Breaking Into Children's Publishing
baby drawing Beginner Mistakes
baby drawing

School and Library Appearances

Definite No-No's and Stupid Author Tricks

Fact is stranger than fiction. These techniques have been tried by the inexperienced and the desperate with the same results - they result in rejections and bad reputations.

For example: Mailing chocolate with your manuscript is clever but a definite No-No. Mailing chocolate during hot weather will ensure the editor and agent remembers you - in a bad way.

Don't get caught in these situations!

1. Sending bribes or treats (lacy underwear, slipping money between the pages, flowers)

2. Claiming you were recommended by someone when you weren't.

3. Claiming you were recommended (if you really were) by someone the editor has never heard of.

4. Making up a fake literary agency name.

5. Sending porn to a children's magazine or book editor (it's happened!)

6. Sending your manuscript to EVERY publisher in the country

7. Calling an editor the day after your manuscript arrives to demand they read it.

8. Showing up on an editor's door step with a manuscript!

9. Stalking an editor or agent at a conference.

10. Passing your manuscript to an editor or agent under the bathroom stall (yep - that's been tried too!)

11. Telling the editor or agent that your family, teacher, students, neighbors and/or pets loved your work.

12. Offering to appear on shows like Good Morning America in your cover letter.

13. Mispelling the name of the editor/agent on the letter.

14. Calling Mr. Jones, "Ms. Jones."

15. Addressing the letter to one editor when you're sending it to another (remember to change all the applicable data if you are using a form letter).

16. Sending a non-fiction book to a fiction publisher (or vice versa).

17. Sending a handwritten manuscript.

18. Using weird, hard to read fonts, colored paper and unusual packaging.

19. Sending the manuscript in a way that requires the publisher to sign for it.

20. Forgetting to send postage and an envelope if you want the manuscript returned to you.

21. Sending chapters to an editor out of order (Chapter 1, Chapter 10, Chapter 30) instead of the first three chapters.

22. Going up to an author you know (or don't know) and saying "I have a great idea - I'll give it to you and you can write it up, send it to the editor and send me the money." Or "Can you write about me? I have a story that needs to be told!" (to which I reply - then tell it!)

And the WORST Mistake!

23. Calling experienced authors to say "How do I get started?" or asking "What's your shortcut?"or asking "Would you read my manuscript?" Those questions cause writers who would otherwise be willing to talk to you to run screaming in terror. The same is true of editors.

Do your homework first. Take time to read books on "How to Write for Children" Books.

Have fun on your writing journey - enjoy the ride!

Little Girl Writing Getting Started
Little Girl Writing

School and Library Appearances

Not Child's Play: Kidlit Writers and Illustrators Work Hard At Their Craft

Tips for Aspiring Children's Book Authors by Lisa Wade McCormick

Tips from children's book authors, editors and agents for anyone interested in writing children's books:

1. Read children's books—contemporary and classic.
2. Join a children's writers' organization like the Juvenile Writers of Kansas City;
3. Join a critique group;
4. Study the market. Find out what kinds of stories publishers are buying. Find out what types of stories editors want.
5. Send your work to the right editor. You don't want to send a picture book to an editor who only handles chapter books.
6. Attend children's writers' conferences. This gives you a chance to meet editors and agents face-to-face.
7. Take your writing seriously. Treat it as a profession.
8. Treat all editors and agents professionally. Don't bombard them with constant calls and e-mails about your manuscript.
9. Read all contracts carefully. Make sure you know what you're signing.
10. Write every day;
11. Write for you—no one else;
12. Don't worry about rejection. Everyone gets rejected.
13. Don't give up.

Recommended Websites for Children's Writers:

1. Write4Kids -
2. The Highlights Foundation -
3. Midwest Children's Authors Guild - www.mwcag.org4. The Missouri Writers Guild website –
5. The Purple Crayon website -
6. The Institute of Children's Literature –
7. Horn Books website –
8. The Author's Guild website -
9. The Children's Book Council website -

This article originally appeared in the Kansas City Star Magazine, June 26, 2005
"Writing Books For Kids - Children's Authors Abound In Kansas City."

Note: Links updated in 2013

AA Boy Blackboard Publishing Terms
AA Boy Blackboard

"TERMS" Of Endearment

Build Your Publishing Vocabulary

A lot of publishers and writers speak in code. Ever wondered how to translate the language? Here's a few words to build your vocabulary.

What does unsolicited mean? - the publisher didn't ask you to send it and often doesn't know who you are.

What is a "slush pile?" - the pile that unsolicited submissions go into often piled high in a corner or empty cubicle. Rumored to have as many as 10,000 manuscripts in it at one time.

What is genre? - the category of writing that defines your manuscript. Is it fiction or non-fiction? Picture book or novel? Fantasy or Historical? Poem or Short Story?, etc..

