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Manuscript Submissions
Questions and Answers

The Purple Crayon Blog July 2008
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These questions, and my answers, are gleaned from questions I received. I receive many questions about submissions, and have chosen these because they represent common concerns. There also are links to relevant articles elsewhere in the site, and you will find more questions about submissions in various blog entries, particularly the one from December 2005.

Finding a Good Strategy

Question: Apparently I have made a couple of beginner mistakes, such as being an unpublished author trying to break into a big company and doing direct submission queries. Not because I thought that was the payoff but because I figured larger house = more opportunity.

So now that I know I was doing wrong, here is my question. I did not find the answer within your site. I understand, start at the bottom. However my question is: having many manuscripts, which should I select for a beginning level less distributed publisher. What I consider to be one of my best, to try to get noticed? Or try for a decent manuscript and hope that being published helps get my stronger manuscripts published at a larger house?

Answer: Thanks for your question. I don't think you can assume that you have a number of immediately publishable manuscripts on hand, unfortunately. If you do, you're extremely unusual, and almost any strategy you try will succeed.

If you're like most people getting started, most of the manuscripts you've written will not get anywhere. The market is more competitive than you might think. Writing those manuscripts was not a waste of your time, of course. Everyone has to write apprenticeship pieces, and perhaps many of them, to gain experience and skill as a writer.

So I'd suggest that you choose the manuscript that you feel is the strongest, and submit it to a house that seems like a good match. Or to a few houses.

Editor's Name or Submissions Coordinator?

Question: I have another quick question. When submitting to publishers is it okay to send the manuscript directly to the editor listed in the Children's Writers and Illustrator's Market or should one play it safe -- editors change -- and send it to the Submissions Coordinator? I wouldn't want to have to keep calling the companies to see who the current editor in charge of the children's division is. Sometimes I ask for submissions guidelines but not all the time. Thanks so much for your help on this.

Answer: If their name is in CWIM, and you've been keeping it up to date by following my Who's Moving Where page and other resources, I'd say it's fine to use the name. You should also read my article on Editor's Names on Manuscript Submissions.

Leaving out the Imprint or Division

Question: Thank you for the wealth of information you've provided on your web site. It has been so helpful. I had a question about submissions. I send my first PB manuscript to [a large publisher] this last week. It occurred to me two days later that I addressed it to the company without any indication on the envelope or cover letter that the manuscript was for the "young readers' division." My cover letter stated it was a fictional picture book manuscript, but I'm concerned since I did not make it clear on the address label. I know it's difficult to even get past the slush pile, but with this type of error, will it even make it into the PB slush pile or will they discard it because this was not clear?

Answer: While different companies have different practices, the most common one at large ones is for someone to be responsible for opening mail that is not clearly directed to a person or imprint, and then deciding where it should go.

I wouldn't count on that happening, though. If I were you I'd resend the manuscript, addressed to a specific children's imprint (not just "young reader's division"--that may be an umbrella group).

What to Do about Closed Doors

Question: I haven't submitted a manuscript for about a year now and am noticing that many of the bigger publishing companies like Putnam, Dial, Hyperion, are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts and suggest getting an agent. My question is, should I attempt to get an agent or try and send to the smaller publishing companies?

Answer: Both of those approaches can work. You'll have to decide which you think is best for you, or you can even submit simultaneously to agents and publishers. Keep in mind that finding the right agent can be even more difficult than finding a publisher. It becomes easier once you are published if you are a novelist, in particular, but many picture book writers or nonfiction writers never have an agent. There are useful articles on agents on my site that may help.

I also said this to someone who wanted to know how to "get a foot in the door": Find a way around the door!
* Go to conferences at which editors are speaking--they often allow submissions from attendees.
* Join the SCBWI and get to know other writers. Network!
* Even if the door is officially closed, send a query anyway.

It may take time, but there are ways to get past or around those closed doors, or to turn your back on them and find the open ones.

Submitting Simultaneously

Question: I was wondering if you could give me some advice about a children's book that I wrote. Is it okay to send the same MS of my book to more than one publisher at a time or... should I send it to only one at a time and wait for a reply each time before mailing out another one to a different publisher?

Answer: You might want to read some of the articles in the Basics section, but to give a short answer to an often-discussed question: yes, it's OK to send out what are called simultaneous submissions, though you shouldn't overdo it and send out 50 at once. and you should make sure that the publishers you send the manuscript to allow simultaneous submissions.

Publishers that Don't Return Rejected Manuscripts

Question: I recently sent a manuscript to [a large publisher] at the beginning of this month. I just received in the mail the self-addressed envelope I included with my submission, and in it was a copy of their submission guidelines. I did follow the guidelines given the information I researched on the internet, however when I submitted I included the self-addressed envelope since I did not find any information stating not to do otherwise. Unfortunately, the number one item on their guideline list (in bold face and and caps) stated, "Please NO NOT include a self-addressed stamped envelope with your submission." Did I blow it by doing so? Is this a rejection? I'm glad it made it to the right department, but now I'm not sure whether this is considered a rejection. Should I move on and submit elsewhere? There is no other information on the letter other than their guidelines.

