Sunday, December 9, 2007

Connecticut Author's Success

Getting My First Children’s Picture Book Published


Doreen Tango Hampton

I am officially a children’s book author. My children’s picture book titled I Like Gum was recently released by Shenanigan Books. I have been asked to share my publishing experience with fellow CAPA members. I hope my story will provide some helpful insights.

In September 2005, I had written a series of four children’s picture book manuscripts. I was an agent-less, first-time author with absolutely no knowledge of the publishing industry. What next? I went to my local library and asked for assistance. With the resourceful help of the Reference Librarian, I discovered an invaluable guide to the children’s publishing world titled The Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market.

The book contained lists of children’s book publishers and agents. There is also information regarding the manuscript submission package. Not only did I learn exactly what I should include with my submission, I also discovered what not to include.

To my relief, I learned publishers want text only manuscripts from authors who are not illustrators. It is the job of the publishing house to match the author’s text with an artist’s illustrations. If you decide to submit your friend’s illustrations with your manuscript, you run the risk of a visual rejection before your story gets reviewed.

I heard the term “query” letter for the first time. I learned the significance of composing a strong query letter and the ramifications of writing a weak one. An interesting, well-written piece might pique an editor’s interest. A trite, boring letter will not produce an editor’s request for the manuscript.

I reviewed each publisher’s manuscript submission policies and followed each set of guidelines to the letter. I did not want my masterpiece ending up in a recycling bin without ever having been read. Some publishers required only a query letter. Others wanted the entire manuscript. Some requested electronic submissions; while, others preferred a hard copy in the mail. The manuscript had to be ether single spaced or double spaced, depending on the guidelines. I created a database listing all the publishers to whom I had sent my manuscript (I didn’t want to send my story to the same house twice).

Be diligent, but remain objective. Do not waste a publisher’s time or yours. Many publishers clearly state they will NOT accept unsolicited manuscripts. Some houses reject multiple submissions. They want exclusive submissions sent only to them. Others accept manuscripts during a stated timeframe. Still others have an open-ended submissions policy. Following all the guidelines is meaningless if your story does not match the publisher’s needs. Do not submit your manuscript if your story is exactly what the publisher is not looking for at the present time.

As far as securing a literary agent, I found it to be a tougher proposition than finding a publisher. Agents are extremely selective. An unpublished, first time author is a big risk. Most agents are looking for established authors. I found myself identifying with the lament of the college graduate: “I can’t get a job without experience, but how do I get experience if no one will hire me?” (Needless to say, I secured my publishing contract for I Like Gum with no literary agent.)

Even more information regarding publishers, agents and manuscript submissions can be researched on the Internet. I googled “children’s book publishers,” “children’s literary agents” and “query letters.” The Internet became my most utilized resource. Be sure you are reviewing current websites. I discovered some websites had not been updated in years. An out-of-date website is of no benefit.

Spread the word. Talk about your book to everyone. I began scouring local newspapers for book events. I attended author singings, readings and book fairs. I asked questions constantly and found authors graciously shared helpful information.

Check out publishing house catalogs to learn what individual publishers are producing at the present time. Visit bookstores to see what books are “hot.” I sat in the Barnes & Noble in Canton one afternoon and just watched the reactions of children. They are my audience, so I listen and learn from them.

Join organizations. I heard about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and immediately signed up. The newsletter provides a wealth of knowledge. There are two SCBWI conventions each year that offer workshops, guest lecturers and manuscript critiquing. There is a Southern New England chapter that offers regional events.

Enter writing contests. Not only is the exposure beneficial, the financial rewards are a nice addition. The Internet lists numerous writing contests. Scholastic and Women’s Day Magazine jointly sponsor an annual writing contest specifically for children’s book manuscripts. The Tassy Walden Awards: New Voices in Children’s Literature sponsored by The Shoreline Arts Alliance is a competition open to writers and illustrators in the state of CT.

Despite all of the resources outlined above, getting a children’s book published is not for the faint of heart. It will take every ounce of tenacity, persistence and perseverance you can muster. From September 2005 until August 2006, I worked tirelessly to find a publisher and/or an agent. My manuscript was rejected by 82 publishers and 64 agents. Instead of feeling discouraged, I decided to submit another story.

After spending a weekend with my five-year old niece, I came up with the I Like Gum concept. I worked on the story for a weekend. I decided to submit my manuscript to the one publisher who had sent me the nicest and most constructive rejection letter. Five days later I received an email. Shenanigan Books wanted to publish I Like Gum. I signed the contract in September 2006. My book was released in September 2007. The entire process, from conception to publication, lasted one year.

Currently, my publisher and I are working out the details of my second book. It has been an exhilarating, joyful and at times frustrating process. But, I am loving every mile of this ride. I hope you, too, get to savor your first publishing experience, with the anticipation of many more in the future.

1 comment:

yumi4us said...

Thank you so much for being absolutely beautiful! You decided to share with the world, your story, your hope, and your struggle; when you did not have too. You are truly appreciated.

Nafeesah Hope