FAQ for New Writers
How do I find a publisher?
The various market guides list all the publishers who deal with children's books. Make sure you only approach those who publish the type of book you write - you can find this out by browsing in your local library and bookshops and by requesting publisher's catalogues.
Help! Nearly all the publishers say 'no unsolicited manuscripts'. What can I do?
The 'don't read unsolicited manuscripts' thing is a nuisance but there are still some publishers who will look at them (especially the smaller ones). I also suspect some are more off-putting on their websites than they are in the Children's Writers' and Artists Yearbook. It would be worth looking at a copy to check.
One way round the problem is to send an enquiry letter, with a synopsis and opening text (first chapter), asking if they would like to see the book. If they say 'yes', then the manuscript you send in isn't unsolicited.
Another solution is to go to conferences where you can meet editors (the SCBWI writers day and the Winchester Writers Conference both offer one-to-one appointments). This gives you a chance to show a sample of your work and can lead to an invitation to send it in.
Of course, the real solution is to get an agent, but that can be even harder than getting a publisher. Some people find it helps to use a critique service like Hilary Johnson's or Cornerstones as they sometimes pass promising work onto agents.
Which do I do first - find the publisher or write the book?
That depends what you are writing. For non-fiction, you send a synopsis and sample material to publishers before you write the book. For fiction, you write the book first and then sell it.
Can I send my book to more than one publisher at a time?
The traditional system has always been to submit to one publisher at a time but, as some of them are taking as long as a year to reply, multiple submissions now make sense and are recommended by the Society of Authors.
How do I find an illustrator?
You don't have to. If a publisher likes your book, they will find a suitable illustrator for it. It's not a good idea to get your Auntie Muriel to do the pictures for you unless she is a professional artist.
Do I have to have an agent?
No. It can be harder to find an agent than it is to find a publisher, especially if you haven't had anything published. Many writers sell their first book themselves and quite a few continue to work without an agent.
How do I present a manuscript?
Type it double spaced on A4 paper (one side of the paper only) with wide margins. Number the pages and put your name and the name of your book on each one. If you need to include ideas for pictures, make sure it is easy to tell which words are text and which are not. (I use italics for comments about artwork but this is not the only way to do it.)
How do I submit a manuscript?
Send it with a brief covering letter to a named editor. You can find out the name by phoning the publisher and asking. For a long book, it is best to only send the first three chapters and a synopsis with an offer to send the rest if they are interested. Use a big enough envelope so you don't have to fold it and include a SAE for its return. Then get on with writing something else - it will be a long time before you hear anything.
What happens if they want to publish my book?
They will make you an offer - usually a percentage royalty on each copy sold with a chunk of money paid up front as a non-returnable advance. (You don't get paid any more until the book has earned that amount of money.) Some publishers, especially educational ones, offer a flat fee instead of royalties. This is usually acceptable if your story is going to be part of an anthology but you can try asking for royalties instead if you have written the whole book. Once you've been made an offer, you are allowed to join the Society of Authors who can vet the final contract for you (a very useful service if you haven't got an agent).
A publisher says my book is wonderful but they can only afford to
publish if I pay them. What should I do?
Run. If your book is that good, you'll find someone who'll risk their own money to produce it.
I am thinking of self-publishing my book. Is this a good idea?
E-books have transformed self-publishing, making it easy for authors to cut out the publisher completely and sell direct to readers via online bookstores and marketing. Print self publishing is trickier and more expensive so it's a more risky venture. Either way, you won't succeed unless your book is as good as possible, so approach self-publishing in a professional manner and invest in the support of an editor to make sure your text is a good as possible. And once the book is created, you still need to market it - a difficult task which consumes writing time and costs more money.
Please think very carefully before you go down this route and be careful who you pay to help you. There are companies out there that prey on unpublished authors and don't provide what you think you're paying for. The Writer Beware website has useful advice on spotting scams.
Can you recommend a good book on writing for children?
There are several on the market. You'll find some reviews to help you choose on our bookshelf page.
© Diana Kimpton