This fun-loving January illustration was sent in by Claire Lordon. Claire earned her BFA in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. She is an illustrator and designer living in Brooklyn, New York and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She was recently named a semi-finalist for the Tomie dePaola Award.
GETTING STARTED TIPS FOR WRITERS OF FICTION AND NONFICTION
Take advantage of any opportunities to join a local writers’ group geared to the kind of writing you are doing. This is a chance to get some honest feedback from people who are considering your work, not considering you as a friend or relative.
Use amazon.com as a searchable database to find recent books in the same genre, on the same subject, or similar in some way. Look to see what the reviews say: what did they like, what were weak points? What do you have to offer that is different?
When you find some publishers that might be a good fit for your manuscript, visit their websites and carefully peruse their book listings. Is your manuscript really a good fit? (Even small publisher can get twenty manuscripts a week in the mail that are completely outside their scope—the authors have not done their homework!) Buy a current copy of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (so that the information will be up to date). This book has lots of excellent advice on query letters, manuscript submissions, contracts, etc. And it lists all the children’s book publishers in the U.S., tells what they are looking for, how to submit materials, where to send it all, etc. Most publishers post “editorial guidelines” or “submission guidelines” on their website telling you how to approach them with a manuscript or a proposal. Some have detailed manuscript preparation requirements. Some will only look at manuscripts submitted by an agent.
Use the advice in Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market to write a clear, crisp, engaging query letter or letter introducing your manuscript. Tell them why your story is a good one, and why there is a market for it (you’ve done your research, right?).
The style bible in the publishing world is The Chicago Manual of Style, a thick compendium of all the rules of grammar, usage, punctuation, bibliography style, indexing, and much, much more. It is different from what is known as AP Style (Associated Press) for newspapers, which is not used for books. A well-prepared, clean manuscript, printed double-spaced is not only easier to read but tells me that the author has taken care with his or her work.
Before submitting read the submission guidelines. Some publishing companies prefer an email submission, others prefer paper sent through the mail. Their guidelines should specify which route you should go. Sending out an email with a big, 20 MB attachment is never the way to go, unless the publisher has asked you to do this.
A good book to read is Thinking Like Your Editor by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato (W. W. Norton), $16.95 paperback. The subtitle is “How to write great serious nonfiction—and get it published,” but a lot of the material in the book could be helpful to fiction-writers, too. The book will help you organize your thoughts about your manuscript. Is it actually doing what you had hoped it would do? Is there really a market for it? How will you sell it to a publishing company, and how will you help market it after publication? The book has excellent advice on preparing a book proposal for an agent or a publisher. It also explains how the publishing business works, so that you will know the best approaches to take.
If you have an offer from a publishing company, get a copy of Kirsch’s Handbook of Publishing Law by Jonathan Kirsch (Acrobat Books), $21.95 paperback. Step-by-step, it explains a publishing contract and all the things you need to consider before you sign one. It is straightforward, not tangled legalese.
Before you sign a contract, it’s also a good idea to email or have a phone conversation with a couple of the publishing house’s recent authors. Are they happy? Has the company done a good job marketing their book? Do they have any complaints or issues that you should consider before signing on?
If you are thinking about self-publishing, work with an organization, which also offers a cooperative marketing program for its authors. A lot of people get caught up in the fact that they can self publish, and they enjoy the whole creative process until it comes time to try to sell the cartons of books stacked in the garage. Before you self-publish, talk with authors who have gone this route.