BREAKING IN TO CHILDREN’S PUBLISHING
Are you trying to “break in” to children’s publishing?
Here are some great resources, from the “Breaking In” panel that I participated in at CANSCAIP’s
2016 Packaging Your Imagination Conference in Toronto, on Nov. 19, 2016.
THE “BREAKING IN” PANEL
Moderator: Joyce Grant’s debut novel, Tagged Out, is an MG baseball novel. (Feb. 2016, Lorimer). Gabby: Wonder Girl, is the third book in the G abby picture book series (Aug. 2016, illo: Jan Dolby, Fitzhenry & Whiteside)..
Mahak Jain is the author of Maya, a picture book about the power of storytelling and imagination. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph and was previously the Managing Editor at Owlkids and at Lobster Press.www.mahakjain.com | @kveenly
Kate Blair’s debut Transferral is set in an alternate UK, where criminals are punished by having the diseases of the innocent transferred to them. It has been nominated for a MYRCA and optioned for a potential TV series by the producers of Orphan Black and Killjoys. www.kateblair.com
“BREAKING IN” RESOURCES
Below is a list of some of the resources available to you as you embark on your own breaking-in journey and to help you pave the way. No resource is going to be absolutely right for everyone — so do your own due diligence and use at your own risk, of course, but we do hope this list will give you a starting point as you… break in!
1) KIDLIT CONFERENCES
At these conferences, you’ll find many kidlit publishers’ booths. Check out their books and see which ones are like the one you want to publish. That way, you’ll know which publishers to pitch, and whether your book would fit into their list. Also, you can contact the conference organizers and pitch an idea for a session for an upcoming year!
OLA SuperConference (Ontario Library Association) – Feb. 1-4, 2017, Toronto
One of the biggest conferences in Canada, you’ll find most–if not all–of the kidlit publishers. You can also chat with librarians and teachers, as well as bookstore owners (who also have booths). If you can’t afford to go to the sessions, at least go to the trade show, itself. Well worth it. http://www.olasuperconference.ca/
Reading for the Love of It – Feb. 23-24, 2017, Toronto
A large conference, where you will find most Canadian publishers; the audience is teachers and librarians. A wide variety of great speakers.
Telling Tales Festival – Sun., Sept. 18, 2016, Rockton, ON
A well-run, excellent festival with high-profile speakers. It takes literacy seriously, promoting and helping schools year-round. Definitely worth the drive to Rockton!
SCBWI – has New York, Los Angeles and Ottawa conferences yearly – also has contests available to attendees where the winner gets their book presented to agents/publishers.
Eden Mills Writers’ Festival – Sept. 15-18, 2016, Eden Mills, ON
A bucolic, outdoor festival set in Eden Mills, ON.
CANSCAIP – PYI – See you again next year!
2) WRITING CLASSES
In addition to learning how to hone your skills, you’ll meet writers who are on the same journey. A large number of writing critique groups get their start at writing classes, and teachers often have good contacts, and can recommend outstanding students to their own agents and publishers. There are many courses out there — do your research and find out which are right for you.
George Brown College – Continuing Ed, Writing Children’s Fiction
Children’s Writing at the University of Toronto
Ryerson – Writing for the Children’s Market
3) KIDLIT WRITING CONTESTS
Writing contests can help build your writer’s CV, and they often get your work in front of agents and publishers. A few offer a contract as part of their prize. Many writers have broken in this way.
CANSCAIP Writing for Children Contest – enough said!
Mslexia Children’s Novel Contest – only runs every few years – probably not until 2020 now – but worth checking out.
Chicken House/Times – Run by Barry Cunningham, who is best known for signing JK Rowling – the deadline this year is Sunday December 18th – so hurry!
SCWBI Emerging Voices Award – for writers from underrepresented ethnic/cultural backgrounds.
4) LISTS OF PUBLISHERS AND AGENTS
Remember, these lists are just a starting point–you’ll need to visit each publisher/agent’s website to find out what their specific submitting guidelines are. But they’re a great resource to get your search started!
The Canadian Children’s Book Centre Publisher’s List – comprehensive list of Canadian children’s book publishers. Includes submission tips, publisher contact info., genres, and submission guidelines.
The Children’s Writers and Artists’ Yearbook – this is published annually, and lists hundreds of agents/publishers worldwide, as well as featuring essays on getting published.
@inkyelbows — Follow Canadian author/illustrator and kidlit expert Debbie Ohi on Twitter and check out her list of Publishers and Agents on Twitter.
Association of Canadian Publishers – list of members. Search by category: Aboriginal & First Nations, Children’s Books, Non-Fiction, Teen & Young Adult, and more.
5) WRITERS’ GROUPS AND ASSOCIATIONS
Join an association to find like-minded people, advice and monthly speakers.
CANSCAIP – Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers
Monthly speakers — including tons of published authors who will be only too willing to help newbies with advice and information. If you’re not published yet, you pay a bit less per year to join than people who are published. And, they offer really awesome member pages where you can list presentation info (for teachers looking to hire in-class presenters). The pre-meeting dinners are a great opportunity to make friends and network.
