Becoming a published children’s writer can appear to be a rather daunting task for the novice author. However, by following a few simple guidelines, one can increase the likelihood of seeing one’s work in print.
Know Your Market
Children’s books have a tendency to survive economic depression and prove a resilient sales area. Consequently the children’s book world is finally being taken seriously. The number of submissions a publisher receives depends wholly upon its size and reputation. Small publishers (for example Magi) might receive a couple of manuscripts a day, whereas a mainstream children’s publishers (such as Penguin) can receive something like 5000 submissions in one year, and from these, two, maybe three will be selected for publication.
Considering the sheer scale of competition, it is advisable to do some research into what is currently being published. Pay attention to books published in your subject area. If you are merely reiterating something which is already in print it is unlikely that you will find a publisher. Try to identify evident gaps in the market and become aware of the current trends and styles favoured by children, parents and publishers today.
Picture books are storybooks with full-colour illustrations for 0-6 year olds. The text is minimal but effective, and the illustrations are generally of an extremely high artistic standard. If you are thinking about targeting the picture-book market consider the following points: colour illustrations are expensive to produce, therefore a publisher will need to sell the rights to the book abroad; colloquial, or rhyming, texts are very popular, but they also prove difficult to translate; and novelty books (pop up/flap books) are expensive to manufacture and usually commissioned in-house.
Books aimed at children learning to read tend to be grouped by the publishers into a series (e.g. Mammoth’s Blue Banana’s series and Transworld’s Corgi Pups). Each series has a recognisable style, although often the books are written by a variety of authors.
General Fiction for Children
The worst mistake a writer can make is to think that children’s books are easier to write than adult books. They are not. When writing fiction for children it is important to be aware of the age group you are targeting. An eight-year-old reader will require a fairly short, fast-moving and illustrated book. Length is important – a child needs to be challenged and to grow in confidence as a reader, but not to be intimidated. Again, research into current books is a must. A general outline would be 15,000 words for an eight year old, moving up to 20 – 25,000 for ten year olds and maybe as much as 40,000 for a twelve year old. To give you an idea, Matilda by Roald Dahl is 20,000 words, whilst Watership Down by Richard Adams is 140,000 words.
Teenage fiction, otherwise known as Young Adult Fiction is generally accepted by publishers as appealing to children as young as ten or eleven. The genre itself is a difficult one, because teenagers are probably reading adult books and children are interested in the teen books. However, there is a market for 11-16 year olds. Fiction written for this age often deals with social issues and difficult questions (divorce, sex, racism, drugs, etc). The main point to remember is that the narrative of the story is always either from the point of view of a teenager, or about teenagers, offering young people a voice to which they can directly relate.
If you are considering writing non-fiction titles, it is essential that you question the need for the book. Is it original? Who will be interested? There is always room for original ideas or fresh approaches to subjects. Scholastic, for example, have been extremely successful with their Horrible Histories and Horrible Science series, mainly because the series approaches non-fictional subjects in an engaging, accessible and funny way. Because they are expensive to produce, novelty books are often more likely to be accepted by book packagers than publishers. For a comprehensive explanation of the differences between packagers and publishers and how they work see the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook or Louise Jordan’s How .
Presenting Your Manuscript
It is extremely unlikely that your work will even be considered unless it is presented in a professional package. Remember that publishers want to find new books that will sell, but if the handwriting is illegible, or the cover letter is terribly written, then the publisher will immediately disregard you as a professional writer. You should include a cover letter. The manuscript should be typed with double spacing on one side of A4 paper, each page numbered accordingly. It is advisable not to staple or paperclip your manuscript; instead, put the manuscript loose into a cardboard box or plastic folder. Ensure that you retain a complete copy of your manuscript for yourself.
Sending off Your Work
If your manuscript is over 10,000 words, then a synopsis and sample chapter should be sufficient for the publisher to judge whether or not they will be interested in your work. The synopsis should contain information about who in particular the book is aimed at, what it is about, why it is necessary that it be published, the proposed length of the book and the likely date for completion. If you have been published before, enclose a CV detailing your writing experience and any specialist knowledge that you may have of your subject area. Address your manuscript to the relevant editor in the publishing house. Send your package out to several publishers at once to ensure the widest possible exposure.