What is a synopsis? This is a concise summary of your manuscript. It is used with novels to help the editor understand the plot and and motivation of the character. Editors can often tell if you are able to craft a compelling story by reading your synopsis.

What is a simultaneous submission? - Submitting to more than one publisher at one time. NEVER submit to more than one imprint of the same publishiing company at one time. Wait for a rejection before going to the next division.

What is an exclusive submission? - Submitting to a single editor/publisher at one time.

What are my "rights?" - Rights govern the various ways that your work may be used and reproduced. Includes but not limited to electronic, digital, foreign, media, and publishing rights This is part of the contract negotiation.

What is an imprint? - a division or subsidiary within a larger publishiing group that handles a particular subset of the publishiing line. You submit to an imprint not the conglomerate. For instance, within Randomhouse you'll find Knopf, Doubleday, Delacourte, etc. Within Penguin Putnam you'll find Viking, Dutton, Philomel and many others.

What is an advance? - the money you receive upon signing a contract and or completing revisions that is an advance payment on their estimate of royalties the book will earn. If the book does not sell well, you do not have to pay the publisher back. If the book sells better than expected, any royalties earned in excess of your advance will be sent to you every six months.

What are royalties? - a percentage of the revenue earned by your book. Sometimes stated as percent of retail or percent of wholesale.

What is a boilerplate contract? - this is a standard, unedited one-size-fits all contract offered to new writers. Often favors the publisher more than the author.

What is a kill fee? - This is a fee paid to you if, through no fault of your own, the publisher cancels the contract. Normally 50% of the agreed advance.

What is Commercial versus Trade? Commercial work is often produced in paperback and is sold in a number of mass-market environments (Target, Walmart) in addition to bookstores. Price is often $10 or less. Many children's commercial books are $5 or less. Lower quality paper but print runs are often in the tens or hundreds of thousands. Widely distributed.

Trade books have more of a literary quality. The type of book that is eligible to be considered for awards. Produced in hardback with good quality papers. Price is often $15.95 and up. Print runs can start at 5,000-15,000 copies (with new writers more often than not running at the lower end of the range.)

What is a Cover Letter? The introduction of yourself and your work to the editor. It accompanies the actual manuscript. A cover letter should include a lot of white space and avoid any non-essential details. Red flags in a cover letter include stating that your kids loved it, your parents loved it, your neighbors loved it. A BIG flag is stating that your grandchildren loved it. Also leave out any details about your personal life not related to the work (you are married, you like kids, you'll work hard). Let your work speak for itself. NEVER EVER tell them you are willing to promote it on Good Morning America! (this has been done).

What is a Query? The introduction of yourself and your work to the editor when the letter is being sent without the manuscript. Some publishers want to see only a query. If there are interested they will request you send the manuscript for review. Many publishers are going to this system to cut down on slush piles. A query is your attempt to pique the publisher's interest in your work. Think of it as a pitch.


MG - Middle Grade

PB - Picture Book

YA - Young Adult

POV - Point of View

SASE - Self Addressed Stamped Envelope

AA Girl Drawing Writing "Myths"
AA Girl Drawing

School and Library Appearances

The Myth of Writing For Children

1. Myth: It's easier than writing for adults.

Fact: Writing for children is HARDER than writing for the adult market. There are a number of different factors at play beyond the telling of a good story. Unlike the adult market books and articles are often developed based on "age range" and reading ability. The younger the reader, the more deliberate you have to be about the word selection.

2. Myth: I can make as much money as J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer

Fact:Don't quit your day job. While a few authors make a living writing for children, most writers work full-time jobs and rarely see any substantial income from their efforts. For instance: The "advance" on a picture book, may be as low as $1-2,000. And it will take up to five years to see the book in print. Afterwards the sale of the book would have to generate enough royalties to "earn back" the advance you were paid upfront before you start seeing a check fly into your mailbox. J.K. Rowling struggled for years before the book became an "overnight" sensation.

3. Myth: An agent can get me published.

Fact: A book that is publishable will be acquired by a publisher. The key is findiing the right editor for your specific work. Not every publisher publishes the same types of books. Not every editor likes what you write.

The mistake most people make is to assume that an agent can make up for a manuscript that is not ready for prime-time. And not every agent is made equal. A bad agent is worse than NO agent. A good agent can help match your work to a compatible editor - but only if the work is ready - and only if the market is ready.

4. Myth: It will be easier to self-publish my book (print copy)

Fact: Self-publishing is hard and the industry is rife with scam artists. Bookstores will not carry self-published books because they are too expensive and can't be returned to the distributor if they don't sell. Often they are poorly edited (if at all) and not competitive with professionally produced titles. There are exceptions to this rule - but very few. Self published authors can not use those credits to become eligible for membership in organizations such as the Author's Guild or Missouri Writer's Guild. Self published authors have to manage distribution and marketing on their own and at their own expense. Most self-published authors sell the majority of their books to friends and family.

