Updated: Sep 19
If you're a children's book author with a completed manuscript, the next step is to find a publisher.
The best part about a traditional publisher is that they handle the book production for you and the process is completely free to you.
In fact, a real traditional publisher pays the author!
It can be tricky to get one though, which is why we're here to help. In this article, we'll outline the exact steps you need to take to find a publisher for your children's book.
Note: If you're looking to self-publish, STOP! 🛑 In self-publishing, you are the publisher so click here to learn more about how that works.
Step 1. Decide whether or not to query agents
This is the first step in the traditional publishing process because it will impact how you actually find a publisher for your children's book. Before you go any further, take a look at these articles about literary agents: what they are and what they do:
Here's an overview of what those articles cover:
What is a literary agent?
Think of a literary agent like a real estate agent; while you can do the "For Sale By Owner" route with your children's book, it's not the best choice for everyone.
A literary agent represents your book and does all the pitching to publishers for you! And because the biggest name publishers do not accept unagented submissions, having an agent also means that your book can be pitched to a larger pool of potential publishers than without one.
Benefits of having a literary agent
Literary agents have expertise when it comes to the publishing process and can provide invaluable guidance to the authors they represent. They also have access to larger publishing houses and handle the pitching process as well as the contract negotiations and legal side of publishing. This can be especially helpful for authors who don't have experience with these aspects of the publishing process.
How to get a literary agent
We've talked briefly about what they are and the benefits of having one, but how do you actually get a literary agent?
Here's a quick overview of the process:
Research agents that are looking for books in your genre and/or about your topic. Make a list of agents you'd like to query and take note of which ones are open to queries right now.
Prepare your query - A query is similar to a job application because an agent has to accept you. A query includes a query letter, manuscript, author bio, pitch, comp titles, and more. Make sure it's well-written and professional.
Submit your query - Follow each agent's submission guidelines carefully. Some agents want email submissions but many use a website called QueryTracker. Be sure to keep organized!
Repeat - It can take weeks to months to actually hear back from an agent so keep querying until you find someone who's interested in representing you.
Click here for a list of literary agencies accepting children's book submissions.
Note: if you have queried agents already and a publisher (or an acquisitions editor at a publishing house) expresses interest in picking up your book, you can use that as leverage to secure an agent. Through QueryTracker, reach out to the agents you've already queried and let them know!
I got an agent, now what?
First, take a moment to celebrate! That's a huge accomplishment and you should be proud of your hard work. Here's what will happen next:
Your agent may ask for minor revisions to your manuscript. Remember that agents don't accept books unless they feel that it's already in great shape so any changes they may suggest will only be the tweaks they feel will help your book sell faster.
When the book is ready for submission, your agent will start pitching it to acquisition editors at publishing houses. It can take anywhere from weeks to months for your agent to hear back from editors.
Your agent will continue pitching until (hopefully!) you get a "yes" from an editor. At that point, the contract negotiations will begin.
Sometimes, editors will give feedback in their rejections and if your agent feels like that feedback justifies revisions, they might ask you to make changes before continuing the process. As a literary agent myself, I had a picture book from one of my authors that kept getting rejected for not having enough character development. The author got a freelance developmental edit (from our own Chelsea Tornetto, actually!) and made revisions. The next editor I pitched the book to offered a contract!
Just keep in mind that it's a process. If you have an agent though, you can focus more on writing because they'll handle the pitching part for you.
What if I don't have an agent?
Let's assume that you either don't want an agent or you're in the process of querying them but you still want to try to find a publisher for your book yourself. Here's what you'll want to do next:
Step 2. Research publishers
While there are hundreds of legitimate publishers out there, few of them actually accept unagented submissions from authors, and usually, they are smaller presses. This means that they might not offer much (or any) marketing for your book, they likely won't offer a royalty advance, or their royalty rates may be lower than other publishing houses.
If you're a debut author though, your first publishing deal is often the most difficult to get so these smaller presses could be a good way to launch your publishing career.
That said, just because a publisher is small does not mean they are "easy" to get into. Open submissions mean that there's a large pool of books to choose from so they are often just as picky (if not more!) than larger publishing houses.
This means that you need to do your research carefully. Look for publishers where your book would fit nicely amongst their catalog. Read up on their submission guidelines and expectations and follow them closely.
Beware of publishing scams
Unfortunately, there are a lot of scams in the publishing industry. It's one of the reasons we started At Home Author - too many times, we've seen aspiring creatives put in frustrating positions because they didn't have the knowledge of how the industry actually works. That's why we strive to provide helpful content so you can skip the scams (and the overwhelm) to get published successfully.
Let's jump into the specifics so you know how to avoid these scams:
What is a vanity press?
A vanity press is a company that preys on new authors by pretending to be a traditional publisher. They scam authors out of their copyrights and a lot of money by self-publishing the author's book under their name.
Traditional publishers only take on books that align with their vision and that they think are quality because they are in the business of making book sales and creating great content. Vanity presses are in the business of producing books, not selling them. This means that their customers are authors, not readers, and as such, vanity presses don't invest time or money into making your book good. They'll skip the editing, cheap out on illustrations, charge you an arm and a leg for printing, and then move on to the next author.
Some of our coaching clients have come to us after falling for a vanity press. One unknowingly signed away the rights to all her future books...ones she hadn't even written yet. Another had a vanity press blackmail her to keep her book published...to the tune of $10,000 per year! 😱 There are lots of vanity presses out there so be vigilant - they often pop up in advertisements to people searching for publishers.
How do I know if a publisher is a vanity press?
Thankfully, it's pretty easy to tell the difference between a traditional publisher and a vanity press because a real traditional publisher won't charge you a dime.
Yes, you read that right. In fact, a real traditional publisher pays you. So if a "publisher" asks you for money, 🚩🚩🚩 that's a huge red flag. If you'd like to be sure, sites like Writer Beware are dedicated to outing scams.
Want to take a shortcut? Check out our vetted list of legit publishers that are open to unagented submissions.
Step 3. Write a Query
A query is a written request to an editor or publishing house for the purpose of submitting a book for consideration. It typically contains a synopsis of the book, an author biography, and an explanation of why the book would be a good fit for their publishing list. The query should be concise, professional, and engaging in order to best showcase the author and their book.
Your query should include the following:
Your contact information and biography
Book title, genre, and word count
Full manuscript (for picture books. For chapter books or novels, they'll ask for a sample instead)
Sometimes, they'll ask for your resume or any author credentials you have. Do NOT submit illustrations unless you've done the illustrations yourself.
Step 4. Repeat + Wait
Patience is an absolute must when submitting your work to publishers, as they often receive thousands of submissions every month. This means it may take weeks or even months to hear whether your submission has been successful. However, it's important to remember that no matter how long it takes, it's always worth persevering. After all, submitting to more than one publisher can increase your chances of success. So, don't be afraid to submit your work to multiple publishers at the same time.
I know how to find a publisher...now what?
At the end of the day, finding a publisher for your book is a process so even though it may feel slow at times, remind yourself why you want to publish a children's book in the first place. If you're willing to be patient, put in the work, and are open to feedback from others, there's no reason why your dreams of becoming a children's book author can't come true. Keep moving forward and if you need more help, you know where to find us!
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