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The Odds, Pages in a Picture Book Dummy, Book Advances, Article on Trends:
The Purple Crayon Blog January 2007

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Numbers of Manuscripts and the Odds of Getting Noticed

Publishers of children's books often say that they receive "3000 mss a year" or "4000" or whatever. Can you give me a rough estimate of how many of those submissions are picture books, how many are easy readers or early chapter books, how many are chapter books, how many are middle grade, and how many are young adult? I'm sure that it depends on the publisher; I'm just wondering about the average publisher that publishes each or most of these book formats. I am imagining that there are a roughly equal amount of EZ's, early CB's, MG's, and YA's, and then 8 or 10 times as many PB's.

Interesting question! I don't think anyone has statistics available on this, but based on my experiences reading the "slush" at various publishers I would say that you are mostly correct. Picture books do tend to predominate, because they are what beginners turn to. Middle grade novels and nonfiction are the next most common, but in much smaller numbers than the PBs. And other categories have even smaller numbers, unless the publisher is known for their Easy Reader program or the like.

Why are you asking?

Thanks, that helps. I asked because I've been sending out a lot of PB manuscripts, and I'm thinking about shifting my focus to my CB manuscripts where the odds might be better.

Ah. I thought it might be something like that.

I should have mentioned that because beginners turn to picture books, the overall quality tends to be lower. So it may seem like the odds are worse, but in reality they may not be. I have found that people writing chapter books generally reach a higher level of quality.

As a result, I think writers should write what they write best. It's the only way to be sure of standing out....


Pages in a Picture Book--and Doing Books Yourself

I just have a quick question. I'm in the middle of creating (writing/illustrating) a children's book and someone told me all picture books MUST be 32 pages. Before I complete my picture book dummy should I take that information into consideration or make my book as many pages as I please?

MOST picture books are 32 pages. Some, especially those for the very young, are 24 or perhaps 16. Some are 40 or even 48 or 56, though longer books are usually only done by the Maurice Sendaks and those of similar clout--the company has to be confident that they can sell enough copies to absorb the extra cost.

Whatever you do, multiples of 8 are key. A 34-page dummy, which of course has to include the title and copyright page, plus any back matter, may not cause a publisher to reject the book immediately, but it will brand whoever sends it as a novice. To complicate things, the endpapers can be included in the count, or not....

If you do not have Uri Shulevitz's Writing with Pictures you should get it as soon as possible, as it will help you with this issue andothers that may come up.

Wow! You've been a great help! To elaborate my game plan. I have written and created illustrations for my story, however I believe it feels more comfortable with less than 32 pages. My plan was to self publish my title and during selling copies on the internet, I would also in the meantime send these copies to publishers. I know publishers do not like to see the full story, but I never understood why. Wouldn't it be a better interest for them to see a complete story and all the work done already? However, I do not want to seem like a novice, would you consider I push for 32 pages, or include a letter to publishers that I can later add addtional pages?

It's such a akward situation planning out the look of the book because I don't know what publisher will print what size and all that. So I find it more liberating to just make the book myself and send it out when its done. Its strange to me publishers don't mind if you don't have the book finished and worked out, but they really mind if you didn't plan out 32 pages for them? I just don't want to be frowned about and tossed aside because of that. What should I do?

Thank you Mr. Underdown, you have no idea how much I appreciate your help and time. I've read through the 2006 Children's Writer's and Illustrators Market book and other publishing books and websites and I couldn't find answers to these questions. So i assure you I've been trying to do my homework, rathier then annoy nice people!

How many pages fewer than 32? If you have a half-title page, a title page spread, and then a copyright page, you've taken up four pages right there.

Or you could do "self-ends" and subtract 8 pages.

And as I said earlier, 16 or 24 pages are options too.

