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Submissions Procedures, Finding a Publisher, Self-Publishing, Income, and Length/Format

The Purple Crayon Blog for November 2004 (first installment)

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Burning Questions about Submissions Procedures and Finding an Appropriate Publisher

I have a couple of burning questions, the answers to which I didn't see on your site. What I've read so far is very helpful, by the way. Anyway, here are my questions:

1. I sent out one query letter and one manuscript (for a middle grade biography) in June and July, as well as an e-mail query (which the publisher requested.) I carefully targeted the publishers, but did not include an SASE. In the meantime, I've added about 4000 words to my book, and greatly improved my cover letter. Should I try these same publishers again or target some new ones? How long should I wait to hear from publishers? One published author told me three months was sufficient before sending it to the next one.

I would not resubmit a manuscript, or a query letter about a manuscript, so soon after it was turned down. (I'd interpret not hearing from a publisher as being turned down.) How long you should wait to hear is up to you. Many publishers do take longer than three months.

2. I was told in an SCBWI workshop that for every publisher I contact, I should send out a 5-25 page “book proposal” with various components (cover letter, outline, sample chapter, etc.) Is this standard procedure?

I would think that most publishers wouldn't take the time to read something that long. This could be good advice for a middle grade biography, for which publishers, if at all interested, may want to see more material right away. Not necessarily true for other kinds of manuscripts, of course. And you should always follow a publisher's guidelines. If all they want is a query letter and an outline, then don't send them a whole proposal package.

3. Actually, I'm running low on finding appropriate publishers for my book – a middle grade biography of 10,000+ words on [deleted]. I've looked through the Children's Writer's/Illustrators Market and would prefer a smaller publisher (as you suggested). I came up with three – Lerner's/Carolrhoda  (not small) which I'm about to send this week, Enslow, and one other whose name escapes me. Any other suggestions?

There aren't many companies publishing biographies. The institutional imprints like Franklin Watts have had to cut back, and some have closed up altogether. Lerner, by the way, though not small, is small compared to the big New York publishers and is family-owned. Other than Marshall Cavendish no other company comes to mind, but you might find others in CWIM. If you are prepared to revise to give your book a more trade feel, you could explore companies like Clarion that do the occasional biography, but you should be sure to do careful research into this market first, as the requirements are quite different.

Latest Links

Quotes on Writing by Charles Ghigna, noted children's poet,

The Importance of Story -- an interview with Phillip Pullman in the Guardian.

Chicago Manual of Style Q&A -- from the official site for CMS 15 (the style guide used in trade publishing).

Self-Publishing a Book for One's Family

I appreciate your valuable information. I'm wondering if you can direct me or provide suggestions. I am looking to write/publish a book specifically for my boys and am not necessarily looking for any monetary gain. Do I need to go through the route of having a publisher select my book competitively among the many sent to them, or is there a more direct route where I can simply have someone complete the illustrations to go with the story and forward it for publishing. (the book is about monster trucks- which I'm sure there is not a big competive calling in the publishing world). As I said, I am simply interested in having this published in hard cover format for the purpose of giving a gift to my children.

If you just want a few copies for friends and family I think your best route is to work locally. Decide if you want to illustrate the story with photographs or art. If art, advertise at local art schools and hire an aspiring young artist. Otherwise it could get expensive! If photographs, since you are creating a book for personal use you could probably get away with using photographs that you find in magazines or on the Internet, but if you make copies of your book understand that that is not really allowed under copyright law.

Put the book together, perhaps with the design help of your young artist. Work with a local printer or copy shop to make a book....

There are other ways to make a book without going through the traditional publishing route, such as print-on-demand publishing, but these forms of "self-publishing," as it's called, may be more involved and expensive than what you want.

For more information, please see my Self-Publishing section.

How to Find Children's Book Publishers

I appreciated your information. I will most likely take some courses on creative writing for kids, however, when it comes time for me to look into publishing, I would like to know who I can contact as far as a publishing company? Could you give me guidance on this?

