Author Topic: Children's Publishing Market Paper  (Read 2177 times)

Offline Sheree

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Children's Publishing Market Paper
« on: March 20, 2006, 12:03:23 AM »
I don't know whether this is the place to post this, but I thought some people might find it helpful. It is a university paper I wrote on the Children's Publishing Market. Sorry about the formatting in certain places, I am not html savvy.


The Children's Publishing Market, Believers in Make Believe
 by Sheree Kima
Information on the Children's Publishing Market is wide-spread and often follows a formulaic pattern of  how-to and not-to tips and trade “secrets”. For those truly interested in the subject, I would recommend searching the Internet. The advice there is much the same, with links directly to publishers, writing groups, etc., and without breaking your piggy. For those like myself who have already purchased several of these books, a distinct pattern emerges, causing one to question whether writing a how-to on children's publishing would be simpler and more successful than actually writing and publishing a picture book.
The basic pattern begins with “Why Children's Books?” The reader is then given a history lesson in literature and its necessary impact on the ever-forming, impressionable young mind. According to How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books and Get Them Published (Bicknell and Trotman 9), the reasons to tell stories are as follows:

1. To help children learn and listen.
2.To enlarge a listener's vocabulary.
3.To extend a child's knowledge of the worlds of fact and fantasy.
4. To stimulate the listener's imagination.
5. To create an appetite for words.
6. To introduce the shared activity of storytelling – from author or teller to audience.

I would add to this list a somewhat less lofty ideal, but just as crucial:
7.  To have fun!   

The formula continues with the reader asked to examine her soul for motives for writing in this genre. Financial reward comes for a very few,and there must be more compelling reasons, for it is a long and difficult journey. Children's author Sneed Collard is quoted in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books  as saying “If you are not willing to put in the years and continue to grow, this field isn't for you. If you are willing to keep learning and growing, however, children's book writing can be an enormously satisfying ride”(Underdown 39). 
If the reader is not put off by the squalid income, or the lonely and misunderstood life of an author, she is advised to sharpen her skills through courses, typing programs, critique groups and by writing, writing, and then writing some more. Often these books offer tips for those who are starting at square one. The Everything Guide to Writing Children's Books by Lesley Bolton, gives advice on voice, characterization, dialogue, tension and action as well as on how to overcome writer's block (Bolton 79 – 92). Teach Yourself Writing For Children(Jones and Pollinger 65-118), also includes sections on plot development and structure, and in How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books and Get Them Published, contemporary as well as classic themes are explored (Bicknell and Trotman 32-53). Revisions are also stressed, with an emphasis on inviting critiques, for happy thoughts and fairy dust will not take flight in this territory. 

Key to learning is getting to know the target audience. This the aspiring writer can achieve by volunteering at libraries, schools and, best, playing with her own children, nephews, nieces. In a pinch, she can get to know the kid down the street, who with great punctuality delivers the newspaper every morning to her dog. He probably has many inspiring tales of chihuahua evasions, bicycle tire woes and mudhole mayhem which will give the writer an inside scoop into a child's world. These children will also serve as expert listeners for her latest story. For, as Lesley Bolton says, “it isn't likely that they will sugarcoat their criticism” (Bolton 98).   
Once the aspiring writer has wrapped his mind around how to think, talk, eat, and breathe like the under four foot and a quarter generation, he must then try to comprehend the needs of the ravenous giant of the publishing industry, whose storehouse is glutted with stories (aptly placed in 'piles of slush'), yet its appetite is never satisfied due to exceptionally finicky taste buds. There is a general consensus on how to not to approach this giant. By the scattered bones and shattered egos strewn about the land, the advice had best be heeded. That is, to steer clear from stories about talking animals in dungarees, bulldozer ballerinas, or the ever popular dragon- wizard- fairy. Barbara Seuling counters this by quoting the former editor of Clarion books, author James Cross Giblin. When Giblin was asked what he felt about talking animals, he replied, “It depends on what they have to say”(Seuling 73). 

