Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market: Round Two

jpegIt took me about half an hour to realize I was out of my depth when I first started looking for a publisher for Scourge of the Righteous Haddock. Casual terms like “SASE” and “query” confused me, I wrestled with the question of whether I should waste time looking for a literary agent or skip right ahead to querying publishers directly, and every detail of formatting my book into an acceptable manuscript confounded me. It didn’t help that I knew the odds were against me. There was a good chance I was investing countless precious hours into an effort that would not pay off.

But I decided early on that if I was going to do this thing–“this thing” being becoming an author–I was going to do it right. I wouldn’t jump through hoops that would ultimately lead somewhere I had no interest in going, but if I decided I wanted an agent and publisher I wasn’t going to cut any corners. I would follow every agent’s instructions to a “t.” I would send them exactly what they wanted, formatted exactly how they asked, and I would do it without expecting an affirmative response.

I credit this attitude to my experiences working as an editor at a newspaper. We get busy and I can’t always dedicate time to every job applicant or query from a freelancer. So who do I give my time to? It’s not going to be writers and artists who disregard our instructions. We recently posted a job listing requesting a resume, cover letter, and portfolio. Because there are very few newspaper jobs these days, the response was intense and I didn’t have sufficient time to go through everybody’s portfolio. So which applications got less time and attention? Simple. The applications that didn’t include all the requested materials. It sounds harsh to ignore a potentially stunning portfolio because someone neglected to submit a cover letter, but if someone can’t follow simple instructions in the beginning when they’re ostensibly trying to impress me, then what are the odds that I’m going to enjoy working with that person later?

It’s the same with literary agents and publishers. Yeah, I’m busy. Yeah, it stinks writing ten different queries because each agent wants something slightly different from the letter. And yeah, there’s a good chance I’ll never hear from them after sending those letters. These are just the realities of trying to get published in 2014. If you can’t or won’t deal with it, self-publishing has made a lot of advances in just the last couple years and it’s a viable option. It’s also a lot of work, a lot of formatting, a lot of choices that have to be made, but at least you’re the one setting up the hoops you’ll be jumping through.

So, I’d decided I was going to give it my best effort. If I couldn’t find an agent or publisher, it would not be through lack of effort. What was my next move?

I purchased a copy of the 2013 Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published. It’s not pleasant investing money in an effort you know is likely not going to yield great financial returns, and on the whole, I’ve been very wary of anything marketed toward writers and authors that costs money. I refuse to pay entry fees for writing competitions, don’t attend expensive workshops and retreats, and I’ve never paid anyone for their opinion about my book. Maybe if I had tried these things I would have found a publisher. I happen to think it’s more likely that I would have invested money I didn’t have and I still wouldn’t have an agent or publisher.

But the Writer’s Market was different. I wasn’t investing in a subjective opinion; I was purchasing information which was essential to my becoming a professional author. I spent several weeks culling through the book picking out agents and publishers. There aren’t many publishers left who accept a cold query from an author without an agent, so the list of agents was longer than the list of publishers. And this helped answer my question of whether I wanted to bother with an agent. If an agent could gain me access to a wider selection of publishers, then I decided it would be foolish not to at least try that door. Once that door was definitively closed, I could still pursue the few publishers that welcomed a query from unagented authors. The only thing it cost me was time (agents take several months to respond to queries, assuming you receive a response). And while I was anxious to see my book in print, I had figured out that the time between an author signing with a publisher and their book being published is often more than a year, so whatever path I wound up taking would require some patience.

I’m not suggesting that authors simply mindlessly copy information from Writer’s Market and send out a blanket of identical queries. Once I had the names of the agents and publishers that seemed viable, I started visiting their websites for even more updated information about what they wanted from authors. And I learned that many of them accept electronic submissions, which is a blessing for a broke author who doesn’t want to pay a small fortune in postage mailing out dozens of queries and manuscripts to agents and publishers. This is especially useful when querying agents because some agencies prefer that a writer send a query to the agency while others ask you to query a specific agent. You can often find a lot of personal information about agents on their websites; you can learn their favorite books, the genres that appeal to them, the types of novels they’re looking for. That information is essential in choosing the agent most likely to connect with your work.

If all of this sounds a little desperate–gather all the information you can through all means available including online stalking and then do exactly what the agents and publishers of your choice tell you to do and pray you hear from one of them–that’s because it is. Welcome to authorhood. Prepare for rejection. You’ll probably cry at least once during the process.

If you’re wondering where all this is coming from, I just purchased my copy of 2015 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published. I have another week or so of editing Vestal, and then it’s time to suck up my pride and jump through some hoops. Only this time around I have a better idea of what I’m doing. I know that I can navigate this process, and my expectations are realistic, given that I ultimately wound up self-publishing Scourge of the Righteous Haddock. The real benefit of having been through the process, and failed, is the fact that everything turned out alright. I’m not desperate, and I don’t think the same can be said for my last attempt, when I equated failure to find a publisher with failure in life. That’s extreme, I realize, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a published author, which makes the process intensely emotional at times.

But if you’re on a publishing adventure of your own, be patient with yourself, arm yourself with as much information as possible, buy a copy of Writer’s Market if it’s in your budget, and be patient in general because the process takes awhile. If you’re not on a publishing journey, but know someone who is, be patient with them when all their Facebook statuses become rants about rejection and how impossible it is to figure out how to insert page numbers excluding the first page of each new chapter. They’re doing the best they can, and a kind word–and tech support–can go a long way.



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