I receive a huge number of phone calls and emails from new children's writers, both at Puffin and at The Writers' Advice Centre. The queries raised are usually very easily answered but I fully appreciate that the world of children's publishing can seem like a confusing place.
I have listed my top ten most frequently asked questions along with some answers based on my own experience and places to go for more information.
There is no doubt that, these days, it is better to have an agent than not. However there is no point in having an agent unless they are reputable, and respected by the children’s editors working at the various publishing houses. Most top agents would prefer you to have something published before you approach them, so if you have to handle things alone to start with then so be it. The best time to approach an agent is once you have one or two books under your belt and have a clear idea as to how you would like your writing career to progress. It is not true to say that without an agent you cannot get your first book published, yet without your first book published you cannot get an agent. There are plenty of children’s writers breaking into the business every year without the help of an agent.
You don’t. No-one does. Not exactly. Not even, very often, the publishers themselves. However there are plenty of places you can go to in order to research the market, and the more research you do the better idea you’re going to have as to what is currently in vogue. Publishers’ websites are good sources of information – both for what they are currently publishing and for author guidelines. Other useful websites include:
Plus it is worth looking out for specialist magazines such as Writers’ Forum, Writers’ News, Writing Magazine and Books for Keeps. The Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (updated annually) is also an invaluable tool for the children’s writers, as is my own book How to Write for Children & Get Published.
For a start only send to publishers who state that they accept unsolicited manuscripts. To do anything else is simply a waste of time. Send to the person who deals with unsolicited manuscript, and this can vary from publisher to publisher so it is always a good idea to check with the publisher concerned first. They will sometimes give you a name or, more often, a job title. Titles they may mention will include Children’s Reader, Editorial Assistant and Commissioning Editor, amongst others.
No. Publishing houses are busy places and staff simply do not have the time to spend hours on the phone speaking to new authors. The same goes for a letter or email. It is all too tempting, I’m afraid, to give a negative reply – particularly if you have not sold your idea particularly well.
It it is a longer book (20,000 words plus) sent the first three or four chapters plus a brief synopsis (two pages at most). If it is shorter than this then you may as well send the whole thing.
No. All children’s publishers have ‘banks’ of illustrators and, should your work be accepted, they will match an illustrator of their choice with your text. Indeed, generally, it is best not to approach publishers as a writer/illustrator ‘team’. They may love the text but hate the illustrations, or vice versa, yet reject the whole package as a result. The one exception to this rule is if you are a talented illustrator who can also write (and by this I do mean that your illustrative work has to be up to tip-top professional standards). A good writer/illustrator is a rare commodity and will, hopefully, be snapped up by interested publishers.
No. In the UK you automatically own copyright of your work as soon as it is written down. In the case of ideas I’m afraid they are not subject to copyright procedures but, contrary to popular belief, publishers are not in the habit of stealing ideas. If a publisher does happen to publish a book on the very same subject as the idea that you sent them, chances are it wasn’t a particularly original idea in the first place!
If you haven’t included return postage don’t necessarily expect to get a response at all. And you certainly shouldn’t expect publishers to acknowledge receipt of your work. In general you can expect to wait anything up to three months before hearing anything. Because of this long waiting period it is perfectly acceptable to send out your work to more than one publisher at a time. If you haven’t heard anything after about six months I think you can assume that the publisher isn’t interested.
If your work is good enough then a mainstream, retail publisher will take it on and pay you for the privilege in the form of royalties set against an advance. Publishers who do ask for contributions are known as ‘vanity’ publishers and, unless you have money to throw away, I wouldn’t recommend this course. There are, of course, circumstances where it makes sense to self-publish and, in such circumstances, there are plenty of reputable self-publishing companies to choose from. Visit www.selfpublishingmagazine.co.uk. Digital publishing is another option through sites such as Smashwords and Sleepydog.
Probably not, and this is something which writers have to learn to accept with good grace. For whatever reason, your manuscript did not hit the right spot and publishers are under no obligation to explain or defend their position. If you do get a personal rejection letter take note of any criticism offered and take it on board for future submissions.
This is where organisations such as The Writers’ Advice Centre come in. We will be able to analyse your work and give you a fair and objective opinion as to why it has been turned down and what you can do to put things right. For further visit my profile on Greatvine.