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The How-Do-I-Get-It-Published Quiz

Copyright © 1994, 1996, and 2010 by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and Lisa Rowe Fraustino

Because the same questions came up again and again at the conferences we organize for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, we created the HDIGIP Quiz handout as a fun way for writers and illustrators to find out what they know and what they need to know about getting published. Now it's even more fun hyperlinked! For information about us or if you wish to use this as a handout at a conference, please refer to our Information Page.

Begin at number 1. Choose the best answer. Follow the directions, and jump from question to answer and back again. Relax and enjoy.

Hint--be sure to read the wrong answers too....
Hint #2--the links won't work properly until the whole file is downloaded. Wait for your browser to finish.

1. I have read my picture book to my kindergarten class, my grandchildren, and my neighbor's children. They love it! How do I get it published?

_____Send it to all the children's book publishing houses listed in Writers Market or Literary Marketplace, along with a cover letter stating how much the children love the story. Go to No. 29.

_____Don't send it anywhere yet. Jump to No. 18.

2. Wrong answer. See 26.

3. I'm sooo depressed, I even chewed all the ears off my kids' Easter bunnies (and now I'm picking hare from between my teeth). My middle grade novel has been rejected by 13 major publishers. I should line the bunny cage with my manuscript. Right?

_____Right. First call the SPCA, then go to 32.

_____Wrong. Go to 17.

4. Politically incorrect... but it has been alleged by anonymous sources close to the Pentagon that the reason editors want multiple submissions labeled as such is so that they can put them at the bottom of the slush pile or the top of the cheap-photocopy-rejection-slip pile. If this is true (and we cannot say that it is), it would probably be because multiple submissions tend to be badly targeted. Do not multiply submit as a substitute for market research. Jump to number 3.

5. An adorable story entitled "Billy Bunny's Bad Day" came flowing out of me completely in rhyme! How do I get it published?

_____Take a look
at a rhyming book.
Find the publisher
and send to him or her.

(When you send it,
don't bend it.
Don't hesitate,
go to 38.)

_____I know well,
most rhyme don't sell.

(For number 35
you should strive.)

6. I'm SOOO excited! I just finished writing my first children's story, "The Kitten That Roared," which I want to be a picture book, but I wouldn't mind if it got in a magazine first. It is a total of approximately 2,578 words long. (Do a, an, and the count as words?) It's a true story that really happened. Where should I send it?

_____It's easier to break into magazines, so send it to Highlights for Children. Go to approximately 36.

_____Try the publisher of your favorite picture book of approximately 2,578 words. Go to 25.

7. If only I knew the hot topics and trends in children's books, I'm sure I could write a best seller, or at least a book that would sell.

_____True. Go to 11.

_____False. Go to 34.

8. Shame on you! Few writers/illustrators have the luxury of working full-time at their craft. They juggle paying jobs, parenting and other responsibilities. Bruce Degen, an artist and author, has said that it takes about ten years of consistent book sales before you can quit the day job. John Gardner said that the craft can be pursued full-time--if you have someone else to support you. Try 20.

9. This is the politically correct answer. Send multiple submissions only to those houses that say they read them, provided you 'fess up in the cover letter. But inquiring minds want to know what's at 4.

10. Wrong. See 21.

(However, a cover letter isn't necessary with magazine submissions by unpublished authors who have no pertinent information to relay.)

11. You get the gong this time. Once a trend or hot topic has been identified as such, it's too late for a newcomer to jump on it. Besides, a new writer has better chances of breaking in with something that isn't being done all over the place, something fresh, new, irresistibly original. Publishable writing usually comes from the desire to tell a particular story, not from the desire to get published. We desire you to go to 23.

12. That's right. Editors don't take the time to suggest specific changes to manuscripts unless they (or their authors, at least) have clear publication potential. You should feel encouraged; you're making it to the top of the slush pile! Turn to 27.