Publishers do want to see the whole story, but unless you have the experience and design abilities of Maurice Sendak I have to say I don't understand why you want to do all the work on the book up front, without benefiting from the expertise that you will find at a publisher. How many books have you designed and illustrated? The art director at any publisher has designed hundreds. Do you really think that you can do the whole thing yourself better than you could if you drew on the skills of the people at a publisher?

Well, maybe you do, but publishing is an extremely collaborative enterprise, and when it works, better books are the result. So don't be in too much of a hurry with your book. In fact, the less finished it is, the better, because if the publisher offers you a contract you will have more opportunity to draw on the expertise of editor, art director, and others.

As to the size of the book, there ARE certain standard sizes, notably 8 x 10 and 8 x 11, but also 10 x 8 and 11 x 9, or square formats, or narrower formats. If you have a good reason to use an unusual trim size, then you may well be able to persuade a publisher to go with it. But there has to be a good reason. Publishing is a business, and since the standard sizes are less expensive, you need a reason to do something different. Another reason not to do too many finishes.

Good luck, and I'll say it again: Read and learn from the Uri Shulevitz book.


Book Advances: Do They Go Up?

I've been browsing the internet and your site (and last edition of your Idiot's Guide, which I own) for an answer to a question I have about author advances. So far, I haven't found an answer. You'd be welcome to add any information about this question/answer to your website.

I have had one children's nonfiction (activity) book published by a church-sponsored publisher. They have just sent me a contract for a second book. I was astonished to find that they are offering me the same terms as the first contract, and not very good terms at that ($X,000 advance; royalties starting at XX,000 copies, gradually increasing from Y% to Z%).

I expected that a publisher would offer better terms to one of their published authors. Is this a standard practice? I know religious publishers tend to be more stingy than general market, but still I'm surprised. Thanks for any answer you have time to give.

Thanks for your interesting question.

Most publishers, in my experience, base a FIRST contract on how they expect a typical first book of a given type to do, projecting the advance to earn out in a certain length of time, with the terms likely to end up in the same ballpark as those offered by similar publishers.

After that, regardless of publisher, better terms in a second contract are not automatic. If your first book isn't out yet, or hasn't been out for long, then you have no track record to support improved terms. If it has been out for a while, but hasn't sold above expectations, then they have no reason to give you better terms.

Your first book has to have done significantly worse than expected (in which case you might not get a second contract) or significantly better than expected. Otherwise you'll just get the same contract.

You can ask for more, especially if you know that the first book is doing well. But they may not revise their offer.

Once you develop a track record with a publisher, perhaps after 2 or 3 or 4 books have all done well, then you can push for better terms. Of course, the economics of some niches are worse than others, so you may not ever be able to get your publisher to offer terms like those in a trade publisher's contract.

Hope this helps, and good luck!

I'm trying to get an idea from my publisher how well my first book is doing. It's been out just over a year. They seem reluctant to tell me. I thought it would be good information to have as I thought about this second contract. Thanks for confirming that.

It's a little depressing to keep looking ahead to yet another book to realize any significant returns. I did far better writing magazine pieces! But thanks for letting me know what is standard and what can be expected. I always feel like I'm being taken advantage of, but maybe that's not true. Or, maybe we all are!

I hope all is going well for you. Your book has provided me with a lot of good information as I have navigated the book publishing route. Again, many thanks.

If it's any consolation, your publisher is probably not making a huge amount of money from your book either. Activity books have to be inexpensive, but they can't print huge quantities and save on unit costs, since they are marketing to a fairly small audience. So their margin must be pretty tight.


A Great Article on Trends

You may already know about the CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center) at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. If you don't, take some time to check out their other resources after you read this highly informative article by the CCBC staff, an overview of trends in children's publishing, focusing on types of books published. Yes, it's about 2005 but well worth reading if you haven't seen it already, and if it piques your interest, keep your eye open for the 2006 version.

This installment is based on selected emails I sent in August and September in response to questions received at The Purple Crayon.

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Copyright 2007 by Harold Underdown. All rights reserved.

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