Frequently Asked Questions FileMany of the questions I get by email touch on areas outside those covered by the articles I have archived at my site. Where I can, I revise the articles to incorporate additional information. These questions either fall outside the topics covered there or are so basic that they need to be covered again. I hope you will find this FAQ file useful. Other questions and answers, some addressing common questions, some uncommon but interesting ones, can be found in the Purple Crayon blog.
- Questions about me
- General questions about children's books, writing, and publishing
- Questions about working in publishing
- Publishing terms/jargon
Questions about me:
1) I have a manuscript that I want to have published. Can I send it to you?
Please don't. This is my personal WWW site, not the site of a publisher. I do work as an editorial consultant, and will do manuscript evaluations as part of that work (for a fee). You can find information about this elsewhere on my site. Please do not send a manuscript to me by email unless I specifically request that you do.
2) So do you edit or critique manuscripts for writers?
Yes, I do, and I perform other editorial services as well. I have posted information about my services and rates and hope that potential clients will understand that I typically schedule work well in advance. And I have a full schedule, so I do not take on many projects. Freelance editors can be found through the Editorial Freelancers Association, and I suggest contacting them if I am not available. EFA members have many different specialties so you should be able to find one with the right one for you.
3) Can you recommend an agent or a publisher for my book?
I don't make this kind of recommendation. For one thing, I don't know your work, and to get to know it I'd have to spend some time to get to know it, which I would then not be able to spend working on this site. Even if I read your manuscript and made recommendations, they might be no better than what you could find through the use of resources such as Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market (the standard market guide for children's publishers) Literary Marketplace (detailed info. on publishers, too expensive to own, but found in libraries), and the online Children's Book Council's member's list. For agents specifically, read my articles Agents for Children's Writers and Illustrators and Finding an Agent.
4) I see that your WWW site is called "The Purple Crayon." Did you write the Harold and the Purple Crayon books?
No. Crockett Johnson both wrote and illustrated them. They were favorites of mine many years ago and still are models of creative and succinct storytelling. I chose the name as a tribute to those books, and as a suitably evocative name for a site about children's book publishing.
General questions about children's books, writing, and publishing:
5) I'm looking for:
What do you suggest?
- A. information about an author;
- B. an author or illustrator's email or mailing address;
- C. a book I remember from my childhood;
- D. recommended books in a certain subject area.
- E. an online children's books bibliography
I get many questions along these lines but usually cannot answer them.
A. Author information can be found in printed resources such as Something About the Author, available at your library, where you should also be able to get information about lists of recommended books. You may also be able to find information about some authors by exploring the links on my Children's Books page, or by searching for their personal web site.
B. Writing to authors or illustrators in care of their publisher has always been the best way to reach them; I would not give out such information even if I had it to protect their privacy. This is the policy of most publishers as well. Many authors and illustrators have web sites, and if they do, you can usually contact them via an email address or contact form on the site.
C. WWW sites like Alibris pool the resources of many dealers to locate out-of-print books. I have used them and can recommend them as reliable and effective. Or contact second-hand book dealers. Many will do searches for a small fee. Martha's KidLit Newsletter is a monthly for collectors of children's books; for those seeking a particular book it is of most use for the ads from dealers specializing in children's books that it contains. You can get a sample issue by sending a check for $3 to: Martha's KidLit Newsletter, Box 1488, Ames, IA 50014.
D. The Internet may not be the best resource for either general or specific book searches, but you can try posting your question to rec.arts.books.childrens, a very friendly and knowledgeable group of people; many postings involved books they recommend for a child of a particular age and interests, or favorite books in a particular area. Or look at The Children's Literature Web Guide, the premier site on the WWW for children's books information. In many cases, though, the library is the best place to start.
E. Don't expect to find a free Books in Print on the Internet (though you can subscribe to it for a fee). However, you can find an almost complete listing of current books, and now out-of-print books as well, at the Amazon.com bookstore. I buy from them only occasionally because I try to support my local bookstore, but I have used their database frequently, since it is searchable not only by author and title, but by subject as well.
6) I'm a beginning writer. What should I do?