13. Are cover letters necessary--do editors even read them?

_____Yes. Go to 21.

_____No. Go to 10.

14. Editors expect to schmooze and be schmoozed at conferences, but be careful how you go about it: first impressions do count. One editor we interviewed said he likes meeting people, as long as he doesn't have to meet all of their characters at the same time. Introducing yourself, "I've written a story about _______, and it goes like this, only better:_________________________________

is a bad idea. It's difficult for the editor to respond adequately on the spot, and it's also difficult to forget that uncomfortable spot when faced later with the actual manuscript.

Form rejections are frustrating, that's for sure. But, as disagreeable as it may be to admit, form rejections may be telling you something very specific about your writing: it simply isn't good enough to compete at a professional level--yet. To find out how you can improve, go on to number 31.

15. I think the editor has hibernated with my teddy bear story. He's had it for a year! Enough already! I've decided to send the story out to the 10 editors I think would be most interested in publishing it. But should I tell them it's a multiple submission?

_____Yes. Go to 9.

_____No. Go to 4.

16. Do I need an agent to get published?

_____Yes. Go to 2.

_____No. Go to 26.

17. Right, it may be wrong to line the bunny cage with your manuscript. Aren't you glad Dr. Seuss and Katherine Paterson and the likes didn't do that before the publishing world wised up? If you've worked long and hard at your writing, you've done your market research, and you feel strongly that your book is publishable--especially if it's getting personal rejections rather than form letters--then send it out to 13 more publishers.

However, if some of the editors have suggested revisions that you agree will improve the book, do rewrite before you send the manuscript back out. In fact, provided that the changes are significant and the editors encouraged you to send more work, you should send the revision back to the same editors (one at a time) who offered the suggestions you used. Even if they don't buy that book, they'll see you're a serious professional who can take criticism constructively, and your next book might be it. If you haven't seen 32 yet, do before you hop to 40.

18. Good answer!

You're already ahead of many people. Before you send any picture book manuscript to a publisher, ask yourself some hard questions:

Even the most beautifully written "slight" stories are being rejected in today's tightening picture book market, where books go out of print faster than you can say "remaindered." Hop to number 15.

19. In some publishing houses, the slush pile may contain 8,000 or more unsolicited manuscripts per year. What's the trick to making sure that my novel really gets read?

_____Turn page 52 upside down. Go to 41.

_____It's as easy as fitting a camel through the eye of a needle. Go to 24.

20. That's as close to a right answer as you'll find in your over-committed life. At least dust bunnies are quiet, even if they do tend to multiply as quickly as the real thing. But seriously, the point is to prioritize. The dust will keep coming back, but the story or drawing idea might not....

Sometimes writers/artists feel guilty for taking the time they need to develop--especially when there aren't any bylines or royalties to show for those endless hours of effort (and to pay for the SASEs). Families, friends, and even the new writers or artists themselves are often under the misconception that the contract should come quick because children's books are simple enough for anyone to do. Nobody says, "Gee, I could do taxes better than what I see them hawking at H&R Block anymore. This weekend I'm gonna become an accountant." Obviously, it takes years of study and training before a new accountant will be accepted into the profession--and the same goes for becoming a children's book author or illustrator. If you're serious about this career, you simply must find, make, take the time. Learn to say no to people, places, and things that usurp the time you could be using to begin/middle/end that story or picture. Go on to 8 and 37 for additional advice. If you've already read them, skip to 42.

21. You're right. A good cover letter is a necessary part of a complete, professional marketing presentation, and an editor will read it, as long as it doesn't begin with the likes of the following:

In such cases, the editor might read the cover letter just for fun but won't exactly feel compelled to read the manuscript.

A good cover letter is concise and useful--so useful that an editor who falls in love with your book can use it as a tool to help pitch your book to others in-house who must approve the acquisition. Don't try to retell your story in the cover letter, but many professional authors do include a brief hook into the story--an attention grabber such as the blurbs found in book club circulars. State the title, genre, and length of the work. If you have met the editor or are responding to a specific invitation to submit your work, say so. List any relevant publishing or professional credits (but don't mention it if you lack any). Read 10, then go on to 44.

