People often ask me how they can publish their own children's book. It can be a long and complicated process, so I have created a short list of steps. This is by no means the definitive work on the process, but is a compilation from my own experience and recommendations from editors and agents with whom I have worked for the past 30 years. Good luck and have fun!
1. Read a lot of picture books in the age level for which you hope to publish. Ask your librarian for help zeroing in on that level. Explore the different writing and illustration styles. Note the sentence length and vocabulary used for that age group. Reread what you have written and ask yourself if this seems to be the same level of writing. Don't be afraid to fiercely edit down your work or start from scratch. No writing practice is wasted.
2. Join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). If you can, attend a meeting and go to sessions on writing and publishing. Listen to these experienced professionals! If you can't attend and conference, use the resources on their website. They are amazing.
3. Finding a publisher takes time. Most big publishers only look at work submitted by an agent. Frustratingly, finding an agent can be almost as difficult as publishing. So, many people submit to publishers on their own. Only some of publishers allow this. This is called an unsolicited submission.
How do you know if a publisher will take an unsolicited submission?
• Consult the Children's Writer's Market book or website.
• Subscribe to Authors Publish or other publishing newsletters who suggest these publishers.
• Google "children's book publishers that accept unsolicited submissions".
• There are tons of publishers. Don't waste their time and yours by submitting to the wrong type. Look through their book lists and make sure they accept the kind of book your are interested in publishing. This is worth your time. Take notes and keep a list of the publishers that might be interested in your book.
4. Write an appropriate query letter. When you submit your story, you will have to lead with an exceptional query letter. Many publishers provide a list of what they want to see in a query in their submission guidelines. Follow it to the letter! They are not kidding. If not, you can google how to write a good one. There is a lot of information online about them.
Generally, query letters for picture books should just be three short paragraphs.
One: the name of the book, a short description of the story, and the age level.
Two: your credentials and other publications.
Three: Your market research - if there are other books on the market like yours and why yours is unique.
You can include a fourth paragraph about your stellar social media presence and how you can sell your books to your millions of fans - but only if it is true.
Lastly, include your whole manuscript. (If it is a picture book, it should be no more than 1,000 words.)
5. Don't hire an illustrator. Unless you are an exceptional illustrator and want to illustrate your story, do not send art with your query. Publishers want to choose their own artist and will reject a project rather than hassle with splitting up an author/artist pair. Some publishers may ask you to source your own art, but that is a different story (and usually means you will have to pay for it). Again, follow their instructions!
6. Send in your submissions. Most submissions are now online, so you can email them instead of spending money on snail mail. Some are still only taking submissions through the mail. Those take real commitment. Follow submission guidelines. If they want the manuscript as a word file great, but some want it only in the body of the email and don't take links. Follow their instructions.
7. Submit, submit, submit! Publishers will not respond to your query unless they are interested in your project, so don't wait around. Keep a list of your submissions: publisher, date submitted, name of story (if you are submitting several around), date of rejection (if they bother to reject it). Then send it out to the next publisher on your list.
8. Join a critique group. If you are lucky enough to live where there are other beginning children's book authors, join a critique group. Their feedback can be helpful. It also helps to have other writers working on submissions. It is a wearying process. It helps to have friends.
Good luck on your journey!