Above all, write. Don't spend too much time getting ready to write. But there are key actions you can take to improve your chances of success as a writer for children:
- read as many current books for children as you possibly can.
- Join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
- Read my compilation of basic information for someone getting started.
- Read the articles on my site and follow up on the advice in them.
- Buy my book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books.
7) I've written a picture book/a novel/a story book, or I've written and illustrated a picture book. What should I do now? Can you suggest publishers?
I get this question frequently, and all I can do is refer you back to the articles on my WWW site. They answer that question in far more detail than I could in an email. Read my article on the basics. Read other articles! Get my book and read that too. Then, if you have a specific question, I may be able to help. As a general rule, I do not suggest individual publishers. I'd have to get to know you and your manuscript, and follow publishers more closely than I do. I just don't have time for that. My articles and links will help you do your own research.
8) My child/student/grandchild has written or illustrated a wonderful children's book. What can a child who wants to get published do? It's so difficult even for adults--do publishers even read submissions from children?
In my experience, publishers do read submissions from children, and often send personal letters in response. However, a letter is the most you can expect: a child who is an exceptional writer, compared to her peers, will still not have the skill, depth of knowledge, and experience of a good adult children's book writer. I say that not only as an editor who has read children's manuscripts, but as a former teacher.
For a child actually to get published is still a very difficult thing to do. It happens, but the exceptions are so rare that I wonder if anyone would want to try to emulate them: read the story behind Christopher Paolini's Eragon, for example.
So, I believe that the key challenge with a gifted young writer is to find the best way to support him or her in continuing to write. Adults tend to think of publication with a publishing house as a natural completion to the writing process, but for a child, that's not necessarily so, and attempting to go that route can be discouraging. It's difficult for an adult to get published, and even the most gifted child will find it even more difficult.
My suggestion, then, is to work with the young writer to find out what she wants to do. Who does she see as her audience--the people who she wants to read her book? Perhaps it's her peers at school. Many schools, especially if they use the "writing process" approach to teach writing, publish children's writing in this way. If your child's school does not, perhaps you can find a way to produce attractive copies of the book and distribute them to every classroom. If your child wants to reach a wider audience, then working with a printer and donating copies to local libraries might be a good approach.
For national publication, I suggest research into magazines and other publications that actively solicit submissions from children. The only book publisher I know of that does is Landmark; Stone Soup is one magazine that does, and others are open to some material for children. Read Some practical advice on writing and publishing for young writers, from Elizabeth Winthrop. I also recommend Jane Friedman's excellent Writing Advice for Children and Teens. If you are looking for a book, try Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic, which provides far more information than I can here.
9) Why aren't publisher's interested in rhyming children's books when that is in fact what children like? Dr. Suess is a good example - his actual verses are really quite dumb, children like them because of the rhythm. Are publishers out of touch and publish only what they like? Do they think of the children's likes and dislikes?
Your question is more complicated that you might think....
To start with, I have to question one of your assumptions, namely that Dr. Seuss's verses are "quite dumb." I would say instead that they are often gloriously silly, in a way few can imitate successfully. Almost all verse received by publishers doesn't come close to the standard he set. But yes, publishers know that children like rhyme, and in fact many books in verse are published each year. However, books in verse (except for books for the very youngest children, where rhyme is more common) tend to get published for the mass market (as in fact most of Dr. Seuss's books were, until he got to be famous), not for the trade market. And here's the Catch 22 for writers: mass market publishers don't look at submissions! They commission or write their texts in-house. (Do you know the story about The Cat in the Hat? It was commissioned.)
So what about trade publishers? Well, trade publishers publish for book stores, schools, and libraries. And the customers -- the book buyer in the bookstore, the teacher, the children's librarian -- tend to prefer prose. Editors are publishing for them.
Another related reason that I and many other industry professionals advise against rhyme--as we often do when speaking, sometimes leading to some prickly discussions--is that, as I note above, the verse most beginners produce is bad, but to explain how it is bad and give examples of good verse would take half an hour. So we just say, "No verse!" Unfortunately, this leaves writers with the impression that we don't like verse, when the reality is we like only good verse, and even among good verse must be selective.
