Chapter 22: So How Does It All Work?

This is part of a chapter from the third edition of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books. The format has been altered to suit the Internet.

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In This Chapter

By now you know the basics of getting your children's book published, but you need to know how to put it all together. You need to know how the system works--to the extent that it does. In this chapter, you learn why, even after recent mergers, children's book publishers still need you and how you can best approach them. You also learn what's happening behind the doors of a publisher when you don't get a response.

Publishers Need You

At this point, you might not believe it, but publishers still need you. Without authors and illustrators, most publishers would not exist. Your creative energy produces works that are too distinctive to be created by in-house staff, and it's these creations that the trade market, at least, demands. Some publishers do seem to have little need for fresh talent, but every one of the people whose work they publish was a beginner at some point, just like you.

Publishing works on a never-ending cycle. Every publisher must create a minimum number of new books every year or run short of income. A publisher releases two or three "lists" each year, grouping its books into fall and spring bunches, possibly adding a winter or summer group. Why? That's just the way it's always been done, although mass-market publishers tend to release books throughout the year. The publisher's business and budget are built around a certain number of books, be it 5, 10, or 50, that it must have on each list.

And that need for a full list is where you come in. Authors and illustrators leave even the most stable of lists. They get restless and move on, their editor leaves and they follow, they cut back their output, or they even die or move into another field. Every publisher needs some fresh blood from time to time. If they get it by luring someone over from another publisher, then that publisher needs to fill a space on their list. There's always some flux in publishing, and that change brings opportunity.

Play by the Rules

To get anywhere in this business, you need some talent, persistence, luck, and an understanding of the way things work. You provide the first three, and I hope you're finding the last one in this book.

So far, you've read a lot of detailed advice. Now it's time to pull it all together and highlight important strategies.

The Union Makes You Strong

No union of children's writers and illustrators exists, of course, but there are national organizations to which you should belong and get involved with. The occasional genius can go it alone, but the resources of the Society of Children's Book Authors and Illustrators (SCBWI) and the Canadian Society of Children's Book Authors, Illustrators, and Performers (CANSCAIP) are worth getting access to, and local conferences are well worth attending (see Appendix B for more information).

Playground Stories

Lisa Rowe Fraustino, author of Ash and The Hickory Chair, among other books, has this to say: "Five out of the six books I have contracted to date have been with editors I met at conferences and developed a rapport with. And the sixth book is in a series published by the same house but a different imprint than one of my regular editors, and without my prior contact with the house I doubt my proposal would have been taken as seriously." What she's not saying is that for years she was one of the organizers of a conference in eastern Pennsylvania, and that it was through that work that she met these editors, including me.

But do more than that. Get involved for the local critique groups, for the support of other writers and illustrators, for the opportunity to have regular contact with editors and agents. Go to one conference, and you might get a chance to talk to an editor or agent for a few minutes. Become an active member of your local chapter, and you'll get to know these folks over phone calls and letters and at the conference. That contact is valuable. Although I've met many authors and illustrators at conferences, the people I remember and keep in touch with are usually the folks who organized or helped out during the conference--not the person in the hallway who asked me if I would mind looking at her manuscript.

Catalogs, Conventions, and Guidelines

It's good to get to know editors; it's vital to get to know publishers. You've learned how to analyze a catalog (in Chapter 19), so do that for all the publishers who might be a home for your manuscript before you send it to them. You might end up dropping half of them from your list, saving yourself time and postage.

Can You Keep a Secret?

The very best place to learn about trade publishers may be the convention of the American Library Association, where publishers display their latest books and give out catalogs. Held each year in January and June, ALA conventions move around, so sooner or later one will come to a city near you or near someone you know.

To get all those catalogs, you can write publishers and send the right size self-addressed stamped envelopes (SASEs) and wait for them to come back. Or you can go to a conference. National and regional teacher, librarian, and bookseller organizations have them every year, and in their exhibit halls, dozens and dozens of publishers set up booths showcasing their latest books and giving away their latest catalogs.

For booksellers, there's BookExpo America (BEA), and regional shows like the Southeast Booksellers Association show. For teachers, there's NCTE, IRA, NCSS, NCTM and their regional variants. And for librarians, there's the American Library Association and regional conferences like the Texas Library Association convention. Often, the public can get in for the day to wander the exhibit hall, or if not, you can get a day ticket through a teacher or librarian you know.

As suggested in Chapter 16, spend a day at one of these conventions. At the end of the day, you'll be exhausted, but you'll be much better informed about the latest in children's books than you were when you started.

Chapter 22 goes on to cover:

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Third Edition FAQ | Third Edition TOC
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Copyright © by Harold Underdown 2008 ( Google + Profile ). All rights reserved. One copy may be printed for personal use, but may not be otherwise reproduced, either on paper or electronically.