Answer: Hmm. That seems to be one of the publishers that doesn't respond when they are not interested, and so they don't ask for SASEs. I don't think that's a rejection. My guess is that this is what happened: When the assistant opened the mail, she found the SASE, and took the opportunity to use it to send you the guidelines--correctly surmising that you didn't have them.

So the SASE was made to serve a purpose, rather than just being thrown out.

Submissions after Attending a Conference

Question: I went to my first SCBWI writer’s conference and one of the speakers extended an invitation to the conference members to read their submissions. The publishing house the speaker represents does not accept unsolicited submissions, so I consider it a privilege. Is this a common practice by houses that don’t accept unsolicited submissions? 

I’m working on sending my manuscript to this publisher. Since I don’t know any of the requirements for this house, I’m trying to figure out a polite and professional way to get a hold of their submissions guidelines. I have found an author and independent editor who has been published by them, and I’m trying to set up an interview to address my submissions guidelines questions and to get a feel for the publishing house, as I’m also trying to figure out if my manuscript would interest them. So far, after looking at some of their titles, I think so. Would meeting with this author/editor be regarded as a consultation and, therefore, carry a consultation fee? The author/editor also teaches workshops and classes locally. I thought I would ask about upcoming courses, as well. I would like a critique from her, but would first like to send off this manuscript, before the invitation grows cold. Then, I’d like to build a relationship with this author/editor before sending off my manuscript to be critiqued.

Could you give me some of your thoughts? I am still very much a novice in the writing for children world. Even so, I’d like to be prepared, polite and professional about this interview. Do you know of other, free of charge, ways I could find out the submissions guidelines to a publishing house that doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions?

Answer: Yes, conference speakers do sometimes extend such an invitation. It may not happen at every conference with every editor, but it's not unusual.

Re their guidelines, I don't think you need to go to such lengths to find them out. Even if their doors are closed, their guidelines may be on their web site. If they aren't, I would tend to assume that their guidelines won't be all that different from those of other publishers, because publishers' guidelines, at least those of trade houses, are very similar. See my piece on Manuscript Format, my sample author's guidelines, and the publishers entry in CWIM or a similar market guide and you'll know most of what you need to know.

It may still be worth it to talk to the author. Would that be a consultation? Some people are more generous with their time than others. I'd leave that up to them.

Biographies with Submissions

Question: I have written a story, found a publisher and written my cover letter; however, the publisher wants biographical information on the authors of its books. How much information do they want? Do they want my life story or just where I live, how many children I have, etc.? I have looked both in your book and on your web site as well as other web sites and I can't find any information about this subject.

Answer: One possible reason you haven't found any information about this is that publishers generally don't ask for biographical info. at the submissions stage.

If this ask for it but doesn't say exactly what they want, most likely they're looking for information like what you see on a back flap--a paragraph or two--though it does seem odd to me that they're asking for it as part of a submission. Most publishers send out a questionnaire to their authors after a book is signed up.

So, unless they say otherwise, I would think a short and fairly general bio., no more than half a page long, would be fine at this stage.

Pop-Up Book Submissions

Question: I have designed and written a pop-up book, but am unsure what should be included in the dummy. I am going on the assumption that I need a dummy for such a book. Should each spread contain all of the pop-ups, flaps, text, etc.? Or should I just show a sample of 3 spreads in detail and then a summary of the special features with the text for the others? I know that the publisher hires the illustrator, but I am afraid that the full effect of the pop-ups and other features will get lost with my poor drawing skills. Would it be inappropriate to hire an illustrator for a few of the sample spreads?

Answer: I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it's very difficult to sell a pop-up book direct to a publisher as the author. You might do better to approach packagers of pop-up books (which you find by checking the copyright pages of pop-up books to see who gets credit. Often it's a packager). If you want to approach publishers directly, explain your concept but don't go overboard with the visuals, since the publisher may have their own ideas, which might end up being better than yours. Do not hire an illustrator.

This comment applies generally to books with novelty features (cut-outs, attachments, sound chips, etc.). The publishers who look at submissions don't produce such books themselves. They buy them as a package from large companies such as Intervisual or entrepreneurs like Robert Sabuda.

Submitting a Self-Published Book

Question: I am a self-published book author. Last year I wrote and published a picture book. Many children and adults really like the book. However, being a self-published author, I was unable to use any serious distribution channels in the U.S. At the same time I don’t have the time nor the needed resources to do a larger-scale  marketing campaign for the book. Which brings me to my question: A few people suggested  that I should try selling the rights of the book to a bigger publishers. My research so far hasn’t  resulted in finding even a starting point of how to go about it.

Answer: The basic answer is that you submit the manuscript (not the book, as some publishers are very skeptical of self-published books) to publishers just as if it were a manuscript that had never been published. You could mention that it has been published, but do not make a big deal out of it, unless you've sold thousands of copies. You'll also find basic advice on manuscript submissions on my site. I hope it's helpful.

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