Here are some articles we hope you find helpful in your writing or illustrating career. We will add to these occasionally and plan to create an archive of articles on book publishing and creation. Enjoy!

  • Your Real Odds of Getting Published
  • The Book Production Team
  • Honestly!
  • Blocked!
  • Be-ing a Writer
  • From Keyboard to Printed Page

Your Real Odds of Getting Published
by Laura Backes, Children's Book InsiderOpen in New Window

Most beginning writers are curious about their chances of ever seeing their work in print. Editors have told me that a mid- to large-sized publishing house gets upwards of 5000 unsolicited submissions a year. About 95% are rejected right off the bat (most get form letters, a few promising authors get personalized notes stating why the manuscript was rejected). Of the 5% left, some are queries for which the editors request entire manuscripts. Others are manuscripts submitted in their entirety, and these go on to the next stage of the acquisitions process (get passed around the editorial department, presented at editorial meetings, perhaps looked at by sales staff to get a sense of the market for the book). The end result is that 1-2% of unsolicited submissions are actually purchased for publication.

But, you ask, if so few manuscripts are bought from the slush pile, why are so many new books published each year? The unsolicited "slush" comes from authors the editors have never worked with before: new writers and those who don't have agents. Experienced writers and those who have already published with that house make up the rest of the list.

Before you trash your computer and take up knitting, let's put this all in perspective. Most manuscripts are rejected because they're just plain bad. The stories are trite, the characters wooden, the endings predictable. The plots may smack of didacticism or patronize the young reader. Authors who don't understand the basic rules of grammar or who can't send a properly formatted manuscript won't get a close look. Those who submit their work to every publisher listed in Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market instead of taking the time to target publishers appropriate for their work add substantially to the glut of publishers' mail (and the eventual banning of unsolicited submissions by some houses).

If you take the time to learn how to write a strong story with multifaceted characters, your manuscript will rise to the top. If you study the age group for which you want to write, and keep the length and content appropriate for your audience, your work will stand out. If you watch the current market and find a niche you can fill, an editor is more likely to give you careful consideration.

One more point: General fiction is the most competitive genre in any age group of children's books. It's also the most subjective, meaning your manuscript has to appeal to exactly the right editor. If you have any interest in nonfiction and can approach a topic in a unique, entertaining way, you'll be a bigger fish in a much smaller pond. Or, try narrowing your niche so your work stands out from the ocean of fiction: write historical fiction for beginning readers, funny mysteries for middle grades, science fiction for young adults. Stretching your writing beyond general fiction will give you a "hook" and also help you zero in on publishers who want exactly what you've got.


Laura Backus is the editor of the Children's Book Insider. Reprinted with permission from Children's Book Insider, The Newsletter for Children's Authors. For more information about CBI, go to www.write4kids.comOpen in New Window.

The Book Production Team
by Suzanne Morgan Williams

Sometimes we get so focused on writing or illustrating that we forget that it takes a team to produce a book. Sometimes it is a very large team, or sometimes a few people handle all the jobs listed below. One way or another, a book needs a lot of loving care before it hits the shelves. It helps to know something about the journey your creative masterpiece may take, and about the folks who will see it through its journey. That way, when you do sell that manuscript or get the first art assignment, you will be prepared for the folks you will work with along the way:


Editor – chooses book projects and follows them through the publishing process. Responsible for budgets, time tables, and ultimately for profit/loss on his/or her titles.

Copy editor – responsible for line editing, punctuation, typos, some fact checking. Reports to editor.

Fact checker – verifies facts in manuscripts.

Art director – responsible for printed art in books. May recommend artists to editor. Keeps files of artists’ work, can help advance an illustrator in the company. Oversees proofs for design and color/print quality. May set the “look” of a list.

Photo editor/researcher – finds photos, and gets samples to the editor. Editor may be the ultimate decision maker on photos, or photo editor, author, art director may be included. Negotiates permission agreements with photo rights owners for use in a book.

Book designer – Designs size, shape, font, layout, colors in a book. Works with editor and art director.

Special assistants – different houses may have different specialty jobs such as indexing, map creation, etc.

Marketing Director – marketing may be involved in the book from the beginning, helping to choose titles they believe they can sell, weighing in on size or shape of the book, title and cover. The marketing department has to sell the book, so they have a lot to say about its presentation – people DO choose books by their covers.

Sale Representatives – these people report to the marketing department and present the books to buyers in the field. They may have directions to promote certain books, but they can put their favorites in front of buyers too. The books that come out of a sales reps case are the ones that will be bought.