5. Myth: It will be easier to self-publish my book if it's an e-book.

Fact: Self-publishing is STILL hard and the industry is rife with companies that prey on authors charging large fees to format and distribute your book online. Even if you format yourself - you'll need a good commercial quality cover. So don't hire a friend or relative - pay the money because it's the first introduction of yur work to a readers. And now that e-books are taking off the iBookstore, Kindle and Nook stores are filled to the brim. Often with books that are poorly edited (if at all) and not competitive with professionally produced titles (sound familiar?). And you're still not eligible for many professional organizations. Plan on spending h undreds of hours marketing your book. If you're relying on friends, family or other authors to get your book noticed, drop out now. Sales come from consumers, not friends who take pity on you.

6. Myth: Big publishers are better than small publishers.

Fact: Not always. Large publishers such as a Randomhouse or Scholastic may have more marketing dollars but they also have many more authors. More often than not a new writer gets no marketing budget at all and does not carry a lot of clout at the house until they develop a reader following. Smaller publishers such as Boyds Mills Press and Front Street Books are able to give more personalized attention to their authors. They are also able to "buy what they like," and bet on an author over the long-term versus larger houses that want to see an immediate return on their investment.

7. Myth: I don't have time to read many books to be a writer.

Fact: Then you don't have the time or skill to write one. Books have a certain language and rhythm. The best writers are prolific readers. They read fiction and non-fiction. Conventional wisdom says read 1,000 books before you write one. The reality is you can read less, but if you don't like or have time to read - If you don't have time to read at least a book or two each month, stop now and get out of the business.

8. Myth: Picture books are easier to write than novels.

Fact: Picture books are harder to write than novels. Novels give you the space to develop a character and set a scene. Picture books require spare writing where every single word has a purpose and a meaning. Pacing in a picture book is critical. You have less than 30 pages to tell a story and get the reader to turn a page. You often have to do it in under 800 words.

9. Myth: I like to draw. I should illustrate my own book.

Fact: Stop now. Do not pass go. No. Creating your own illustrations will most likely increase the chances of your getting a rejection. Publishers will choose their own illustrator from a list of experienced individuals. There is more involved to putting together a book than meets the eye.

The drawing and painting skills developed by hobbyists often don't measure up to the quality needed to for publication. And deadlines are very, very tight. Just say no!

10. Myth: My friend is a professional illustrator (or I want to hire one to do my book.)

Fact:Stop. See above. Do not hire an illustrator unless you find solace in being rejected as a team and need the moral support.

11. Myth: I don't need a lawyer to read my contract. They are expensive.

Fact: Not understanding critical clauses can also be expensive if they are activated!

child reading glasses Recommended Reading
child reading glasses

School and Library Appearances

A Few Books That Should Be On Your Bookshelf

What? You're supposed to read books on craft? On top of reading books in your genre. But where will you find the time?


If you don't have time to read - time to develop a working vocabulary of this business, then you've just turned your writing journey into the equivalent of scaling Mt. Everest without supplies, a Sherpa and oxygen. You have to know the rules before you can break them. Every famous writer you know has gone through editing, endless revisions and have drawers of early works that didn't sell. Every story you hear about someone who got a contract right off the bat is a lie told by marketing professionals to get the public interested. It RARELY.....EVER....HAPPENS that way. And when it does, the authors face months of revision to whip the book into commercial shape.

No - You don't have to read EVERY book on this list - but you should pull a few and keep them close. A chapter a night. Some of my favorites on writing life and inspiration? On Writing by Stephen King (read it twice and quote it often) and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamotte (you'll understand the appeal when she describes -- in a deleted expletive -- a first draft).

One of the best books for overall knowledge of writing for children: THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO CHILDREN'S PUBLISHING - Harold Underdown

And one of the best books I've read on the structure and mechanics of novel writing using examples from adult classics: STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL: From Basic Idea to Finished Manuscript - Robert Meredith and John Fitzgerald

ON WRITING: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft - Stephen King
Hint: A "must read" staple for your collection.

BIRD BY BIRD: Some Instructions on Writing and Life - Anne Lamott
Hint: A "must read" staple for your collection.

WRITING WITH PICTURES: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books - Uri Shulevitz
Hint: Essential reading if you're planning to write a picture book.

IT'S A BUNNY EAT BUNNY WORLD A Writer's Guide to Surviving and Thriving in Today's Competitive Children's Book Market - Olga Litowinski
This book is a hilarious, but accurate view of what really happens to your manuscript in publishing




WRITING DOWN THE BONES: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

The following books are updated every year. These comprehensive books are your starting point to find publishers. Not the end point. Editors move, needs change often.