Knowing each publisher's wants and capabilities on an individual basis is the wisest and most recommended course of action. Purchasing a guide such as the “Writer's and Illustrator's Guide to Children's Book Publishers and Agents” by Ellen Shapiro, and/or using tools on the Internet such as those offered by the Society of Bookwriters and Illustrators ( are fundamental must-haves. Shapiro's Guide covers information on North American publishers' addresses and needs as well as gives tips on writing cover letters, query letters and proposals. She also suggests keeping up on current market trends by reading publishers' trade journals, websites and newsletters and attending writer's conferences at least once a year (Shapiro 26). Such resources are also useful to find submission calls from editors for specific types of stories (Moira Allen,

There are many publishers who are not accepting unsolicited materials, but often, even if a manuscript is not exactly what they are looking for, they might consider the aspiring writer's abilities for future tasks. 'In-house' story generation counts for much of mass- market publishing, although companies often take the safe bet by sticking with well-established authors (Underdown, ). Mass market publishers produce low budget, high demand books that are sold in supermarkets and news racks. Very often, these books are based on film or television media. For children, these can include pop-up features, toys, or other accessories to help bring a sale. Trade publishing houses produce the more expensive, higher quality books that are generally sold to bookstores and libraries. Within trade publishing houses are often smaller specialized divisions called imprints. Because the larger companies have greater resources for taking a gamble on unknown writers, imprints are good options to seek before turning to the smaller publishing houses, which create a limited amount of new books and often rely solely on their own authors.  Imprints have less materials to handle than the larger umbrella company, so they will probably have more time to spend on editing and be more receptive to beginning writers who may need a little coddling (Underdown102-103, 235-236; Seuling 25).
By now the reader wonders whether there is any hope of entering such a competitive market. But he is quickly assured that there are plenty of rainbows to follow. Magazines, educational, and regional markets are growing, as are the hidden niches in religious and other special interest groups (Underdown 175-184).
There seems to be a split jury over whether e-publishing is a good option. Harold Underdown maintains that the cost and difficulty involved in putting picture books into e-book form makes it a less  than lucrative venture(Underdown 182). Ellen R. Shapiro gives the advantages and disadvantages as follows:
   Advantages:                                   Disadvantages:
Better chances of acceptance.                         Lower Sales.          
More control.               Lack of availability in bookstores.
Higher royalties.               No advance.
Author-friendly contracts.            Fewer reviews.
Shorter response times.            Limited formats.
Faster publication.               Lack of security.
Multimedia options.               Consumer reluctance
International availability.                                                                to read "online."
Lower prices.
Longer “shelf-life.”(Shapiro 82-84)      
Another option worth looking into is self-publishing. Again there is a hung-jury on its merits, especially within the children's market, but taking a look at Dan Poynter's“The Self -Publishing Manual, How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book” makes idea very tempting. This is especially true if the writer is willing not only to do all the hard work involved in manufacturing a book, but also the marketing: advertising, networking, listing, etc. For the controlling perfectionist, this would definitely be a wonderful option, with much of the publishing world's undying gratitude. For another, whose armour is not quite as thick, weighing the time and effort involved might be lightened if her book appeals mostly to a specialized niche. Although Poynter's book is not geared specifically to the children's market alone, he helps the writer discover niches, and the networking methods he encourages could also be used to inspire new stories, or strengthen her marketability, even if she decides to use the mainstream publishers.  For example, he encourages looking into the library market. He quotes a librarian, “When material is scarce on a topic and interest is high, we will often buy any reasonably priced new book through an ad in Library Journal or even a flyer”(248). Self-publishing or not, getting to know the library staff is a valuable, inspirational resource.
For most, the idea of going it alone is a daunting task. This is also true if the writer decides to go the traditional route of the mainstream publishing companies. Agents are often called upon to intervene on the writer's behalf, and indeed, some publishing companies only accept manuscripts through agents. This is a bit of a minotaur's maze. For the aspiring writer, the ability to hire an agent comes with being published, and to cross that path he must have an agent. There are of course exceptions to this, but the criteria for being taken on by an agent is much the same as with a publishing house. “The big difference”, according to Jones and Pollinger, “is that an agent may see some spark of talent or originality in your work and be prepared to give you the necessary guidance so
that the spark can ignite”(173). Agents are also very important for getting the best price   
 possible. They know the market trends and are the puss-in-boots of the business.            
At this point the perils of the publishing market may manifest. The aspiring writer, losing patience with his golden goose, may decide to take a short cut to the publishing house. Wolves abound. Any agent who solicits clients who are unknown, or agrees to take on a writer for an upfront fee, should be considered as wearing granny's knickers and be avoided at all costs (Bolton 136,137). Concerning the use of reader fees, the Association of Author's Representatives states: “the practise of charging clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works... is subject to serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession.” The AAR has a list of questions to ask an agent before signing a contract. This list and the previous quotation may be found at their website: .
Vanity Press is another candy-coated house that the writer should be wary of. This is the term given to subsidy publishing houses where authors do the paying, and not the publishers. The author usually buys in bulk, only to find shoddy workmanship from overseas manufacturers. All marketing and distribution is up to the writer. Obviously the term is used because of its appeal to the vanity of the unsuccessful writer who just wants a lucky break. A new twist on this are the “no-advance, no marketing” publishers. They will pay royalties, but usually books are printed in small numbers, with authors often having to commit to selling a specific number in advance. A different form of this is found in e-publishing, where one copy at a time may be purchased either in traditional paper or e-book cd/downloads. The latter two may be of use if very small quantities of the book is expected to sell for specific audiences, such as for family reunions,cookbook fundraisers, etc. (Underdown 182, 183).
A good way to learn about sweet talkers with pointy shoes is to log onto the Writer Beware website at . The site not only raises the alarm over unscrupulous publishers and agents, but warns authors of other scams pertinent to their career and pocket book. This includes cybersquatting, where unrelated  buyers purchase domain names in order to scalp the marketing tool to the author for ridiculous prices (SFWA, “Cybersquatting” 2/1/05).
To get your foot in the door, persistence is vital, as well as maintaining a professional manner. Major taboos that will guarantee the aspirant to be jilted are aggressive sales tactics such as cold calls, unexpected visits, stalking editors at conventions, etc. The beginning writer would do well to take any opportunities to meet editors, agents or others in the publishing business as a means to make contacts (a good name) and above all to learn from. This can be done through helping out at conferences instead of just attending them, by entering contests, or by getting a job in the industry (Underdown 149-155). Meeting  giants on their own terms is always the safer and friendlier approach.
For the timid and discouraged writer who has made it thus far without success, writing groups are a means of encouragement and skill building which should not be overlooked. If truly serious about becoming published, joining groups such as the Society of Bookwriters and Illustrators (, or the Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers ( will give inside information and tips of the trade, as well as a means of networking which could prove invaluable.
The aspiring writer who has read the publishing know-how books will have to decide whether the rejections, door slammings, scams, and meagre pay are worth the effort of seeing her words light up a child's face. As believers in make-believe, perhaps she stands a better chance than any other genre. For hers is the world of the impossible. 

