How I got published

My story

I had a friend who published a children’s book with Tricycle Press. One day I asked her to lunch to bounce my idea off of her (see previous post). At lunch I handed her a printed powerpoint presentation (this was seven years ago) with the text of my book and some pictures I found on the web that gave an idea of what I was looking for in the illustrations. I asked her if she would read my manuscript and give me feedback.

Originally I imagined that my book would be for adults – that small gift book sitting next to the register at Borders (a girl can dream :)). I tried not to have any expectations at the lunch. I merely hoped she’d fall in love with it and send it to the adult division of her publishing company, Ten Speed Press (ha re. no expectations!). To my great surprise, my friend loved the book and sent it on to her publisher at Tricycle (via Fed Ex to make sure the head of the press had a hard copy on her desk). Within a week I heard back from them saying they were interested in making it into a board book (Yea! Wait, you want to make it a what?)!

It was a real stroke of luck. I knew I was lucky then but I didn’t realize the extent. Now that I’ve learned a bit more about the industry, I consider myself incredibly lucky about not only how I got published but also about what a great fit Tricycle was for me. My books are odd in the sense that they are children’s books but I really wrote them for the parents. Tricycle really “got” my books and they also do something most publishers don’t, they publish books in board book formats for first runs (most board books are only published from books that are classics). But by publishing my books in the board book format, they make perfect gifts for babies and parents! So from what I can tell, you have to have a good idea and a good manuscript but you also need a stroke of luck.

Agents

My experience with an agent was awful but everyone tells me that you need one so here’s what I know.

What I’ve read and what I’ve learned from others since then is that getting an agent is the best route (unless, of course, you have an writer friend who likes your book and sends it to her publisher 😉 . Although agents will always take something from what you’ll get (typically 15% percentage), that’s 15% of something if they get you published! Agents know the industry. They’re the best people to help you figure out what publisher is the best fit for you, give you helpful feedback on your manuscript, and sell your book. Supposedly only something like 2% of manuscripts in the “slush pile” ever get read, so getting your book read is the first step! That’s the job of agents.

All that being said, I had an agent for a little less than a year and she didn’t sell any books for me. I didn’t know when I got my agent (now I feel so darn stupid) that I could opt her out of any proceeds from future books in my series (I was already 4 books into the series, my relationship with my publisher was well established by that point). So not only did she get money from next two books that I came up and sold without her but she also started suggesting lots of different paths for me to take (she later criticized me for not being focused?!). Sadly it was a bad fit but that may have just been a unique case.

Helpful organizations
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is well respected. This is a good place to get contacts and feedback.

Illustrators
I was advised not to get an illustrator for my book before I went to the publisher because publishers like to be involved in that process. That made sense since the illustrations are such a big part of a children’s book. What I did was give the publisher was an idea of what I wanted the illustrations to look like. So I cut and pasted images from the web to mock up some pages with ideas of styles and concepts I wanted to relay.

Target age/target audience
What age group are you targeting? That will really inform the text length and style. Age group categories seem to vary but some examples are 0-3, 3-6 etc. Check Amazon and the back of books to see what age groups they use but publishers want to know this from the start. Figure out what books your book will be similar to and then make yours similar in length, word difficulty, etc.

Peer reviews
Sadly, what I’ve learned is this just because my friends like it, it doesn’t mean publishers will. I’ve had other books that my friends and other writers went wild over but no publisher made an offer on. Basically, publishers have a goal for what they want to publish, they want to make money and seem unwilling to do anything very different than anyone else. They know what they want and what gaps they need to fill, and either you’re going to get very lucky and fit right into their target or not. On this I think it comes down to pure luck (not helpful, eh?).

Market study
Just with any proposal, you need to mock up a formal proposal with a market analysis, target audience, similar books, etc. Just google book proposal format and you should get some good examples.

Helpful link:
Getting out of the slush pile
http://www.underdown.org/slush.htm>

So what to do?
One thing you could do is contact Summer Dawn Laurie. I haven’t worked with Summer but she used to work at Tricycle and now she’s a freelance editor. For a reasonable fee, she’ll review your manuscript and give you edits. She’s been in the field, she knows what sells, and she can give you some good critical feedback.

I’m sorry to say that my editor has begged me not to send her any friends’ manuscripts. She’s so overwhelmed with requests and work as it is, she made me promise I wouldn’t.

So that’s what I’ve put together as my top lessons learned. I really hope this helps and wish you a ton of luck!