By Heather Fenton
Much like the adage “you can’t win if you don’t play”, you can’t get published if you don’t send your manuscript to an editor or agent, unless you intend to self-publish.
For the purposes of this post, we’re going to assume that your manuscript is ready to be sent. You’ve finished drafts one through twenty-seven, and this one is really the “final” draft. It’s been read and critiqued by two writing groups, one professional editor, three actual kids, your ever-affirming life partner, and dear Aunt Edna. They all tell you, “Send it out!”
But how? To whom? Where do you start? We could devote an entire blog to this subject alone. For now, we’ll start with the basics for those beginning this process, and we’ll go more in-depth in future posts.
For your manuscript, you should know the genre, the age (and possibly even gender) of your target audience, and whether your story is ideal for a book, or better suited to a magazine. With that information in mind, it’s time to start researching editors, agents, big publishing houses, small presses, and magazines.
There are many resources available to writers looking for a home for their work. Listed below are just a few of the major ones.
• The Book-The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children – offered by SCBWI; free to members; over 300 pages with just about everything you need to know, including publishers, small presses, agents
• Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market – offered by Writers Digest; updated annually; includes market lists, plus agent interviews and sample queries
• PublishingCentral.com – directories of publishers by genre and by state
• publishersweekly.com – industry news
• AgentQuery.com – offers the largest, most current searchable database of reputable, established literary agents, as well as query writing advice
• #MSWL – this Twitter hashtag stands for manuscript wish list; agents and editors frequently post subjects or genres they are specifically looking for; good snapshot of what’s “hot” among editors at the moment
You can also do general internet searches, or narrow by genre or by state. Many of the market books are available in online or downloadable versions as well, as the publishing industry is extremely fluid and personnel changes frequently.
Sifting through these editors, agents, big publishing houses, small presses, and magazines is initially time-consuming, but absolutely necessary. If you were selling a Harley-Davidson, you probably wouldn’t post a flyer for it at a nursing home, right? Likewise, you don’t want to send your adorable picture book manuscript about Princess Sparkles and her fluffy unicorn to a strictly non-fiction publisher. It’s a waste of your time and the editors’ time, and just adds to their ever-increasing slush piles.
So how do you target the right recipient? To start, the publishers themselves have kindly narrowed down your options enormously by stating more and more that they do not accept unsolicited or unagented manuscripts. At some point, you’ll have to consider whether you want to submit directly to open publishers and presses, or focus on securing a literary agent first. Again, we could (and should!) devote a future post to this specific topic.
Whether you’re researching editors or agents, first read their blurbs in the market books. Info will include what types of manuscripts (or artwork) they’re looking for, submission guidelines, terms, how to contact, and often their overall philosophy and mission.
Then go to their web site. Read everything you can about them. Would they be the right fit for you? Study their book lists (past and present) or author lists. Have they published books with a similar theme? Yours could make a great addition to their list. Or perhaps it’s a little too similar? This could create a marketing conflict for the publisher. Are they only looking for concept or board books? Do they prefer strong characters who can be developed into series?
Once you’ve read all you can about the publishing house or agency, research the specific editor or agent. Go beyond the bio on the main web site! Try Google, Linked-in, Twitter, blogs, interviews…the list goes on, although I hope it goes without saying that you must stop short of actual stalking type behavior! Whatever you learn about their literary philosophy and likes and dislikes, can only be beneficial. For instance, you might not want to put the agent with 16 cats at the top of the list for your series about Barky the Bulldog.
Stay abreast of industry news and personnel and policy changes. You can learn a lot by following the Twitter feeds or liking the Facebook pages of your favorite agencies or publishers. It also alerts you to various writing contests and professional critique and submission opportunities. And, of course, joining industry associations like SCBWI and attending regional or national workshops and conferences (even webinars) are great ways to meet key contacts leading to submission opportunities.
Armed with all of your new-found knowledge, make a list (I use a spreadsheet in Excel) of what you’re sending, and to whom, and follow their guidelines to a tee.
And then wait. And wait. And – wait for it – wait some more. After all, good things come to those who…wait!
There are a zillion more publishing resources out there. Do you have a favorite to share with Writers’ Rumpus?
A member of SCBWI and three wonderful writing groups, Heather Fenton writes mainly picture books, but is expanding her literary horizons and delving into the world of YA.