Margot Finke's article Rhyming Picture Books: For Those Who Must provides another perspective on this question.
10) How do I find an illustrator for my picture book manuscript?
You don't. Publishers do that. I get so many questions about picture books and illustrations that I have created an article, Picture Book Manuscripts and Illustrations. Read this for guidance on questions from this area.
11) You say that writers of children's books should not submit illustrations to publishers. I have an idea for a infant/toddler board book that would be a rather boring submission without the illustrations accompanying it. Do you have any suggestions in this situation?
I hear from many writers with ideas for books such as this, and the problem is, there just isn't a good way to submit this kind of project, at least not for an unpublished writer. First of all, a publisher needs to see a manuscript, not an idea. Ideas are a dime a dozen; what counts is how they are developed. Perhaps more important, it's your writing that you want to impress the poor overworked junior editor reading the slush, and you can't showcase your writing if there are few or no words in your proposed book!
My advice is to put such ideas aside (I know, that's not easy to do!), get some wonderful picture books published, and establish a relationship with an editor. Then say one day over lunch, "By the way, I have an idea for a board book. Would you like to hear it?" She will want to hear it. Yes, this is a long shot, but I don't know of a better way.
For more about board books generally, read Writing and Publishing Board Books.
12) I sent a manuscript to a publisher a few months ago (following the submission guidelines they provided) and sent a self-addressed postcard indicating time of arrival. When should I expect to receive the postcard? Is it considered unprofessional to call them?
You could try to call them, but they probably couldn't find your manuscript among all the others. If they haven't returned the postcard it isn't necessarily the case that the manuscript got lost. It's also possible that (a) they haven't opened your package or (b) they've opened it but overlooked the postcard. Writing a follow-up letter with "Query re missing manuscript" on the envelope, including title and date of submission, with a SASE for response, is your best route at this point.
13) I have been reading conflicting information in respect to when to use a query letter for a children's picture book. Some have said that if a publishing company says that they are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts, it means they WILL accept query letters. If this is true, would it make more sense to send a query letter to one of these places, or to send in the manuscript to a company that is currently accepting them? I assume that a query letter is more likely to be read, and if they are interested, then the manuscript would be considered "requested." Do you have any suggestions?
The companies involved would be the ultimate source for answers, but I would assume that any company with a stated policy of not accepting unsolicited manuscripts means it. If they want query letters instead, they would say so. Do a little more digging, and you will see that some companies clearly DO have a policy of "query yes, manuscript no." For example, if you look in the member's list at the Children's Book Council site I think you will find a number of companies that specifically say that unsolicited manuscripts will not be read, but that queries will be.
So my advice is to find out a company's guidelines, and follow them. You don't have to follow my advice, of course. You could write to companies that don't specifically request query letters, since an unanswered query letter is no great loss. Personally I would concentrate on companies that are looking directly at manuscripts, because I assume that if that is their policy their NEED for material is greater, and because a query letter is one more opportunity for a "no." I'd prefer to get my manuscript directly to someone.
This area is not an easy one to navigate, and it has become more complex as more companies have closed their doors or have pushed them partly shut. You should also read Jackie Ogburn's article on cover and query letters.
14) What do you think of book packagers? Could an author approach a packager with an idea? Would an author have anything to gain by approaching a packager? Does the author get to keep the copyright? Should an author try to sell the book himself, then try a packager as a last resort?
This article on book packaging explains what packagers do and how to work with them.
To answer these questions: There are different kinds of packagers. Some packagers are sizable operations, essentially doing everything a publisher does except market and distribute books -- their job ends only with the delivery of printed books to the publisher's warehouse. Others are businesses consisting of one individual who contracts for different aspects of a project as needed. Authors can approach packagers, though policies vary, and you are more likely to get a response if you are already published and are targeting an appropriate company for your project (as with publishers).
Approach a packager if this seems to you to be the most likely way to get your book published; if you have an ideas and some sample materials for a mass market series, for example (though you may want to approach the packager through an agent). I don't know of any advantages other than getting published to working with packagers. You won't get higher royalties, and in fact in many cases you will have to work on a for-hire, flat-fee basis. For an individual book, or even for a series if you are an author with a "name," you may be able to retain copyright, but policies vary greatly from company to company. Don't go to a packager as a last resort. In most cases, you should stick with publishers or go to a packager from the beginning.