There are many good children's book publishers. I would have to send you a very long email to list all of them!

For guidance in researching publishers, and specific information about how to submit a manuscript, read the articles on my site. You'll find more information in my book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books.

For publishers' addresses and such, you will need a market guide such as Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, which I have reviewed.

Getting Started as an Author/Ilustrator and Wondering about Income

Dear Mr. Underdown,
Thank you so much for your web site! It's full of very helpful information.
I am much like the person you described. My degree is in Fine Arts, and I teach 4th grade but have no specific writing or illustrating experience (work related). However, my husband and I are aspiring writers and I also want to illustrate. I'm working on 3 stories and doing research on how to become marketable at the same time. So for now, I have these two specific questions for you:
* Should all my [original] illustrations be of the same size? Or, should illustrations that are meant to cover two pages actually be made twice as big as one for a single page? (It seems like an obvious answer, but it never hurts to ask!)

It may be a little early to worry about this. At this point, you should only be sending samples to publishers, not doing a book's worth of completed illustrations. Generally speaking, though, publishers prefer that illustrations be more or less to size. How much more or less varies--but you can't do 6 foot paintings and expect them to reproduce well on a a book page. Blowing up a small illustration can also be tricky. If you get a contract to illustrate a book, you can expect guidelines from a publisher as to how much they are willing to reduce or enlarge an illustration.

* I've heard before it's hard to make a living at this. Out of curiosity, can you give me a ballpark amount that someone in my position might receive?

Yes, it's hard to make a living at this. If you are asking about an advance on a picture book, as a beginner you can expect perhaps $6 to 10 thousand, though smaller publishers might offer less. If the book "earns out," which it may not, you would then earn an additional 5% of list price, or perhaps 80 cents per book sold, at best. Some publishers pay lower royalties.

Good luck!

A Question About Length and Format

First, let me appreciate your Web site and the wonderful material you make available for writers. It has helped me a lot. I have written a few children's stories and published some articles in magazines. One story (not for children) has been published in a book of collected stories. I teach writing and have helped a number of blossoming writers progress. I am also a copy editor.

I have a question which I hope you can help me with. A writer who I have been helping has written a short story for children. I think it's a great story. It has a good hero with obstacles and great scenes, dialogue and secondary characters. It is very creative, and I think kids would love it. The problem is with the length of the story and what a publisher would accept.

It could be a story book or picture book, but it is 2500 words, which is long for a PB. It could also be made into an early chapter book, but these are usually 5000 words. The author wants to submit it to a publisher. I don't feel that there is anything extraneous in the story, and neither does he, which means it would be better not to cut the word count. He is considering adding another 2500 words to make it fit the standard length of a chapter book, which means adding scenes. I feel that the scenes would have to be great to keep the attention of the reader in this story. Perhaps he can do this, but personally, I like the story the way it is.

Could you give me any insight into whether he can submit this story to a publisher the way it is with a chance that the editor will consider it? Should he call it a story book rather than a picture book and say it would be 64 pages with pictures? Or would the story probably be rejected outright because it doesn't fit a prescribed genre?

Thanks so much for your time and help.

Thank you for your kind words.

Without seeing this manuscript, it's hard to give a firm answer. It might be worth sending to a publisher as is, simply because the quality of the writing might be recognized, and an editor might respond personally, resulting in an opportunity to submit other manuscripts in the future. Or, as you suggest, rules can be broken. Long picture books do get published. Short chapter books do get published.

On the other hand, it's also entirely possible that the manuscript will be seen as inappropriate for picture book length or chapter book, and will be rejected out of hand.

I really can't predict what could happen, especially as different publishers might have different reactions. I do have one thought, though. Would this story work in a magazine?

I wish you and your client success in finding a home for it.

This installment is based on emails I sent out in November in response to questions received at The Purple Crayon.

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Copyright 2004 by Harold Underdown. All rights reserved.

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