It's pretty common when you're starting out writing picture books to have written a picture book and not know what to do next! I get questions about it all the time. So, here are some basics things you should do when you have written a children's book but are not quite sure how to go about getting it published:
- Get critiques. Just because you wrote a picture book doesn't mean it's ready to send out into the world. Once you've made the story the best you can make it find some other picture book writers to trade with. Getting thoughts and opinions from others writing in the same category as you will help you see your work in a new light. Getting professional opinions from those who are working in the field can be eye opening as well. My recommendation would be to trade with critique partners and when you are ready, to spring for that professional opinion. (To find critique partners you are welcome to join my Sub It Club Critique Partner Matchup. If you are ready for a professional opinion, check out my critique services.)
- Revise. Revise, revise, always revise! Revise to make your manuscript the best that you possibly can. Revise before getting critiques. Revise after critiques. Ha! Seriously though, putting your manuscript away for a few weeks then taking a new look at it can help your see it with fresh eyes. Picture books take lots of rounds of revisions.
- Read Picture Books. In between all of those revisions and even when you are revising, read loads of picture books. Reading newly published ones from the larger publishing houses will help you know what the market is looking for. Although there are definitely some good books published by smaller publishers, don't automatically take them to be the general consensus on what publishers are looking for. Sometimes small publishers are able to make allowances that the big publishers don't. Self-published don't make good guides either as the author has no guidelines they have to follow.
- Read books about writing for children. Get them from your library. Order them from your book store. Just read them!
- Read blog posts about picture book writing. There is a lot of good information out there. I have some posts about picture book writing. Author Josh Funk has a great Guide to Writing Picture Books. Author Pam Calvert has Picture Book University where you can also learn a lot. All of these resources are free and they are just the tip of the online iceberg!
- Do numbers 1 - 5 so many times that you can't even count how many times you have done them.
- Do NOT try to find an illustrator. I put that one in red because it is such a common misconception. If you want to sell your picture book manuscript to a publisher it is their job to find the illustrator for the book. They want to do this. You having the manuscript illustrated counts against you, not for you. If you yourself are not a professional illustrator, write the best, submission-ready, illustratable manuscript you can. Then send it out for consideration.
- Learn about what publishers, and therefore agents, are looking for. When you start delving into the world of children's publishing you will know things like #7, for instance. You will know that to give your picture book manuscript a better shot it just might be best to keep it under 700 words. A high-concept can be a good thing too. (Tip #8 here is a little repetitive but I felt like it needed saying. You can learn about what publisher and agents are looking for by doing #'s 3, 4, & 9!)
- Learn about querying.
- Join me at Sub It Club. We talk about all the things that have to do with submitting manuscripts for publication. We post lots of submission information on the blog and have a very active private Sub It Club Facebook group with loads of super fantastic writers and illustrators where you can learn and ask questions, get help on your query letters, and more.
- Check out the Monster List of Picture Book Agents where you can start learning about agents and what they are looking for. (Hint: agents who represent picture books often like to know what else you have if they are interested in the manuscript you have queries with, so it can be good to have a few polished manuscripts ready to go when querying. But keep in mind, there are no hard and fast rules here. Use your judgement.)
- Check out the Monster List of Picture Book Publishers with links directly to publisher's submission guidelines so you can see what you need to do to ask them to consider your work. (Hint: If you are interested in working with an agent, you should submit your work to them first as they don't like a manuscript to be too shopped around. But you can definitely submit your work straight to publishers who are open to unsolicited submissions.)
- You can join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. SCBWI is an international professional organization for writers and illustrators of children's literature. They have tons of resources and put on great workshops and conferences. Peruse their website to see all the things they offer.
- Become a member of the SCBWI Blueboards. This is a message board where tons of writers and illustrators hang out. You can learn so much there! You do not have to join SCBWI to take part in the boards.
Please realize that all of these things take time. Picture books may seem short and simple but they take a lot of work and thought to be great. That beautiful picture book you see on the shelf has most likely been years in the making. But, they are definitely worth it!
If you have a specific question feel free to contact me. If I can I will answer your question on the blog here.