15) I want to send out my manuscript to a publisher or post it on the Internet, but I'm worried about protecting my copyright. What should I do?
First of all, relax. No publisher in their right mind would risk "stealing" your manuscript. Unpublished works are protected by copyright law, and they would stand to lose a lot--in reputation, not just money--if they tried to do so. So do not get it copyrighted at the Copyright Office before sending it out. It marks you as overanxious and inexperienced, since publishers will copyright the text for you, in your name, if it ends up being published.
The Internet is another matter. I would not post the text of an unpublished story, unless of course that is the only way in which you want to publish it. Publishers are unlikely to see it there, and until electronic "watermarks" are developed there is simply no way to prevent anyone from copying it, perhaps making small changes, and claiming it as their own. Share it with your critique group, by all means, but to reach publishers you have to use the good old U.S. Mail.
16) OK, I understand that copyright law protect manuscripts, but what about ideas? How can I stop someone from taking my idea?
Well, there really is no way to protect an idea. Copyright law does not protect ideas. It does protect the "unique expression" of them. Think about it: Anyone can have an idea, and there are any number of ideas that get used over and over in children's books--the story about the older sibling getting used to a new baby, the story about the first day of school, and so on. There was even a case recently of two publishers publishing picture books about painters who liked to paint pictures of chickens, and no one had stolen anyone else's idea. It just happened. In Hollywood, ideas may get stolen, because many films just start out as ideas, but publishing doesn't work that way. There's always a manuscript (or there can be).
So, if you have a new idea, or more likely an old idea expressed in an original way, the way to protect it is to turn it into more than an idea. Turn it into a finished manuscript, with your own unique phrasing and plot and details. To prove that it's yours, register it at the Copyright Office, which requires filling out a form and paying a modest fee. "Poor man's copyright" -- mailing yourself a copy of your manuscript so that it gets a postmark--will, I understand, do you no good.
17) Since copyright law protects material posted on the Internet, I want to make sure that I cite my sources correctly. How do I do that?
Marjorie Allen kindly provided me with guidance on this question:
Note author, name of article, name of home page. Say "Available online." Then cite URL address. Give latest update.
Cameron Newham. "The Alice Years July 1862-June 1868." Lewis Carroll Home Page. Available online. URL: http://www.lewiscarroll.org/cal/to1868.html. Updated on July 31, 1998.
18) What do you think of the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL)?
The ICL is a correspondence school based in Connecticut. Since I am not a writer and have neither taken their courses nor taught them, anything I say is hearsay. You would do best to ask other writers, either at conferences or such gatherings, or in writers' bulletin boards or listservs on the Internet for personal experiences. From what I can tell as an editor (having read many manuscripts written by ICL graduates), and having talked to people who have taken ICL courses and others who have taught them, what ICL does is to get a beginner up to a decent standard. They won't make your work publishable. Only you can do that. But their courses do have the advantage of providing a structure in which you can learn the basics (writing, how the business works) and a bit more. Some people learn that on their own. Some people need the structure,of course. But I also know that ICL may be hard to afford for some, and there may be courses in children's writing at a local college in your area, or a local critique group in your area. Bottom line: explore your options.
19) I've been offered a contract by a "vanity press." I've been warned about such publishers, but it does seem to me to be a way to get my manuscript published. Is this indeed vain to consider or will it make me a more viable author in the eyes of publishing houses in the future?
It will not make you a more viable author. All it would say to a real publisher is that you have both the money and the gullibility to work with a subsidy press. All you will get out of it will be several thousand books, printed to uncertain standards. In spite of their promises to market and distribute them, they will do little and if you want to sell those books you'll have to do so yourself.
You would do better to self-publish, simply working with a local printer who would print and bind books for you. You would still get several thousand books, and you would have to market and distribute them, but you would pay much less for them, and so you would actually have some money left over to help you market them...
