Notes from Salisbury Children’s Writing Seminar

By heather at 10:39 pm on Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Dyan Blacklock, publisher at Omnibus Books, gave a funny & informative chat at the Salisbury Writer’s Festival this past weekend, “Successful Children’s Writing : From Woe to Go.” It was a real eye opener as far as getting to know what goes on in the rest of the industry beyond the illustrating & designing aspect of children’s book publishing.

What stood out was how competitive the industry is. Dyan reviewed manuscripts from the 25 people in the room…and she only noted to one writer out of the bunch that her work was very good, and to keep writing. She didn’t say “we want to publish your book,” she said keep writing. So even the best in a room full of writers wasn’t a sellable manuscript. It is humbling, but a good douse of reality for any aspiring children’s book writer. That being said, Dyan had some great insight into the industry that I thought I would share my notes from the seminar. I would recommend to any children’s book illustrator to attend any children’s writing seminars in their area, as it is a great way to get to know the business.

Before approaching a publisher with your manuscript…

You want to be sure you are sending it to the right publisher, the one most appropriate for your story. Familiarize yourself with the publishers Backlist & Frontlist :

Backlist : The list of a publisher’s previously published titles. Make sure when submitting to a publisher to see what they already are publishing…if they have a book on fishes that join the circus, they most likely won’t want another.

Frontlist : The list of the NEW books a publisher is bringing out in the following 12 months.

Types of Publishers

Trade Publishers : Those that sell through bookstores. Often you will be paid an advance for your work, and paid in royalties after that depending on how the book sells. These are the big players in the children’s book publishing industry, and the quality of these books is often marvelous. The types of stores trade publishers sell through are :

  • 1. Independent Bookstores (”Indies”) : This small part of the market is fast diminishing under the pressure to compete with Chains & Majors who sell their books for less money to the mass market. Independent book stores purchase their books through Reps that approach the book store.
  • 2. Chains : Large book chains, such as Borders, Chapters. They purchase their books through a central buyer. Publishers send their catalogues to these book sellers to try to try to get the Chain to buy their books.
  • 3. Majors : The giants, the department stores and grocery shops. This area is often the life & death of a book. Life in that you can sell thousands of copies to the mass market. The death, in that such a discount has to be put on the book that the royalties the author / illustrator accumulates is much less.

Educational Publishers : Those that sell books to the educational industry. A lot of writers & illustrators begin in educational publishing. Aside from the books being used for educational purposes, the main difference between Educational & Trade publishing is in the contract. Educational publishers often have a flat fee and purchase exclusive rights to your illustrations / manuscript. While this is a good place to start an illustration / writing career in children’s picture books, you often won’t be rewarded past the initial fee. If the story is a success and the rights to the story are purchased by a trade publisher, depending on what is in your contract you may never see a single royalty from that deal. So be sure to read carefully what is being purchased in your contract.

Tips for submitting a manuscript to a publisher

Your Coverletter
Imagine having 15-20 manuscripts to read a day. That is the job of a children’s book publisher, weeding through the mundane to find the extraordinary. Keeping track of hundreds of manuscripts is an essential job, and you can give yourself a brownie point by helping your publisher by making this easy for them in the way you send your manuscript. Your coverletter should be concise & to the point. Be sure to include :

  • Your name
  • Your address
  • Your email address
  • Your phone number
  • Date
  • Dear Sir / Madam or Dear Senior Editor.
  • Title of your story
  • Word count
  • 1-2 sentience synopsis of your story

Your manuscript :

  • Your name & contact information on each page
  • Title of the story
  • Word count
  • Don’t number the pages in your children’s book manuscript. In fact, children’s picture books are not numbered at all! Breaking down your story into pages is the job of the illustrator / designer. They will look at the content of your story, and to break it down based on what will work with the illustrations.

When mailing your manuscript :

  • Package as simply as possible
  • Include a self addressed stamped envelope (SASE) if you wish your manuscript to be returned. Be sure if sending to an overseas publisher that the stamps are from their country.
  • Include a reply card and a SASE if you want to know your manuscript was received.
  • Send to ONE PUBLISHER AT A TIME. Sending the same manuscript to several publishers is called a “multiple submission” and can be very irritating when more than one publisher wants your manuscript. If you really, really, really want to go this route, be sure to note on your coverletter that this is a multiple submission.
  • Lastly & most importantly, don’t send your only copy of your manuscript!

Here are a FEW of the things expressed that are irritating to a busy publisher :

  • “I’ve got more!” or “It’s one in a series!” Eeeeeeee! This scares publishers, if it is good and they respond to your manuscript, THEN say you have more!
  • Avoid suggesting illustrators for your story.
  • Writing about what inspired you.
  • Don’t send via registered post. This requires in some cases a person picking up your manuscript in person, and can be irritating!
  • Don’t package in snazzy folders. Dyan reported that when snazzy folders come in, she gives them to her kids to use for school.
  • Send nothing gimmicky. There’s nothing more disappointing than receiving a big birthday present wrapped in birthday paper with bows & ribbons and finding inside some one’s *#%$@ manuscript!
  • Remember…your kids, holidays, and pets, while they are fascinating & endearing to you… might not be interesting to anyone else. :)
  • “The End.” Enough said!
Filed under: business of illustration

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November 3, 2009 @ 9:34 pm

[…] A very helpful editor over at Omnibus Books gave the advice at a children’s book writing seminar that it is very unusual to receive finished illustrations with a manuscript. She went on to say that it is even discouraged because of the uncomfortable situation that can arise when the story is literary genious and the illustrations are scribble, or the illustrations are masterpieces and the story is dribble! […]

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