Published by Writers Digest.

Institute of Childrens Literature

Institute of Childrens Literature

BTW: Most new writers break in by writing magazine articles. Don't discount this as an avenue for developing a list of writing credits.

Teen Writing Essential Websites
Teen Writing

School and Library Appearances

Websites to Explore

Here's a list of fabulous websites and organizations that will help guide you in your writing journey. Make sure you check the links at the bottom of the page BEFORE you submit to an editor or agent, especially Preditors and Editors. It will save you a lot of heartache - trust me!


Some authors wait until they have a contract to do their homework. Do the homework BEFORE you send out your manuscript, approach a publisher and/or agent, and before you sign on the dotted line. If an agent or publisher asks for money - run away - fast!Here's a list of websites that will help you determine if you're being taken for a professional or just taken for a ride.

1. Preditors and Editors:

Before sending ANYTHING to a publishing house or agent, check here to see if they are reported. Being listed here is not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, a "$" means the agent has verifiable sales to legitimate publishers. A "red" warning means to stay away.

For a fun exercise click "Book Publishers." Then look up Publish America. 'Nuff said.

If you're still clueless about what I meant by that previous put "Travis Tea" into a google search engine and then read The Making Of Atlanta Nights which explains how the book was written and the publishing contract it earned.

Oh all right - here's the link:

If you still don't understand - you probably should get out of publishing right now!!! This cautionary tale applies to many, many other vanity presses just waiting to take your money...(forewarned is forearmed)

2. The Authors Guild:

A membership based organization for commercially published authors. They have lawyers that can look over your contract or help you when a publisher has not paid you. They lobby on behalf of authors and have a number of articles on site as well as options to create a website of your own. Please note: this organization does not accept self-published authors at this time.

3. Association of Authors Representatives (AAR):

This association has a code of ethics and sales requirements that must be met before an Agent can join. Not all agents are members but most legitimate agents are. Look here before signing on the dotted line.

Remember - many of your favorite authors have websites, FB Fan pages and Twitter feeds that feature tips and articles that can guide you!

1. Midwest Children's Authors Guild (JWKC/MWCAG):

JWKC has a new name: Midwest Children's Authors Guild. It has existed informally for more than 35 years and is one of the oldest children's writing organizations in the country. In 2004 it became a non-profit chapter of Missouri Writers' Guild and began hosting conferences and bi-monthly events featuring guest lecturers on a wide range of topics. Also has critique groups which meet on a regular basis and an active listserv.

2. Missouri Writers Guild:

The state's organization for professional writers. You must meet publication criterian to join MWG. However, unpublished writers may join a local chapter and will receive discounts to the annual writing conference.

3. Harold Underdown's Site:

Good articles on writing, terms and etiquette. Has a section called "Who's Moving Where," that tracks editor movements (because they change jobs and companies more often than you think).

4. Verla Kay's Site:

This website was voted one of Writer's Digests' top websites for writers. Verla Kay has a section loaded with transcripts from every author, editor and agent who has appeared in the chat rooms. You can get insight about the industry and editor/agent preferences by reading their discussions. Verla Kay also has an active discussion board with a wide range of topics and information on current editor/publisher needs and response times.

To go directly to her discussion board (Blue Boards) click here: Children's Writers and Illustrator's Chat Board

5. Children's Book Insider:

Like Harold Underdown's site this is loaded with articles for beginners and has an active discussion board. You can also sign up for a newsletter delivered by email. Note: this site used to be "Write4Kids" that link will also direct you here.

6. Highlights Foundation:

Developed by the same family that originated Highlights for Children Magazine, this non-profit foundation has two of the best intense writing workshops in the country: Chautuaqua conference and Founders Workshops. The emphasis is on one-on-one mentoring with some of the best names in the business in an intimate environment.

Added bonus: Click on the link called "Tips for Writers" and download pdf report of the Chautuaqua lectures including transcripts and pictures. Additional lecture notes can be found by sorting by topic and/or author provided on the page.

7. Institute of Children's Literature -- Rx for Writers:

You don't have to be a student to get help from this site or participate in their discussions boards. ICL has one of the best newsletters for beginning and experienced writers. There is a nominal subscription cost of about $15/year. Articles and interviews, tips and market leads are included every month. Or you can sign up for the Free Writer's News which delivers additional tips and articles by email (but not market leads).

8. Yellapalooza:

Started by a group of author/illustrators who met on the Write4Kids discussion boards. Good information for those who want to know about this dual end of the business.

9. America Writes4Kids:

Click on your state (or any other) to see what is going on in your area or to discover new authors.

Copyright © 2012 Christine Taylor-Butler