CCBC – Canadian Children’s Book Centre
Not expensive to join, and it’s a truly wonderful and worthwhile not-for-profit organization. They do many things, including running programs to get books and Canadian presenters in front of children, such as the TD Book Week author tour. Also, when you join, you get a free ticket to go to the CAN’T SAY ENOUGH ABOUT THIS TD author gala, where some of Canada’s most prestigious kidlit awards are given out (and the food is amazing!). They also host writer/author pages.
TWUC – The Writers’ Union of Canada
Just four awesome things they offer: (1) New members get access to some free legal (ie, contract) advice. (2) Their “Ontario Writers in the Schools” program subsidizes your presentation fees when you do classroom visits. (3) Each member can have a member page — which teachers and librarians frequently access when they’re looking for in-class presenters. (4). They also host a list of publishers and agents. Also – when you do get an offer from a publisher or agent – they have ‘model’ contracts that you can check your own offer against.
SCBWI – Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Organizes conferences, local meetings, provides grants and awards, advice, a magazine, promotion of members’ books and a listserv to connect with other authors. They also have ‘The Book’, which has all kinds of useful resources, like lists of agents, interviews on what books they are acquiring, and awards and grants.
6) QUERY ADVICE
There are many webpages and online resources for polishing your queries, as well as a variety of hashtags used for pitching contests. These can be useful, but occasionally have conflicting advice. If in doubt, always go by the agent/publisher’s submission guidelines.
Query Shark – a resource site of query letters – and how to edit them to make them work. It also has a fair bit of general advice. Reading a lot of these will help you to edit your own letter.
Manuscript Wishlist – this website collects together agents/publisher’s wishlists – as well as having a lot of general query advice. It’s a really good way to find someone who is looking for exactly the kind of manuscript you have written – you can search by genre/age group and keyword.
Twitter – follow agents you are interested in on Twitter. Many tweet what makes them reject/request manuscripts, and you can avoid mistakes and hone your own query to attract attention this way.
#MSWL (stands for Manuscript Wish List — what’s on agents’ wish lists)
ARBookFinder – find details on competing books in your niche. Interest level, word count, ATOS book level, Topic/subtopic.
Twitter Pitch contests
There are many hashtags for pitch contests from time to time, where agents/publishers ’like’ book pitches, and in doing so request a query. It can be useful in helping you shape your own queries, but remember, you can skip this and query an agent you like anyway.
#pitdark – for darker manuscripts
#DVpit – for diverse pitches
Caveat: If you are contacted through a pitch party, be careful. There are a few scammers and unprofessional businesses in the mix too. Do your research before submitting. Does their website look professional? How long have they been in business? What books have they put out? Are they just e-book publishers (which can be fine if that’s what you want)? Are their books available in stores? Any mention of the author paying the agent or publisher is a red flag. Find and try to chat with other authors who have successfully published with the agent or publisher.
Query Spreadsheet Examples
|Date||Publisher||Publisher contact info||Submission method (email/form/snail mail)||Why I picked this publisher||Follow-up||Reply|
|Agent Name||Agency||Submission Guidelines||Reasons for Sending to them||Any worries? Reasons not?||Contact details||Date Sent||Reply?|
7) Critique Groups
Many critique relationships last years, as the writers develop and grow – they often start through online groups, classes, or people who meet at conferences. Here are some online groups to start you off. Find people whose opinion you respect – and they can be your Beta readers and crit partners.
Kidcrit – Run by Marsha Skrypuch, many CANSCAIPers can be found there.
Online Writing Workshop – useful for YA science fiction/fantasy writers.
SCWBI’s Blueboard – some of this board is only available to SCBWIs members – it also has a lot of information & resources on other aspects of breaking in.http://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php
There are also manuscript appraisal/critique services — some of these will even help put you in touch with agents — but they are often expensive so do your research on these — some are better than others, and you don’t want to waste your money.
The Literary Consultancy is a UK-based critique service with a proven track record and relationships with some major agents. They will be honest (sometimes brutally so!) but if they like your work, they have several ways in which they can champion it and raise your profile.
Volunteering can help you to build supportive networks, who can provide you with good advice and teach you a lot about the industry. You can make friends and have fun. Contacts you make may be able to help you break in, and will certainly be an asset once you are published. As well as the societies and events noted above, consider the following events as well as events in your communities.
International Festival of Authors
Word on the Street
Festival of Trees
Eden Mills Writers’ Festival
Telling Tales Festival
There are a number of scams out there, all designed to take advantage of the writer who is looking to break in. Do your research. Writer Beware is a good site to check for the worst offenders, with a ‘thumbs down’ agency and publisher list, as well as a list of abusive practices that should be a red flag for any writer.
MORE GREAT ADVICE ON BREAKING IN
If you are interested in a refresher on the basics of publishing, take a look at award-winning children’s author Lisa Dalrymple’s answers to questions like What is an agent?and What is a query letter? She also lists great resources and tips. View her “breaking in” page on her website at: http://lisadalrymple.com/breakingin/