Over the last couple years, I’ve had a number of people reach out to me with questions about traditional publishing. (If only I had a dollar for each one!) Most often, I’m asked to recommend a specific publisher or agent. I wish I could say the process for me was as easy as contacting the right publisher or agent, but the entire publishing process, like everything, is so much more complex, and you have to be willing to put in your homework. In this post, I’ll share the types of resources I used in getting started with writing my first children’s book and getting published. Maybe you already have a few stories written and aren’t sure what to do next — I hope my post gives you the inspiration to take the next step in the publishing process! (And I’ll just add that I’m not an expert in children’s book publishing, but I’m happy to share the steps I took here!)
After college and grad school, I completed a diploma in an 18-month program specific to publishing children’s books. The course taught me how to peruse market guides, how to write query letters to publishers, how to select a publisher for my writing, and how to identify my specific niche. I came away from the course with about a dozen professionally-edited, polished pieces, as well as a query letter. If you go this route, consider what type of writing program might interest you and approach the course(s) with an open mind. I was surprised to find myself drawn to the magazine market, which is where I got my start!
My next step in moving forward was calling myself a writer. Until I saw myself as a writer, it was all just a distant dream of mine. I am a full-time elementary school counselor, and writing a book has been on my bucket list since I was seven years old, but it was never a tangible goal or a reality I could grasp. When I began calling myself a writer, however, my mindset changed, and I had the confidence to begin sharing my writing with an audience. Soon after, I began submitting my writing for publication while writing on my own blogs. I actually hung a letter board in my home library with a quote from Seth Godin, “The book that will most change your life is the one you write.” (I kept this quote in my office until I signed my first contract!) I made a list of my writing goals and discerned my next steps from there.
Online writers’ groups are valuable resources. I joined a few membership sites for writers, where I gained not only a wealth of resources, but also a supportive community of writers with goals similar to mine. There are also countless Facebook groups and other online groups devoted to writers, if you’re not interested in a membership site, so I’d suggest searching for a group to fit either your genre or your specific writing goals. Your local library may also have writer’s circles who meet in person to share manuscripts and ideas. Make sure to contribute to your writers’ groups as much as you gain, if not more.
In the meantime, build up a portfolio of your published works and other writing accolades (contests you’ve won, recognition you’ve received, etc.). Every piece featured or published is another feather in your cap toward your next project! Consider writing guest blogs, submitting to magazines, and even doing some of these things for free until you build a strong portfolio. I then referenced my published pieces in query letters I wrote to publishers. You can learn about writing query letters from a class like I did or from an online writer’s group, or even by Googling how to write a query letter for a publisher. (Later, I’ll talk about researching the publisher’s submission guidelines before reaching out to them.)
While I built my portfolio, I also started building my online platform – a website in my niche, a social media following in my field, an email list, etc. This happened organically for me, as I began to create a community for people in my specific field, using social media to connect with my audience. Most publishers these days want to see that you have an established platform, a voice in your field, and an established audience who will read your book. Make sure you regularly contribute to your field by speaking at events, guest posting or commenting on blogs, contributing to online groups, accepting podcast interviews, etc. Be a part of the discussions going on in your field.
Actually writing a children’s book is another process, but even after I wrote my first book, I didn’t send it off to anyone right away. In fact, I waited over seven months while I field tested it on my intended audiences and researched publishers and the children’s book market. You’ll also want to have close friends or family read over your work, or take it to an editor or writer’s group for a peer review. Because I already regularly create resources for school counselors, I also had to decide whether to publish my story in my online store or whether I wanted to use a traditional publisher. (You might also be wondering whether to self-publish or use a traditional publisher. I can only really speak to using a traditional publisher, so that’s the focus of this post.)
Before I ever contacted a publisher, I scoured several market guides about the children’s book market and magazine markets, which are updated yearly with current publishers and what they’re looking for. I then made spreadsheets of publishers that caught my interest, studied their websites and books, and read their submission guidelines for the ones I thought would be the best fit for my genre. Some of my favorite market guides* and writing books are:
- Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market (my copy was 2014!)*
- Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers
- Best of the Children’s Market
- The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults
Finding the right publisher is a process. It has to be the right fit for your project. You have to consider what type of books they publish, whether they accept unsolicited manuscripts or whether they require an agent, whether they accept simultaneous submissions, what their submission guidelines include, and more. Many times, they’ll post a list of current topics they’ll consider. These may change seasonally or with current events and trends. The market guides will be helpful in narrowing it down before you head to their website to find submission guidelines. You can also go to your local bookstore or library, find your writing genre, and see who is publishing those types of books. Be sure to read authors’ acknowledgements; they’ll usually thank their agent or other pertinent people you might be able to contact. I spoke with many publishers in person at conferences in my field to ask about what book topics were most needed. Reading current journals in your field, attending conferences, and belonging to professional organizations in your expertise will also help you know what topics are most needed and relevant.
My first two book contracts were for children’s books (fiction), so I actually wrote those entire manuscripts and submitted them along with the query letter to the publishers I researched in my field. I also developed a marketing proposal and included it with my query letter. You can look at publishers’ websites to learn what kind of manuscripts/topics they are currently accepting. (Nonfiction generally requires a completely different type of submission that includes a sample chapter and a book proposal.)
While I’m on the subject of books, if you’d like to read further, I’ve listed below my signature many of the nonfiction books* I’ve read in recent years that inspired me to start writing, taught me how to carve out time to write and how to write for an audience, and encouraged me to follow my dream. I’ve broken them into those four categories.
I hope this post is a helpful resource for you as you pursue your writing goals. You’ve already taken the first step by identifying your desire to write and starting your research!
Writing Inspiration and Practical Tools: Suggested Reading
- The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith
- A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman
- A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
- Painting as a Pasttime by Winston Churchill
- Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
- School Counselor Side Hustle by Russell Sabella and Stephanie Lerner
Writing for an Audience: Suggested Reading
- Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk
- Tribes by Seth Godin
- Create Your Writer Platform by Chuck Sambuchino
Carving out time (for me, it was to write): Suggested Reading
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
- Invitation to Retreat by Ruth Haley Barton
- When Less Becomes More by Emily Ley
- Stretched Too Thin and Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner
- How Did I Get So Busy? by Valerie Burton
- The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst
Having Courage to Pursue My Dream: Suggested Reading (*Many of these titles are faith-based*)
- Obedience Over Hustle by Malinda Fuller
- Restless by Jennie Allen
- Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer
- Refresh by Shona & David Murray
- Holy Hustle by Crystal Stine
- The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman
- You Matter More Than You Think by Dr. Leslie Parrott
- Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D.
- 200 Best Jobs for Introverts by Laurence Shatkin
- Make it Happen by Lara Casey
- 100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs
- When God Says Go by Elizabeth Laing Thompson
- Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider
- Let’s All Be Brave: Living Life with Everything You Have by Annie F. Downs
- Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs
- Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
- Wait and See by Wendy Pope
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman
- Own Your Life: Living with Deep Intention, Bold Faith, and Generous Love by Sally Clarkson
- Long Days of Small Things by Catherine McNiel
- Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
*Affiliate links used: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.