Wednesday, August 17, 2011

So You've Written a Children's Book...

Now what? First-time writers often contact me after they have finished writing their children's book, mistakenly believing that getting the book illustrated is the next step in the publishing process, and are surprised to find out that there's more work to do before the book is ready to be handed off to an illustrator. First, you have to decide if you want to pursue traditional publishing or self publishing. So, for you new-authors out there, here is your mini-guide to the world of publishing...

Traditional Publishing With traditional publishing, your manuscript is published by a publishing house, such as Randomhouse or Harpercollins. The publisher buys your manuscript (the money varies depending on the rights they buy). You do not hire an illustrator if you go this route. You simply submit your manuscript. The publisher takes care of finding/hiring an illustrator, graphic designer, marketing team, and takes care of getting the text copyrighted in your name.

The Pros: This does not cost you any money. In fact, you get paid for your manuscript.

The Cons: You will not have any say in who the illustrator is or how your manuscript is illustrated. Also, you will have to go through the work of submitting to publishing houses. Also, there is no guarantee that your manuscript will be selected for publishing.

How to do it:
The best way to start submitting your manuscript to traditional publishers is to buy a copy of the current Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Market book. This yearly publication contains the contact information for pretty much all of the publishers in the US, their submission guidelines, and information about what they publish. Some publishers are small and some are large, and by reading the information, you can get an idea as to which publishers might be a good fit for your book. Then, you mail off your manuscript according to the submission guildlines, and wait for a response.

Self Publishing With self publishing, you basically assume all of the costs and responsibilities of a publisher. You pay to get your manuscript printed and put into book form.

The Pros: You retain complete control over your book. You get to decide who illustrates it and what the pictures look like. You have a hands-on experience through the publishing process.

The Cons: This can be expensive and time consuming, due to the amount of research and hiring involved. You must hire the services of an illustrator and a graphic designer, as well as a printing service. You would need to select a printing house and understand the print guidelines so that your illustrator and designer can work within those specifications.

How to do it:

NOTE: Before anything - RESEARCH YOUR COSTS and TIMELINES. Before you start making commitments to print houses and contacting illustrators and designers, find out how much it is going to cost to hire these people. Many first-time authors are dismayed to find out that it's going to cost a lot of money and time to turn your manuscript into a hardback picture book  On average,it will cost $3000-$10,000 to hire an illustrator, and 3-9 months for your illustrations to be completed, depending on the illustrations needs of your book and depending on the royalties and rights specified in your illustration contract.

Ok, moving on....

1) Decide on what your goals are for your book. Are you just wanting to print about 50 copies to give away as gifts to family for Christmas, or do you want to try and get your book into stores? My Dad wanted copies to give away to friends and family, so he decided to just get it printed at Pip Printing. This did not require him to have to get a copyright or anything official, but it was an inexpensive way to meet his goals for his book. If you are thinking about a wider or more official distribution, you will want to look at a self publishing house.

2) After you decide on a printer, you should find an illustrator and a graphic designer. There are lots of ways to find an illustrator. One of the easiest things to do is to browse the latest PictureBook annual. Download the recent PDF. Each page features a different illustrator (I'm in there as well!) If you see an illustrator that you like, you can contact them (their contact info is on the same page) for their availability and pricing). You can also contact an agency. You can pick out an illustrator that you like, and the agent connects you with them, and tells you the pricing, etc. Another source of talent is Children's Illustrators. You can browse the galleries, select an illustrator that you like, and contact them for pricing. After the illustrator finishes the art, the art will be provided to you, and you can give it to a graphic designer, who may be independent or affiliated with the print house you chose.

3) After the illustrator finishes his/her work, the graphic designer puts the book together into a format that the printer can use. This file is delivered to you.

4) You send the final book to the printer for print, if the designer was independent and not affliated with the print house you chose.

Some self publishing houses help you with marketing. Others do not. With self publishing, you will want to talk to local stores, etc about taking on copies of your book to sell.

Whether you are publishing traditionally or going the self-publishing route, I highly recommend becoming a member of the Sociey of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Members have access to documents about publishing and lists of editors, agencies and other industry contacts. Member can also access the forums, where you will fins answers to questions you didn't even know to ask! You can post you manuscript for critiques before you submit it to a publisher, and also get tips on writing query letters. If you are new to publishing, this organization is a great place to get aquainted with and get perspective on the children's publishing industry before you start making commitments.

Good luck to all!