Of course, self-publishing itself is a lot of work. I've heard of people who spent the better part of two years getting their self-published book out into the marketplace. And it's hard for an individual to distribute nationally, so you should only self-publish books with a local, regional, or speciality market, thus making your work more limited. But self-publishing is always a better option than a vanity press. There can be good reasons to self-publish. That's what I am doing on my WWW site, as one example. There never are good reasons to work with a vanity press.
For more information, please see my Self-Publishing section.
20) What do you think of "manuscript-posting" services?
These websites will put your manuscript online, for a fee, and claim to be able to get them seen by agents, editors, and others. They range from the large and professional (such as Authorlink) to the smaller and more amateur. Regardless of the company, I question their value to authors. At least among children's book editors, I don't know anyone who browses these sites. We get enough to read by mail--more than enough, actually.
More important, I suspect such sites would be magnets for subsidy publishers, fee-charging agencies, and the like; I've heard stories from authors working with these services that confirms this. This isn't surprising. If you ran a company that charged people money to get published, where would you go to find potential customers? What better place than a website populated by people who have already paid a (small) fee to do so? Surely some of them can be persuaded to pay a larger fee.... I understand that the more reputable of these posting sites make an effort to screen out subsidy publishers and the like, but some do slip through.
If you do want to use a service like this, do some research. Choose an established, professional company that can actually cite sales their clients have made. Look carefully at how well they present themselves, since they will be presenting your work to potential publishers. For example, I once came across a company called "New Writer's Market." Their site's page for children's authors prominently featured a graphic with the words "childern's books" on it, until I pointed this out to them. Such a company, in my opinion, can not be relied on to present your work professionally.
21) How can I tell if a company is reputable? I was recently approached by someone from a company I had not heard of after I posted my manuscript on Authorlink.
With so many large companies having shut their doors to unsolicited manuscripts, looking beyond the usual sources to find publishers may be necessary. And there are many less well-known companies out there that publish good books and pay decent royalties.
Generally, a listing in a market guide like Children's Writers and Illustrators Market, or membership in the Children's Book Council, can be taken as a clear indication that the company is a legitimate one. What if they are too small, or too new, to have such a listing? What if they contact you, and you've never heard of them? (This is what happened to the person who sent me this question.)
The first step I would take is to talk to them. Ask them how long they've been in business, who's on the staff, and what their experience is. If they are a one-person operation, started by someone with no publishing experience, I would look elsewhere. If they have a several staff people with relevant editing, design, and marketing experience, they are worth considering. Look at their web site, if they have one, or their catalog, if they have already started to publish. Have any of their books received awards? How do they present themselves?
If this research is inconclusive, you can take the further step of researching them on the Dun and Bradstreet web site, or the web site of the state in which they have incorporated, as the author who sent me this question did. Take a look at their contract. Does it seem to contain the clauses you'd expect from a publisher (see the chapter on contracts in my book for help with this)? And finally, do they ask you to pay for anything? If they do, they are a subsidy publisher. When you are done, add up what you've learned, and use your best judgment. If you don't feel comfortable, you've probably got a good reason.
22) Like publishers and editors, I also have a bottom line, and, while I appreciate the need for dedication to craft and creativity, I must ask the crass questions about money. Specifically, can I supplement my income writing for children? And is there any hope of supporting myself by writing for children? Finally, would you have any specific figures available regarding the kinds of incomes other writers in the field make. I'm obviously not looking for names, just facts and figures.
This is an important question--we are part of an industry, after all. As I'm not a writer I can't comment on the basis of personal experience, but realistically this is not a field in which a novice can immediately begin making a significant income. It can be years before a writer or an illustrator gets a first break. This may be a story or a few illustrations in a magazine, paying a few hundred dollars at most. For a picture book, a beginning writer may receive an advance of from two to five thousand dollars, and an illustrator a few thousand more. A novelist might make a larger advance, since the royalties aren't shared with an illustrator. Some novels receive advances of more than $100,000, but this is rare, and not something you can build into your budget.
The advance is then subtracted from your royalty income when the book actually comes out. A picture book that sells 10,000 copies (very good for a first book) would likely pay an author or illustrator between $6,000 and $8,000 in royalties. You would receive only what was left over after the advance "earned out."
