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October 1, 2019

Selling What You Write: It’s What You Know and Who You Know

You’ve heard the saying about success, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” To succeed in selling what you write, “It’s what you know and who you know.”

I’ll start with “what you know.” You may have an idea that would make a great children’s book, but getting that story actually written can be intimidating. There are questions that deal with the creative aspects of a story. How should I begin my story? How do I pace my story’s action? How do I make my book appealing to kids? Then there are the technical questions, such as: What age is my story for? What is the proper wordcount for my type of book? How are the pages supposed to be formatted? Our workbook, Write a Marketable Children’s Book in 7 Weeks, offers answers to these creative and technical questions and many more. One of the most important tips we teach is to immerse yourself in the type of book you want to write.

Spend time in the children’s section of the library and acquaint yourself with the various types of books and the age ranges they’re suited for. You will most likely discover where your idea fits, whether it is fiction or nonfiction. Is it an early picture book, an older picture book, a reader or a chapter book? Once you find your niche, read a dozen or so books like the one you want to write. Reading published books teaches you the creative skills of writing by example.

What about the “who you know” aspect?  Many publishing houses do not take unsolicited submissions, which means the writer sent it in without first submitting a query letter. Frustrated writers may do this because they never received an answer to their query letter. There are publishers that only accept submissions from literary agents. However, some publishers do accept unsolicited and un-agented submissions (https://writingtipsoasis.com/childrens-publishers-accepting-submissions-in-the-us/. Not always, but often, the manuscripts are put with a stack of other submissions called “the slush pile.” Editors and their assistants read them when and if they can get to them and only after they’ve read submissions they requested and manuscripts sent in by agents. So how do you get your manuscript in front of an editor and know it will be read?

Sign up for writing conferences and workshops that offer appointments with editors. James Dashner (author of the bestselling book series and multi-million dollar movie franchise, The Maze Runner) said: “Networking is key. Almost every author I know—and certainly myself included—can trace their publishing success back to someone they met at a writers’ conference. If you want to get published, I can’t think of any better advice.”

Search online for conferences in your area. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has state and local chapters (https://www.scbwi.org/regional-chapters-new/) that host conferences that have editors and agents attending. This link has some helpful listings: https://thewritelife.com/which-writers-conferences-are-the-best-to-attend/.

There will be a fee for the editor appointment. Some conferences also allow a limited number of attendees to pay an extra fee and submit a certain number of pages for the editor to critique. The appointments are usually ten to fifteen minutes long. If you paid for the critiquing service, the editor will usually give the pages back with written comments or will tell you what needs improvement. After thanking the editor, ask if he or she would like to see the manuscript after you revise per the critique suggestions. If the answer is yes, the editor will most likely tell you that he or she will accept submissions from conference attendees for a time period like six months. The editor may tell you to write on a lower corner of the submission envelope (for example), “Requested materials. Dallas SCBWI Conference Attendee 2019.” That way your manuscript does not go in the dreaded slush pile, and you know it will get read.

Now what if the editor tells you that the critiqued manuscript does not fit the current needs of the house? There are two good tactics you can use. The first is to ask, “What would you most like to see come across your desk?” I did that at a conference, and the editor from Random House told me she needed submissions for their popular Step Into Reading line. She said everyone wants to sell a picture book, but that readers sold well and earned good royalties for their authors. That editor announced at the conference that she would accept submissions from attendees for a year. I submitted a manuscript within a few months, but she rejected it. I submitted another manuscript and another, which were rejected, but the editor told me I could keep submitting and hoped to buy a story from me someday. So, from signing up for a conference appointment, I gained an editor contact and sold my first book, a reader, to Random House. The second tactic is to hand the editor a blurb sheet that gives short descriptions of a few of your other ideas and ask if the editor would like to see any of them. I will go into more detail about blurb sheets in the next blog.

Many people have great ideas for children’s books, but they never find the time to put the idea on paper (or computer). Or they lack confidence about how to tell the story. Our workbook, Write a Marketable Children’s Book in 7 Weeks, provides a scheduled guide to turning your idea into a story in less than two months. It shows how to do research to discover if your idea is marketable and how to inject kid appeal. It’s not a magic bullet, but you cannot sell it unless you write it. Our workbook is a practical, organized method, full of tips and plotting charts, that will enable you finally to turn your idea into a written story.

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