Underdown, Harold D. The Complete Guide to Publishing Children's Books.2nd ed.
           New York: Alpha Books, 2004
             ---. “Confusingly Positive Rejection Letters and Other Challenges             Faced by Published Authors”. 18 Dec. 2004. accessed 8 April             2005. <>.      

Bolton, Lesley. The Everything Guide to Writing Children's Books.
                  Avon, MA: F+W Publications, Inc.,2003

Seuling, Barbara. How to Write a Children's Book and Get It Published.3rd ed.
         New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005

Jones, Allen Frewin, Lesley Pollinger. Teach Yourself Writing For Children.
         London, UK: Hodder Headline, 2003

Shapiro, Ellen R. Writer's and Illustrators Guide to Children's Book Publishers and                              Agents. 2nd ed. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003

Eds.Bicknell, Treld Pelkey, Felicity Trotman.How To Write and Illustrate Children's
         Books and Get Them Published. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest             Books, 2004

Poynter, Dan. The Self-Publishing Manual, How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own
         Book.14th ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Para Publishing, 2003   

Strauss, Victoria. “Writer Beware”. 2005. accessed 8 April 2005.     

The Maple Leaf Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. 28 Jan. 2005.             accessed 8 April 2005. <>.
Tibbetts, Peggy. The Elephant in the Room, Marketing Your Children's Manuscript
         2005. accessed 8 April 2005.

The Association of Authors' Representatives accessed 8 April 2005 .

Doodletronics. “Welcome to CANSCAIP”. 1 April 2005. accessed 8 April 2005.

« Last Edit: March 20, 2006, 12:07:41 AM by Sheree »