Many people never reach this point, of course, but even if you succeed in getting published, building a steady income can take more years of effort, and may involve combining new advances with royalty income and with teaching or school presentations. So, for a reliable income anytime soon, look elsewhere.
23) I don't understand the terms in my contract. I'd like to be able to handle this myself, but to whom can I turn for assistance?
You could start with your lawyer. They may not be familiar with publishing contracts, but they can help you disentangle the legal language. Members of the Author's Guild (330 W. 42nd St., NYC: (212) 563-5904) can get guidance and a model contract, and anyone can buy the Graphic Artists Guild's Handbook, which you'll find in many bookstores and can order by mail (90 John St., NYC: (212) 791-3400). Or you could see the chapter on contracts in my CIG to Publishing Children's Books.
Or you could just ask your editor. Unless you go overboard and ask something about every line in it, they should be comfortable with answering your questions, and they will not necessarily assume that you are naive.
Working in publishing:
24) I see that you work in publishing, and I'd like to know how to get started in a publishing job. I'd be happy to work as a secretary or whatever you have to do to start out, or to work at home copyediting or writing reviews. What do I have to do?
I've been getting an increasing number of questions about getting work in publishing. For manuscript reading, see below. Other work falls into two categories:Working at a publisher: To get a job at a publisher, first get a good education. A B.A. in English or another liberal arts major is fine. I can't say how a publisher will respond to other majors. Some courses in children's literature (if you want to go into children's books) or the business of publishing, or a summer internship, are plusses. The job you are looking for is editorial assistant or its equivalent in other departments. Most publishers are in New York, Boston, or San Francisco, and can be approached through the want ads or just by mailing your resume to the Human Resources departments of companies you are considering. Of course, follow up any networking contacts you have. And use the resources of your college's career counseling office: not only should they have information on publishers but they should be able to put you in touch with alumni/ae in your area of interest. If you've left college and are working in another career area, you will probably still have to start as an assistant, though if you have experience in a library or bookstore that may help you start out on the second rung (especially in the marketing department). This informative blog post by Cheryl Klein on becoming an editor goes into more detail. She also wrote this more personal account.
Freelance or consulting work: Many publishers hire freelancers, but the sad news is that with all the downsizing that has happened recently, they can rely on people with experience in the industry. If you have had training in copyediting (not just experience), you might write to the "Managing Editor" at a company you'd like to work for, and offer to take their copyediting test. If you do well, and follow up from time to time to let them know you are available, you may get a book to copyedit from time to time, but you can't expect this to be steady work. Most other editorial work requires in-house experience. Reviewing books for magazines like Publishers Weekly or School Library Journal may be possible if you are a librarian, bookseller, or have some other related experience. You can try sending samples that demonstrate your understanding of their house style. For other kinds of work in publishing, please ask elsewhere; I don't know enough to give you reliable information. The Editorial Freelancers Association is one resource.
25) I have heard that some publishers actually employ people to read unsolicited manuscripts. My question to you is this: How can I discover which publishers use freelance manuscript readers, and how may I contact them?
Most publishers use only their staff to read "slush." They just can't afford to hire outside readers. Those who do hire people from the outside hire people with experience in publishing, former editors or authors the house works with, and usually have them come to their offices to do the reading. I have seldom heard of a publisher sending manuscripts for evaluation by someone working at home, though publishers receive many letters from people, almost all with no publishing experience, who want to work in that way. I believe that at least one book has been published that suggests that just about anyone can make money reading manuscripts at home. Unfortunately, this isn't true.
See the Glossary from my CIG to Publishing Children's Books for a more comprehensive list.
26) Just what is a "multiple submission"?
A multiple or simultaneous submission is a manuscript that an author submits to two or more publishers at the same time. Given the slow response times in the industry, this is an understandable strategy but one that should not become a substitute for carefully choosing publishers ("multiple" once meant sending more than one manuscript in one package, but that's not the usual meaning. Check context if it's not clear). Send a manuscript to three publishers whose catalogues you've read, yes: do not send it out to twenty publishers chosen at random from a writing guide. If after a reasonable length of time you have not heard from one of them, write and tell them that you will be submitting the ms. elsewhere and whether or not you wish for them to continue considering it. An "exclusive submission," on the other hand, is a manuscript that is sent exclusively to one publisher. You also might want to read Multiple Submissions: Why, Why Not, and How for more on this issue.