22. My friends and relatives and my son's Sunday School teacher (who should know!) tell me my stories are better than most of the trash being published, but I have enough form rejections to put Charmin out of business. How am I ever going to break in if nobody will tell me how to fix my stories?

_____Corner an editor at your next conference. Go to 14.

_____Find a critique group, writing class, or other source of professional criticism. Go to 31.

23. My neighbor's daughter-in-law's cousin is an artist, and we want to collaborate on a picture book. Shouldn't it be easier for me to find a publisher since I already have the artist?

_____Yes. Go to 28.

_____No. Go to 33.

24. Sad, but true. Editors say that less than 5% (400 out of 8,000) of all those submissions are worth serious consideration. The really good writers give themselves away on page one, so that tells you how far most of the other 95% get read. Of those 400 consideration-worthy manuscripts, the publisher may be able to find room on the list for one or two. So the real trick to getting your manuscript read is to write a book that's publishable. After that it's just a matter of time before your masterpiece winds up in the hands of one of the less than 5% of all editors who will fall in love with it. Now go to 22.

25. Why not...if you can find a publisher of a picture book of approximately 2,578 words. If this answer is Jabberwocky to you, you'd better go back to 18. If not, flip to 13.

26. You're right. Any book that an agent can sell, the author can sell. However, some publishers do claim that they don't read unagented material, and you won't be able to sell your work there--unless you're creative enough to bend the rule. Now to 7.

27. I have a great idea for a book, but I have no time to write or draw. Where or how do I find the time?

_____When you retire from your day job. Go to 8.

_____Let dust bunnies collect under the furniture. Go to 20.

_____Stop taking this quiz right this minute and go write one page or sketch something. Go to 37.

28. Sorry. And it's a good thing you're taking this quiz. Asking this sort of question in a group of professional writers may tag you as an amateur. Here's the way it usually works: First you write the story. Before you label it as a picture book or a magazine story or an easy reader or a chapter of a novel, just write it. Let the story be what it has to be. When you're done and have revised until your eyes are crossed, look at your manuscript closely to determine its most suitable genre or market.

Publishers receive thousands of "picture books" that aren't, really. Try making your book into a "dummy" to see if there are enough page breaks with enough various illustrations for a 32-page picture book. Then, revise some more and research the market. When you have found a publisher of works with a similar flavor, send them your manuscript, without any page breaks or illustrations (unless, of course, you're an author-illustrator). If the publisher wants your book, the editor and art director will carefully select the best possible illustrator they can; oftentimes, a new writer's manuscript will be given to a "known" artist to help ensure positive review attention and boost sales. But at this point you might suggest that your editor take a look at your neighbor's daughter-in-law's cousin's portfolio. Who knows where that will lead? Go to 19.

29. Wrong answer. Children usually DO love being read to by an enthusiastic adult or being given an author's pre-published story to read. That's coo-ull! Praise from kids doesn't necessarily indicate that your manuscript is publishable. It's the editor's job to know what has kid-appeal and what her particular house can market successfully, and she doesn't need you to tell her how much kids love your book--even if it's true and your book is destined to best-sellerdom. Too many amateurs make such claims for them to mean anything to the slush pile reader.

Send the manuscript out only after your critical literary sense and your research of the market both suggest that the manuscript is good enough to warrant a publisher's investment. Keep in mind that a picture book costs the publisher $30,000 or more to produce. Is your story really worth it?

Don't send your manuscripts out to just any publisher; you'll be wasting your paper, postage, and time. Target submissions selectively to publishers who are actively seeking the sort of work you do. To find these publishers, rely only in part on market listings such as the SCBWI survey; also scrutinize publishers' catalogues, guidelines, recent books, and reviews to get a real feel for the tastes behind the lists of individual houses. Go back and try number 1 again.

30. Good choice. At 39 you'll find out why.

31. That's right! Look for any and all opportunities to receive--and learn to give--professional criticism. As a bonus, you'll make friends with common interests. Find a critique group or start one of your own. Enroll in a writing class (for the price of a SASE, the SCBWI national office can provide members with a list of institutions across the country that offer children's writing classes). Find conferences that offer manuscript critique services. Read as much as you can. In fact, read number 5 right now.

