11 Tips for Getting Started in Children's Publishing

If you're new to the world of children's publishing, you might now know where to begin. Here is a list of suggestions and resources that can help make your journey to publication a smooth and swift one.
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  1. Consult a market guideChildren's Writer's & Illustrator's Market offers listings of book publishers and magazine with contact and needs information, as well as a wealth of articles and interviews with writers, illustrators, editors and agents—their insights will inform and inspire you.
  2. Join SCBWIThe Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 12,000 members strong, is an organization for those interested in writing and illustrating for children from the beginner to the professional level. They offer members a slew of information and support through publications, a website, and a host of regional advisors overseeing chapters in almost every state in the U.S. and in several locations around the globe (including France, Japan and Australia). SCBWI puts on a number of conferences, workshops and events on the regional and national level. Visit the SBWI website www.scbwi.org for more information.
  3. Read newslettersNewsletters, such as Children's Book Insider, Children's Writer and the SCBWI Bulletin, offer updates and new information about publishers on a timely basis and are relatively inexpensive. Many local chapters of SCBWI offer regional newsletters as well.
  4. Read trade and review publicationsMagazines like Publishers Weekly (which offers two special issues each year devoted to children's publishing available on newsstands), The Horn Book, Riverbank Review and Booklinks offer news, articles, reviews of newly-published titles and ads featuring upcoming and current releases. Referring to them will help you get a feel for what's happening in children's publishing.
  5. Visit bookstoresIt's not only informative to spend time in bookstores—it's fun, too! Frequently visit the children's section of your local bookstore (whether a chain or an independent) to see the latest from a variety of publishers and the most current issues of children's magazines. Look for books in the genre you're writing or with illustrations similar in style to yours, and spend some time studying them. It's also wise to get to know your local booksellers—they can tell you what's new in the store and provide insight into what kids and adults are buying.
  6. Read, read, read!While your at that bookstore, pick up a few things, or keep a list of which books interest you and check them out of your library. Read and study the latest releases, the award winners and the classics. You'll learn from other writers, get ideas and get a feel for what's being published. Think about what works and doesn't work in a story. Pay attention to how plots are constructed and how characters are developed or the rhythm and pacing of picture book text. It's certainly enjoyable research!
  7. Take advantage of Internet resourcesThere are innumerable sources of information available on the Internet about writing for children (and anything else you could possibly think of). It's also a great resource for getting (and staying) in touch with other writers and illustrators through listservs and e-mail, and can serve as a vehicle for self-promotion. (Visit some authors' and illustators' web pages for ideas.)
  8. Attend conferencesIf time and finances allow, attending a conference is a great way to meet peers and network with professionals in the field of children's publishing. As mentioned above, SCBWI offers conferences in various locations year round (see www.scbwi.org and click on "events" for a full calendar of conferences). General writers' conferences often offer specialized sessions just for those interested in children's writing. Many conferences offer optional manuscript and portfolio critiques as well, giving you a chance for feedback from seasoned professionals.
  9. Network, network, network!Don't work in a vacuum. You can meet other writers and illustrators through a number of the things listed above—SCBWI, conferences, online. Attend local meetings for writers and illustrators whenever you can. Befriend other writers in your area (SCBWI offers members a roster broken down by state)—share guidelines, share subscriptions, be conference buddies and roommates, join a critique group or writing group, exchange information and offer support. Get online—sign on to listservs, post on message boards, visit chatrooms. (America Online offers them. Also, visit author Verla Kay's website, www.verlakay.com, for information on weekly workshops.) Exchange addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses with writers or illustrators you meet at events. And at conferences don't be afraid to talk to people, ask strangers to join you for lunch, approach speakers and introduce yourself, chat in elevators and hallways. Remember, you're not alone.
  10. Perfect your craftDon't submit until your work is its best. It's often been said that a writer should try to write every day. Great manuscripts don't happen overnight—there's time, research and revision involved. As you visit bookstores and study what others have written, really step back and look at your own work and ask yourself—honestly—How does my work measure up? Is it ready for editors to see? If it's not, keep working. You may want to ask a writer's group for constructive comments, or get a professional manuscript critique.
  11. Be patient, learn from rejection and don't give up!Thousands of manuscripts land on editors' desks; thousands of illustration samples line art directors' file drawers. There are so many factors that come into play when evaluating submissions. Keep in mind that you might not hear back from publishers promptly. Persistence and patience are important qualities in writers and illustrators working for publication. Keep at it—it will come. It can take a while, but when you get that first book contract or first assignment, you'll know it was worth the wait.

This article appeared in a previous edition of Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market. Check out the current edition.

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