In Britain, you hold the copyright for your work as soon as it is written down – you do not need to apply for copyright or register your work with any organisation. The only exception to this is when you are writing as part of your employment – for instance, if you are a journalist working for a newspaper. Copyright lasts for 70 years after the end of the calendar year in which an author dies.
There is no copyright over ideas – so always get an idea down in writing. Similarly, there is no copyright over titles, although you could be accused of “passing off” if you used a well-known title for your own work.
If you are concerned about proving that you are the copyright holder of an unpublished work, you can post a copy of your manuscript to yourself and keep this, unopened. The postmark will provide proof that you wrote the work by a certain date. Or you can deposit a copy of your manuscript with a bank or solicitor (get a dated receipt). If you are worried about protecting your idea from being copied when you send your work to agents or publishers, The Writer’s Handbook suggests that you ask anyone who sees your work to sign a letter confirming that they will not use those ideas or disclose them to anyone else – although, in practise, it can be difficult to get them to sign such a letter. Remember, too, that publishers and agents receive so much unsolicited material that they may already be considering work that is similar to your own.
The Society of Authors publish a series of leaflets on various aspects of copyright law, priced at £2 each. Contact: The Society of Authors, 84 Drayton Gardens, London, SW10 9SB (Tel: 020 7373 6642). Another useful publication is Helen Shay’s Copyright and Law for Writers, which is listed at the end of this page.
Where to Send Your Work
It is a good idea to do some research into which particular publishers are likely to be interested in your work. Consult either the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook or The Writer’s Handbook (details at the end of this page) for listings of names, addresses and main areas of interest of the major publishers. Alternatively, look at similar books in your local bookshop or library and make a note of the publishers. At the end of this leaflet, you will find a list of the major UK children’s publishers.
An alternative to sending your work directly to publishers is to approach a literary agent. These agents act as mediators and negotiators between authors and publishers. When sending a manuscript to an agent, follow the same guidelines as when sending to a publisher. Agents who are members of the Association of Authors’ Agents (Tel: 020 7387 2076) have at least three years experience of the business and have a good idea of which publishers to approach with your work and how much you can expect to be paid for it. A list of children’s literary agents is available at the end of this leaflet.
Alternative Methods of Publishing
There are alternatives to approaching mainstream publishers or agents. Community publishing is a growing movement. Ask at your local community centre, evening class, arts centre or bookshop. Your local library or adult-education institute may also be able to give you information. Small presses are also worth considering. The Association of Little Presses (Contact: 25 St Benedict’s Close, Church Lane, London SW17 9NX) offers advice, publishes a catalogue and produces a newsletter.
It is also worth contacting your Regional Arts Board. There are 12 of these across the country with funding available via the Arts Council from the government. The Literature Officer at each is involved in a variety of projects and schemes to help writers publish their work. This is usually done by providing grants for writers or running workshops. They should be able to offer information on what is available in your particular area.
You know you have encountered a vanity publisher when they ask for payment. Avoid them unless you are really sure that you wish to pay for the publication of your book – and, if this is the case, consider self-publishing first. Often vanity publishers will praise your writing in order to persuade you to part with your money. If your work is as good as they say, a reputable publisher will be willing to publish it without asking you to pay for the pleasure. Books published by vanity publishers are often of poor quality and are rarely stocked by bookshops or libraries.
Self-publishing is on the increase with the advent of user-friendly desk-top publishing (DTP) technology. Theoretically, self-publishing is within the grasp of anyone who has access to the relevant software required. It is still going to cost money, but there is the satisfaction of knowing that what you have produced is entirely of your own making and you are in control of the costs.
Where to start
You will need to plan the design of the book yourself and organise the typing. Look in the Yellow Pages for details of local printers and contact them for quotes. You will also need an ISBN number, which is issued by the Standard Book Numbering Agency. You can either write or ring them with details of your proposed book. Contact: 12 Dyott Street, London WC1A 1DF / Tel: 0891 132100 (calls are charged at 50p per minute) / Fax: 020 7836 4342.
