they’re looking for.)

Finally, to really dig into an agent’s history of sales, you can buy a membership to Publisher’s Marketplace and study the deal histories there. In addition, you should probably┬ásubscribe to Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf, a biweekly (and free!) e-mail that not only covers news in the kidlit industry, but also announces most of the higher-profile book deals being made and can give you a sense of what’s selling for publication in the industry. As it includes the deal-making agent’s name and the publisher, this is another place for you to do a little agent research.

You generally pitch agents by sending them a one-page query e-mail that includes a brief pitch of your story and a brief bio. If you don’t know about proper query format, definitely research the “success stories” on querytracker to familiarize yourself with good queries. Mine is in there at┬áhttps://querytracker.net/success/tara_dairman.php. Stick closely to the one-page limit and hone your pitch to really grab an agent’s attention. Use your critique group to help with this! (Also, this is an area where, if you know a published author, you may be able to ask for a favor in the form of feedback. While I wouldn’t have time to read and critique someone’s manuscript for them–at least, not for free–I’m often willing to look over a one-page query letter and share a few pointers for someone who is serious about trying to pitch themselves to the industry.)

Please note that many people query 50 or more agents before finding representation. I advise sending your query out in small batches (5-7 or so) so that if it’s not getting the results you want you can go back and revise it before sending out to more agents.

If you snag an agent’s attention, they will request some (a “partial”) or all (a “full”) of your manuscript. It may take them months to get back to you after that, though–unfortunately, that’s normal, as agents are extremely busy with their current clients. The best thing to do during that time is to work on your next book!

And/or seek a publisher directly: There are a few smaller but reputable children’s publishers that accept unsolicited, unagented manuscripts, and you could query them directly as well. Off the top of my head, here are a few I believe are still open to submissions, but definitely check their websites to confirm, and carefully follow all submissions guidelines.

-Holiday House
-Chronicle
-Charlesbridge
-Peachtree
-Albert Whitman
-Boyds Mills
-Carolrhoda/Lerner (periodic open calls)
-Pelican
-Page Street
-Shadow Mountain

I’m sure you can find more in the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market (published yearly and available at the library if you don’t want to purchase).

That’s all I’ve got for now. Surely I’ve missed things–if there’s information that you know and think I should include here, please leave a comment and I’ll update when I can. If you have questions, please leave a comment and I’ll answer when I can! And good luck on your publishing journey.

Advice for writerly types

Hello, friends! It seems to be time for my monthly blog update.

First of all, I have a new post up today at EMU’s Debuts called “Wisdom from the 2013 EMLA Retreat.” The title pretty much says it all: It’s filled with great bits of advice that I picked up from other writers at the recent retreat for clients of Erin Murphy Literary Agency in Montana.

Also, on my Facebook page yesterday, I shared a few tips that have been helping me speed up my drafting. I’m planning to expand this into a blog post soon (I swear!), but if you want to check them out now, you can find them in the comments here.

In ALL FOUR STARS┬ánews, I’ve seen a preliminary sketch of the cover, and it’s amazing. I cannot wait until I have the final art to share with you! I’ve also been working on writing acknowledgements and even taking a stab at jacket copy (the summary of the book that goes on the inside flap or back cover), which has been only slightly nerve-wracking.

I’ll leave you now with a few pictures from the EMLA retreat, which was definitely one of the more fun and informative weekends of my writing career.

Lovely ladies of Colorado!Here I am with my Colorado-dwelling buddies Jeannie Mobley and Cindy Strandvold on Ugly Sweater Night. None of us won an ugliest sweater prize (mine was deemed “too cute” by one of the judges–bah!), but Cindy was a finalist for ugliest ensemble!

The EMUs!I finally got to meet a bunch of my fellow bloggers from EMU’s Debuts in person! From the top left, we have Christine Hayes, Kevan Atteberry, Pat Zietlow Miller, Laurie Ann Thompson, and Joshua McCune, then in the front row are Carol Brendler and me.

Tara at the waterfallSome of us took a hike to a local waterfall near Big Sky. I am sporting my new EMLA T-shirt, which I won for having been to the most countries. That round-the-world honeymoon just keeps paying off. ­čÖé

Hope your July is going well!