HOW TO GET PUBLISHED – MY STORY
I receive many book related emails from people who have read my picture books. Most of these are from teachers, parents and librarians who tell me how their libraries and classrooms have been invaded by flocks of paper plate seagulls or overrun by carrot wielding pirates. I love these emails!
The other handful are from people wanting to know how to get published. Having children and their adults enjoy reading your books is such a wonderful privilege. So it’s no wonder there are many people wanting to have their books published too. But the fact of the publishing matter is, there isn’t an easy way to answer this question or one single way to do it.
Every author or illustrator’s journey to becoming published is unique. And there are many different ways to go about it. So for those who have been asking, this is my story ...
Once upon a time, a friend of mine wrote a picture book text. Knowing my graphic design and art background, she approached me to illustrate it. So I did a few illustrations and she sent it off to a number of publishers. After a few knock-backs, we were beginning to wonder why the publishers weren’t bashing down our doors to sign us up. So I started researching how to get published. I found some info on the internet and in the process, stumbled upon my local SCBWI group (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).
I went along to a session they held called SCBWI 101, run by local author Renae Hayward. Here I discovered there are many dos and don’ts for submitting to publishers … and my friend and I had pretty much done all the don’ts! Most importantly, we discovered that publishers prefer you not to find your own illustrator … unless there is a good reason for you being a team. For example if you are a married super talented couple like Frané Lessac and Mark Greenwood.
From here I kept researching publishers and also began writing my own picture book manuscripts. I also discovered that once a year my SCBWI group has a writer’s and illustrator’s retreat. Being very pregnant, I could not attend, but as part of the retreat, there is also the opportunity to pay for a manuscript or illustration portfolio critique. Yes a REAL publisher would read MY manuscript and let me know their thoughts on it. This is how I met Karen Tayleur from the Five Mile Press. She and Sue Whiting (also a fabulous editor), presented a session at the State Library of Western Australia about how to submit to publishers and what they were looking for.
Karen critiqued my work and asked me to submit my manuscript to her. WOOHOO! I was bouncing off the walls as you can imagine. She then held onto it for … wait for it … a year! Yes my belly bump was walking on his own two feet by the time I heard back. You do need to be extremely patient in the world of publishing. I had also sent her another manuscript (and three sample illustrations) about six months after the first. After all that waiting, and email checking, I finally received a message from Karen to say that after much consideration, Five Mile would not be publishing those stories.
She did, however, say she really liked my illustrations and asked if I would be interested in illustrating another author’s book.
Would I?! Again I had to scrape myself off the walls. Karen sent through the manuscript for me to read through. I replied to say thank you and “… by the way, could I please send you another manuscript to consider.” That third submission was titled Fish Jam.
Expecting to wait a long time to hear anything of it, you can imagine my surprise when she called me five minutes after I hit send! Karen said, don’t worry about the other text she had just sent me. “I want Fish Jam. When can you have all the illustrations finished by?”
Well, I was as stunned as a mullet. Another year on, and Fish Jam was published and available in store. I now have three picture books published with Five Mile Press (Bonnier Australia). Thank you Karen Tayleur!
So my advice those starting out, is to do your research. Join a writing or illustration group and attend writing festivals and events. By attending a writing event, I was able to meet a publisher who could put a face to the manuscript, rather than trying to stand out in a slush pile. If you are unsure what a slush pile is, then you have a bit more research to do.
And … practice and be patient and persistent. It can take years to get your work to a publishable standard and longer still to actually become published. I also believe publishers need to know that you have more than one book in you, so don’t give up if they don’t take your first, second or third submission.
Other useful tips:
- Research the magic number of words for your story category. Ie My picture books are for ages 2 - 8 and never more than 400 words. 1000 is definitely too long.
- Generally publishers prefer picture book texts NOT to be rhyming texts - but if you must rhyme, it’s not a crime.
- Write / draw everyday to improve your skills.
- Once you have submitted something, forget about it and move on to the next drawing or story. Checking your email every five minutes won’t make the publisher reply any faster. I’ve tried!
- Find your tribe. Join a writing or illustration group - critique groups and peers are invaluable. The writers and illustrators I once idolised are now very dear friends, and I couldn’t have made it this far without their support and generosity.
- Read picture books! Or whatever category you are writing. Read as many as you can as they have changed a lot since we were kids.
- Read your manuscript to kids, including kids who are not related to you. They are always so honest and you’ll soon know if your book is working or not.
- Read picture book texts out loud. Better still get someone else to read it to you, so you can hear if it flows well or if they stumble over any sentences.
- Always remember that publishers receive hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts. They would love to publish or even reply to everyone but simply can’t. So always be respectful and only submit your best work :)