27) I've heard the term "unsolicited manuscript" used a lot when talking about sending materials to publishers. Could you explain what it means?
Unsolicited means just that. It may sound like it has a special meaning, but it's just what the dictionary says; something (in this case a manuscript) that hasn't been asked for. If an editor knows someone and wants to see their manuscript, then it's been asked for -- it's a solicited or requested manuscript. Whether a publisher is closed or open to unsolicited manuscripts is thus crucially important to writers just getting started. Read through the new version I recently put up of Getting Out of the Slush Pile and you'll see the consequences of the distinction.
28) What makes a publisher an "imprint?" From context, it seems that this indicates a smaller publisher working under a larger publisher. Is there anything special to know in dealing with imprints?
An imprint is simply the group of people working together to publish a particular line of books, and is called that after the logo that appears on a title page. Large publishers may indeed have several imprints, each being a separate operation, at least editorially, though they may all be marketed and distributed together. Some were once independent publishers, as Scribner's used to be at Macmillan (now Simon & Schuster), others are new lines started within an existing company. In some cases, an imprint is a publisher. You can treat imprints at a large publisher as separate companies for submission purposes, in most cases. However, do not assume that all the imprints at one publisher have the same submission guidelines, and do not make multiple submissions to imprints of one publisher. Choose the one you think best suited to your ms.; only if they turn you down should you submit to another imprint.
29) What's the difference between a "synopsis" and an "outline"? I see both requested by publishers as part of queries for fiction.
Writers are often asked to submit a few chapters of a manuscript with a query letter, and to include some kind of summary as well. The form that takes can be a "synopsis," which to me means a narrative, condensed version of the story, or an "outline," which takes me back to junior high and the structured outlines we were supposed to do for essays, with the most important topics labeled "I," "II," and "III," the sub-topics for each indented one space and labeled "A," "B," and "C," and so on. The outline form can work for nonfiction submissions, I think, but does not do justice to fiction. Anatomy of a Synopsis may help.
30) "Reading level" and "readability" seem to be important, but are there any guidelines for evaluating the age appropriateness of a manuscript (in terms of vocabulary, grammar, etc.)? I've yet to find a consistent means of categorizing reading level from one publisher to another, yet I imagine that anyone involved in children's publishing must evaluate a book's readability.
You're absolutely right that publishers do not seem consistent with age levels for different kinds of books, and the reason is simple. If you are not doing educational publishing, whether a book has 4th or 5th grade vocabulary (for example) simply is not important. Editors in trade publishing do evaluate readability, but usually not by use of a formula or word list; having read hundreds or thousands of books and manuscripts across many age and interest levels, they do have considerable experience in making an evaluation like this.
If you want to check reading level of a text, there are formulas for doing so. There is a fairly simple one called (I think) the Frye, which takes into account average word and sentence length and gives you a grade level. I remember learning about it when I was doing my education degree--try asking a reading teacher.
31) What would be considered a "midlist" title? And are they on the way out in the current business climate?
"Midlist" is any book that is not a bestseller but not a disaster--a steady but unspectacular seller. By definition all publishers have midlist authors, since even a list that is intended to be packed with heavy sellers will have some books that do better than others. But the term, as you perceived, can be used in a pejorative sense. Until recently, midlist books were a reliable source of income for publishers, as they would sell year after year to libraries. In today's climate, with libraries a smaller slice of the market, some publishers are trying to reduce the number of midlist authors they publish. I wouldn't say they are on the way out, though, since there are other publishers who see the value of such an author. Different publishers adopt different strategies, after all. For more on this, see The Current Climate for Children's Books.If you don't find an answer to your question here, in my blog, after doing a site search, or browsing my articles, feel free to email me. I add to this file as questions come in.
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Last modified 2/27/2016.
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