32. You may be right, especially if the manuscript came back each time with the infamous form rejection slip. All writers have produced bunny-cage lining, especially in early drafts. Is it possible that you are sending your work out before it's ready to compete with the work of other aspiring authors who have labored over 5 or 10 or 15 drafts--to say nothing of the seasoned pros? How does your book really compare with those being published today? For a publisher to risk taking on a new writer nowadays, he has to expect good reviews from major outlets such as BOOKLIST, HORN BOOK, and SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL. It's a good idea to study some well-reviewed new releases and honestly assess how your work rates in comparison.

Then again, you may be wrong, in which case it's the rejection letters you should use to line the bunny cage. See 17 and then hop to 40.

33. Good for you! But go back and read 28 anyhow.

34. You got it. News at 11.

35. Outta sight, you got it right! Rhyme is difficult to sell because it's difficult to write well--even more difficult than publishable prose. Editors say they're inundated with bad verse--poetry with forced rhymes, disfigured grammar, and singsongy meter, usually bopping along to an asinine storyline. Rhyming text still has to tell a strong story, and if the poetry doesn't scan, it isn't going to sell.

Get your kicks on question 6.

36. Egads, no! A little market research will show that "The Kitten That Roared" has too many words (including a, an, and the) for most magazines, especially given the age of the likely readership.

However, many of the "picture book" manuscripts submitted to publishers would be better suited to magazines because the writing lacks the poetic and illustrative qualities necessary for an expensive picture book that parents won't be bored reading out loud over and over again. It can be easier to break into magazines than books, and publishing credits with top magazines can present a favorable impression to some book editors. This is not to say that the standards of magazines are low; there's stiff competition at quality magazines. You should never send to a magazine without first having read its writer's guidelines and several back issues. Go back to 6.

37. This answer is half-correct. (We really want you to finish the quiz, though.) One trick that works for many writers is to assign yourself a number of pages to complete each day, come hell or high water or other cliche. Think about it: if you write three pages a day for 40 days, you'll have a flood. No, a first draft of a novel. This works well if a friend or two give themselves the same assignment and you set a deadline to exchange manuscripts for critique. Now, make us happy and read 20 and 8 before you go on to 42.

38. Wanna improve your life?

Go to 35.

39. Nope. This is another one of those things that label beginning writers as amateurs. Only those who can pass as professionals get published, and the pros know to let their stories stand alone so that the artist's fecund imagination will remain uncramped and dream up pictures beyond a writer's wildest dreams.

But how else will the artist know to make the characters look like my three beautiful children?
You're confusing picture books with your photo albums.

But what if the illustration is a visual pun on the words, or it depends on some trick that's not mentioned in the text?
Okay, that's an exception. You won't be cramping the illustrator's style by giving some art direction. But keep this sort of thing short and infrequent.

But what if the story is about anthracite coal mines or the geography of New Zealand--shouldn't I explain all the details in the margins, at least?
A good artist will do her own research for the job. But you can certainly discuss your concerns with the editor after he accepts the book, and you can negotiate to see the dummy or rough sketches to check for technical accuracy.

You're halfway through the quiz now. Move on over to number 16.

40. Hurray! I finally got a personalized rejection. The editor has even suggested some changes. What do I do next?

_____Write the revision and mail it back to the same editor. Go to 12.

_____Call an agent. Go to 43.

41. Bad idea. If your average slush-pile reader gets this far, she'll leave page 52 the way she found it and skip immediately to page 127, where she will "accidentally" spill her Orange Crush. Try 19 again.

42. I've written a picture book. Should I indicate the page breaks and insert directions for the illustrator?

_____Yes. Go to 39.

_____No. Go to 30.

43. Reject this answer. A personalized rejection doesn't indicate that the manuscript is publishable, and agents only take on works they're pretty sure of selling. Most agents only take on new clients who already have a publishing history. Besides, you don't need an agent to sell your work. Now try number 12 to see what your personalized rejection does indicate.

44. Congratulations! Now you know how to get it published. Go do it.

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