Updated: Sep 19
When you've decided on the traditional publishing route, the next step in the process is to query agents or book publishers directly. If you haven't tried querying agents yet, I recommend that you try only because many traditional publishers (especially the biggest ones) don't accept unagented submissions.
So if you want to submit your book to Penguin Random House, for example, you'll need an agent to do that.
And while there are traditional publishers who you can submit to without an agent, they are typically smaller presses, meaning they might not offer a royalty advance or their royalties might be a lower percentage. This is a generalization though and will vary from publisher to publisher.
Just remember that a real traditional publisher pays you. If a company asks you for money to publish your book, that isn't a traditional publisher.
In this post, we'll share a list of vetted book publishers that you can send your unagented manuscript to but first, there are some things you should know.
Before you submit to book publishers...
1. Have your story thoroughly polished
Lots of new authors think this just means cleaning up the grammar and punctuation when in reality, the developmental concerns are usually what gets a book rejected. Publishers want books that are 99.9% publication ready so your book should have gone through beta readers or critique groups multiple times and if possible, hire a freelance editor for a few rounds of edits.
2. Prepare a solid pitch
Your story could be incredible but if you can't sell it, it's never going to make it onto a bookshelf. Practice, practice, practice and don't be afraid to run your pitch through your critique group too!
3. Write your query
A query is a lot like a job application. Your query letter is the equivalent of a cover letter where you inform the publisher (or agent) about yourself, your book, and why you're the best person to tell that story. The rest of your query will consist of comparable book titles, market research on your target audience, an elevator pitch, and more. You'll want to prepare all of this in advance as you get ready to submit to children's book publishers.
4. Read the catalog
Before you send over your query, you want to make sure that your book is a good fit compared to books they've already published. If your book doesn't feel like it would belong, you're setting yourself up for an instant rejection by that publisher. But besides that, you want your publisher to be excited about what you have to offer and that starts with sending them stories that fit their existing catalog.
5. Check the submission guidelines carefully
Every publisher's submission guidelines will be slightly different so to give yourself the strongest chance, make sure you review these before you hit "submit." You don't want to receive a rejection simply because you forgot something they requested.
Phew! I think you're ready.
So without further ado, here's a list of vetted children's book publishers you can send your picture book without an agent:
An established publisher committed to creating award-winning children's literature that helps kids grow emotionally and intellectually. Picture books must be under 1,000 words. They are also open to middle grade and young adult manuscripts.
Cardinal Rule Press is a children's book publisher that exclusively publishes realistic fiction for ages 4-11. That means that your characters should be children and the events that occur should be possible to occur in real life. They only publish 3-5 titles per year so they are highly selective and only open to submissions once per year.
They publish both fiction and nonfiction board books, picture books, early readers, middle-grade, and young adult novels. They are not seeking alphabet books or coloring/activity books at this time but are always looking for marginalized voices and fresh perspectives.
Chronicle has a wide interest in different children's book subjects and formats. They even accept activity kits and other innovative formats!
A small but reputable publishing company with a strong focus on children's books for families.
A publisher that focuses on picture books for 4-8 year olds with topics about family and social emotional themes.
Free Spirit is an imprint of Teacher Created Materials that specifically wants social emotional learning books for kids. They do not accept rhyming manuscripts, poetry, or books with animal main characters.
Holiday House exclusively publishes children's books and is distributed by Penguin Random House. They do not acquire or publish pop-up books, sticker books, or coloring/activity books.
A Canadian publisher committed to amplifying underrepresented voices and mental health subjects in children's literature. You do not need to be Canadian - they publish fiction and non-fiction from writers from around the world. For picture books specifically, they do not accept rhyming manuscripts.
A small press with a strong focus on multicultural and diverse children's literature.
This children's book publisher enjoys working with debut authors and actively seek diverse authors and perspectives.
A well known publisher of high quality children's fiction and non-fiction. They accept board books, picture books, beginning readers, and some middle grade.
What to do after submitting to a publisher
Once you've sent off your query and your book, it can take months or longer before hearing back from a publisher. You'll notice that many of their submission guidelines contain a disclaimer stating they may only respond to books they intend to publish due to the high volume of submissions. So be prepared for the possibility that you may never hear back from some of them.
In the meantime, you can query agents if you're interested in that route or you can continue writing new books and submit those to agents or publishers.
Keep in mind that getting your book published is a process so whatever you do, stay patient and remind yourself why you wanted to become an author in the first place. Leave us a comment below...why do you want to be an author?
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