Several libraries are legally entitled to a free copy of your published book, which must be sent within one month of publication. They will use the information on your title as part of their bibliographic services and your book will be made available to the public. One copy should go to the Legal Deposit Office at The British Library, Boston Spa, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, LS23 7BY (Tel: 01937 546268). The other libraries are supplied by a single agent: Mr A T Smail at 100, Euston St, London, NW1 2HQ (Tel: 020 7388 5061). You will need to contact him to see how many copies he requires. Finally, you will need to sell the book yourself. It is hard to get self-published books into bookshops, although if there is some local interest (e.g. the book is a history of the local area), they may be more interested. Your chances will be improved if you follow some basic rules: always make an appointment with the buyer for the relevant section or with the manager, rather than just turning up; and don’t expect an appointment on a Saturday or at Christmas (bookshops’ busiest times). Bookshops will expect at least 33% discount and will expect you to cover carriage costs yourself. They will also expect sale or return, i.e. if the books don’t sell, they return them to you and you refund them the money they have paid to you. This is normal practise. To promote your book you might need to send out review copies – contact newspapers and local radio stations.
Several self-help guides have been produced on self-publishing. The Writers & Artists’ Yearbook has a useful chapter on the subject (see list of publications at the end of this fact-sheet). The Association of Little Pressesproduce a booklet called Self-Publishing: Not So Difficult After All. Contact: 25 St Benedict’s Close, Church Lane, London, SW17 9NX. And the Author-Publisher Network run courses and lectures on self-publishing and produce a newsletter called Write to Publish. Contact John Dawes – Tel: 01580 753346.
This is a list of useful publications – some to help with your writing, others to give advice on how to get published. Many of them, especially the invaluable The Writer’s Handbook and the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, will be available in your library. This means you can browse through them before deciding whether they will suit your purposes.
Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook Bloomsbury Offers excellent advice to would-be writers in many different areas.
The Writer’s Handbook
Macmillan / PEN Very similar to the above; if anything, a little more clearly laid out, in addition to being somewhat more comprehensive.
Writers’ & Artists Guide to Writing for Children and YA by Linda Strachan, Bloomsbury, 2019
Copyright and Law for Writers: How to Protect Yourself and Your Creative Work by Helen Shay, 1996,How To Books
The Children’s Book Handbook, Young Book Trust, 2000
The Way to Write for Children by Joan Aiken, updated edition, Penguin, 1998
Writing For Children by Margaret Clark, 2nd edition, A&C Black, 1997
Writing for the Teenage Market by Ann De Gale, A&C Black, 1993
How to Write for Children by Tessa Krailing, new edition, Allison & Busby 1996
How to Write for Children and get Published by Louise Jordan, Piatkus, 1998
Children’s Literary Agents
The Agency (London) Ltd 24 Pottery Lane, London W11 4LZ Tel: 020 7727 1346, Fax: 020 7727 9037
Contact: Hilary Delamere
T telephone before submitting
Eddison Pearson Agents 3rd Floor, 22 Upper Grosvenor Street, London W1X 9PB TEL: 020 7629 2414, Fax: 020 7629 7181
Contact: Clare Pearson
Juvenilia Avington, Winchester, Hants SO21 1DB Tel/Fax: 01962 779 656
Proprietor: Mrs Rosemary Bromley
Eunice McMullen Children’s Literary Agent Ltd
38 Clewer Hill Road, Windsor, Berkshire
SL4 4BW Tel: 01753 830 348,
Fax: 01753 833 459
Director: Eunice McMullen
No unsolicited manuscripts. Concentrates
on picture books. Represents illustrators
Maggie Noach Literary Agent 22 Dorville Crescent, London W6 0HJ Tel: 020 8748 2926, Fax: 020 8748 8057
Contact: Maggie Noach
Written text for readers age 7+ only, No illustrated books
Elizabeth Roy Literary Agency White Cottage, Greatford, Nr Stamford, Lincolnshire PE9 4PR Tel/Fax: 01778 560 672
Represents writers and illustrators.
Telephone before submitting material
Rosemary Sandberg Ltd 6 Bayley Street, London WC1B 3HB Tel: 020 7304 4110, Fax: 020 7304 4109
Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency 71 Hillgate Place, London W8 7SS (London Office) Tel: 01983 760 205, Fax: 01983 760 206
Proprietor: Caroline Sheldon Represents writers and illustrators.
Send sample Material with a letter explaining what you want From the agency.
Young Book Trust Book House, 45 East Hill, London, SW18 2QZ, Tel: 020 8516 2985
Children’s Book Circle Transworld Children’s Books, 61-63 Uxbridge Rd, London, W5 5SA, Tel: 020 8231 6648
Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group The Society of Authors, 84 Drayton Gardens, London, SW10 9SB Tel: 020 7373 6642