Children's books are all the rage these days. Series such as the Harry Potter books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Series of Unfortunate Events books have already begun making their way to the silver screen after selling millions of copies around the world. Other books are in the process of being transitioned into film, and even more are simply becoming national and international hits with readers of all ages.
With the huge success of so many children's books, perhaps you're thinking that you should try writing one of your own. It's important to keep in mind that just because these books are being written for children, it doesn't make them easy to write. Of course, you shouldn't let this stop you from trying your hand at being a published children's book author. To begin, here are a few things that you should remember to help you along your way.
Contacting Book Publishers
You'll first want to find the right publishing house and look for submission guidelines. This will tell you how to submit the book and what type of manuscripts each publisher is looking for (as well as some information about payment structuring). Use this information to narrow down your choice to companies that generally publish the type of book you've written, and get an idea of which publishers you'd really like to work with.
Send an inquiry directly to a specific editor unless you were given other instructions in the submissions guidelines. Include a synopsis of your story and let them know that you have samples available if they want them; never send a whole manuscript unsolicited (unless instructed to do so in the contact information).
The following sections should appear in a query letter to a publisher:
- Introduction. This paragraph should introduce an editor to your book. You want to intrigue the reader, making them want to know more. If this is a series, do not mention that at this time. Introduce only one book.
- Write a synopsis of the piece you have written. This should be a short summary that includes the plot, main characters, and any unique qualities about this story.
- Tell them a little about you. Let the editor know if you have published previous works. This will show that you are an experienced writer who is ready to move your career to the next level.
If you want to have the book illustrated, mention that in your inquiry. In almost all cases, the publisher that prints your book will find an illustrator, and it is generally considered to be in bad taste for the author to submit illustrations with his initial manuscript. If you have a specific illustrator in mind or have some pictures ready, however, be sure to mention this to the publisher so that they might consider it.
Mail inquiries to several different publishers at the same time (and make sure that you let them know you've submitted other inquiries as well). Be sure to include self-addressed stamped envelopes with each, so that they'll have an easy way to reply to you. It's also important that you make sure that the publishers that you're submitting to accept simultaneous submissions; while most do, there are a few that prefer exclusive submissions. This information will be found in the submission guidelines for each publisher. (If you want to submit to one that doesn't accept simultaneous submissions, submit to them individually and wait for them to reply before you submit to other publishers.)
You may want to get a literary agent to submit your manuscript for you. A literary agent is someone who acts as a third party between the publisher and writer. Instead of submitting a manuscript to the publisher you will send a letter of inquiry to an agent. The process of finding an agent and submitting the query letter is the same with the exception that this is an agent and not a book publisher.
The following is a basic query letter format to a children's book agent:
- Introduction. Tell the agent about the book or books that you have written. If this is a series, let the agent know the approximate number of books that will be written.
- Write a summary about the story. Take this time to outline the plot of the book or display how the plot will play out over the series. It’s important to stress the pitfalls and victories that the hero(es) will endure.
- Outline your qualifications. Tell the agent a little more about your writing background. Make sure to provide links to online publications and provide a list of other published works, especially other children's books.
Be prepared to wait weeks or possibly even months before hearing back from publishers.
How to Submit a Children's Book Manuscript
Before you can be published, you need to have a finished manuscript. Never submit an inquiry to a publisher telling them about something you plan to write; if they accept your idea, they're going to want a copy of the manuscript in their hands within a few weeks.
While all publishers are different, there is a basic manuscript format you want to adhere to. The following is a sample of a format:
- Margins: 1 inch all around
- Paper: 8 ½ x 11 inches in size and 20 pound in weight
- Font: Times New Roman or Courier New size 12
- Spacing: Double
- Justification: Left
- Indents: The first line of each paragraph should be indented.
- Pages: Numbered in the upper right hand corner
- Header: Left side book title and below it the last name of the author
- New Chapter: Start text of each new chapter about a third of the way down the page
As you work, make sure that you treat your readers (your book's target audience) as people. Instead of talking down to them as though they were "just children,” let them know they are important as well. Write the books at their level, but make sure that you respect that level.
Once you've finished your manuscript, you need to find potential publishers. Use an Internet search such as Google to look for “children's book publishers.” Or you can use a specialized reference such as the Writer's Market guides or an equivalent website to search for publishers specifically by name.
If no one buys your manuscript, you can either take the opportunity to make revisions based on any feedback you may have received or you can submit more inquiries to other publishers. Persistence is the key to writing and publishing children's books.