Distributor – A company that doesn’t produce books but does the sales, and distribution, often for small publishers. Also could be a company such as Baker and Taylor, that distributes to booksellers for almost all publishers. This second type of distributor doesn’t actively sell, but maintains warehouses and distributes books. TIP: if you have a book coming out, find out which distributors are handling it. Book store owners ALWAYS ask.

Outside experts - Publishers sometimes hire outside experts to check books or to give their input. Educational companies will pay for curriculum consultants, a historian might be brought in to give input on a historical novel etc.

 

Suzanne Morgan Williams is a Regional Advisor Emerita for SCBWI and author of Bull Rider (Margaret K. McElderry, 2009) and 11 published and upcoming nonfiction children’s books.

Honestly!
an Interview with Yuyi Morales

Note 2008 -Yuyi Morales’ books have won several major awards including the ALA’s Pura Belpré Medal and Pura Belpré honor award for a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth, the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor Award, the Jane Addams, the Christopher award and more. Her latest award is the 2007 Pura Belpré Medal for Los Gatos Black. Yuyi presented at the 2004 Sierra Nevada Regional Conference and she plans to be a mentor in our 2009 Nevada Region Mentor Program. This article was first printed in 2002.


When I met Yuyi Morales two years ago she was waiting for her first illustrations to be published. She is now a successful (and busy) author/illustrator, living in San Francisco.

What is the most important thing you've learned, as an artist and personally, from illustrating children's books?

Faith. When I squeeze inside my workspace every morning, I inhabit a realm where believing in the impossible is required. This movement involves following my first impulses, imposing a great deal of commitment, and even exercising some arrogance. After all, my job description says I am supposed to create a new world, and, at first, all I have in front of me is a piece of paper as blank as my mind.

My first act of faith goes to my hands. They, which don’t have thoughts, reflections, or expectations, merely do what they know. Starting with crooked lines, lose doodles, and bad looking sketches, they find me an entrance to the path.

My second act of faith goes to the humble pencil and eraser. Do I believe that I have forgotten how to draw? No problem. Pencil and eraser retrace, rub out, transform again and again. They look anew and create!

My third act of faith comes just in time to save me from the attack of a universe of possibilities. Should the house in the background be red or blue? Should my main character wear a hat or a coat? I will remain paralyzed for eternity if faith didn’t point out that, at the end, there is not right or wrong decision, only commitment to what one chooses. As long as I stick with my favorite option, I will work on it with such a conviction and passion that you’ll believe it was the only possibility in the world.

My last act of faith goes to my backside and its capacity to keep on the chair in the most despairing moments. This faith allows me to trust that as long as I stay put, even when an illustration seems ruined –my paper looking like a disastrous mass of wrong colors –, one more line, one more layer of paint, or one more detail to place, might spark the moment when I blink my eyes and there, in front of me, on what used to be a blank piece of paper, a new world comes alive.

 

Yuyi Morales was born and raised in Mexico. In 2000, she received the SCBWI Don Freeman Grant for work in the field of illustration. Her first book, TODAS LAS BUENAS MANOS, written in Spanish by Isabel Campoy, came out last summer. HARVESTING HOPE: THE STORY OF CESAR CHAVEZ, written by Kathleen Krull is due out in April 2003. The picture book submitted for the Don Freeman Grant is JUST A MINUTE; (forthcoming 2003). SAND SISTER, written by Amanda White, will be published in 2004. Yuyi is completing her Masters Degree in the Creative Writing Program at SFSU. Visit her website at www.yuyimorales.comOpen in New Window

Blocked
by Jennifer Redmond-Egan

I had to chuckle as I started writing this article, because National Public Radio announced that it was National Procrastination Week. I pondered, “A perfect excuse. Is this appropriate or inappropriate? Should I sit down and give this more thought before I begin writing? No, it’s time to get down to business.”

The following are a few of my time-tested rationalizations against work:

  1. It’s too late in the day to start painting…
  2. It will take too long to set up a paint palette.
  3. My supplies are too messy to work with right now.
  4. All of my pencils need sharpening.
  5. I can’t find my favorite eraser.
  6.  I need to check my e-mail.
  7. There is laundry that needs to be started, not to mention the house…
  8. I’m out of a certain supply. I’d better drive to Reno to purchase it. (I live at Lake Tahoe.)
  9. I need a cup of tea while I mull this idea over, and now that I think about it, I’m sort of hungry too…
  10. I need to locate good reference materials for this project: in books, on the internet, at the library, or best of all for wasting lots of time – I need to set up a photo shoot. (That almost always involves lengthy travel…)
  11. The dogs really need a walk. They’ll never let me get to work.

When I came to my senses, I realized that I did not want all of my creativity to show up only in this list of excuses.

Every artist needs to develop their own process of how they start, nourish, and complete their work. It is a very individual process and it takes time to experiment and see what might work for you. The following are just a few ways that I have found to shake off procrastination and remain un-blocked. Some ideas are my own creations and others have been borrowed from other artists. I am constantly on the lookout for new ideas that excite me to work.


Sketches: Try doing one page per day. They add up quickly. After one month you will have thirty pages. The beauty of this idea is that you can also track your progress as an artist over time. Do not edit these sketches. Just get your ideas down on paper. If you come up with a great idea for a painting, then you will have time to refine the artwork. It’s not bad to look back as long as you’re moving forward. You’ll realize that discipline is not such an awful thing, it can actually turn into fun.

Music: Listen to music that is new or different to you. Sample different time periods than today. Look at covers, too. Set the mood. Music really helps me concentrate, and you can never run out of new CD’s to discover.

Books: Peruse bookstores. (Secondhand stores are great because you generally can’t get sucked in looking at your usual favorite categories. I also enjoy seeing old books next to modern ones.) Look at covers, read jacket flaps, investigate lettering and type design, find your old favorite children’s books. Imagine your photograph on the author flap!

Tidy Up: Always clean up your work area after completing a project so that when you go back to start a new one, you will be prepared and you won’t be tempted to begin a cleaning frenzy. Unruly messes are such a distraction. They suck up valuable time while fooling us into believing that we are doing something important. All of my Illustration instructors in art school emphasized this over and over.

Collaborate: Share a piece of artwork or a sketchbook with another artist friend. Work on a single page but do not finish it. Then hand over the page to your friend and let them finish the piece. You can also hand the piece back and forth several times to work off of each other. This is great, because you never know where the artwork will take you!

Single Word: Ask someone to give you a word or phrase that you can sketch. The word can be absolutely anything. The weirder the better. Then dedicate a single page of sketches to that word. Be very free and unencumbered in your ideas. (My husband chooses words like, “armadillo, margaritas, armada…” Things that I would never dream of drawing in a million years. This exercise leads to a lot of creativity and humor, which I find to be the best reward for being an artist.

Tomorrow is a blank page, draw on it today.

Happy sketching…

 

Jennifer Redmond-Egan is an SCBWI member from Olympic Valley, California. She is a professional artist and illustrator and participated in the 2006 Nevada Mentor Program.

BE — ing a Writer: Twelve Simple Steps
by Laura Read

  1. Believe in yourself. Welcome the fact that you are on the writer’s path. Believe that you can achieve your goals. Acknowledge your successes; note your weaknesses; trust that you are growing, improving, and doing the right thing, and…

  2. Go forth. Always move yourself forward. Think of your hour, your day, your whole life as in perpetual forward movement. You are the propeller. Your suggestions, your self-criticisms, your ideas, your plans must always have a forward thrust. Set goals, keep appointments, stick to schedules. Celebrate even the small steps.

  3. Forge relationships – with writers, with editors, with students, with people whose professions you admire, with people who give you energy.

  4. Nurture creativity. Do everything you can to explore and nurture creativity. Read books, exercise, spend time in the outdoors, study poetry, listen to music, read, read, read, imagine, talk with friends, nap, love deeply, express your love for friends, family, neighborhood, place, and self.

  5. Be a giver. Give gifts of yourself. These gifts can include your undivided attention, your knowledge, your smile. Give inspiration, love, ideas, friendship, joy. Especially, give gifts through your writing. Always think of your writing project as something that is capable of moving the world forward. Even if it’s just a story about hikes, a review of a house, or a round-up of kid activities, it is a gift.

  6. Write as if your life depends on it. Do your best on every piece, whether it be for the local daily or an international glossy. Readers will care about your work as much as you do. Make sure you really care.

  7. Explore the craft. Take classes; teach classes. Learn all that you can. Practice what you learn.

  8. Develop your personal writing voices. A writer’s relationships with his or her personal voices change and grow as she/he does. Make several “excursions” through writing exercises to meet your writer’s voices. Practice letting them speak clearly and truthfully in your work.

  9. Write about topics that are essential to you. If the assignment seems unimportant, either don’t do it, or infuse it with importance, urgency, essentiality the way only you can. Find your passions.

  10. Share what you know. Pass it on.

  11. Celebrate.

  12. Laugh.

 

Laura Read is an SCBWI member and freelance writer and photographer from Tahoe City, California. She is a frequent contributor to the Zephyr.

FROM KEYBOARD TO PRINTED PAGE
FACTS YOU NEED TO KNOW

This excellent article, used with permission, from the International SCBWI's website provides you with what you need to know to prepare a manuscript for submission. To read this article, click hereOpen in New Window.