When submitting a children’s book to an agent or publisher, all the usual guidelines for submitting a book apply – your book document needs to be in Word, double line spaced, in a legible font (just because it’s for children that DOES NOT MEAN COMIC SANS – Times New Roman works fine) and the pages numbered. Edit and proof-read your cover letter, and BE PROFESSIONAL. Obviously.
But there are also some guidelines specific to submitting children’s books. By using the term children’s books, I include everything from picture books to young adult fiction. I’ve made this list after attending many panels with agents and publishers, and hearing the same advice come up again and again.
1) Submit to the right person.
Don’t submit a picture book to an agent that only represents YA (young adult/teenage) writers. Don’t submit a YA novel to an agent that only represents adults. Do your research and make sure you submit to someone who represents or publishes your genre and target age group. Otherwise you’re wasting both their time, and yours. If it’s a particular agency you’re interested in, as opposed to a specific agent, research the agency and find out who deals with the children’s list and submit to them. Someone who understands your market is the best person to represent your book.
2) Decide on your target audience
Don’t say that your book will be loved by all ages. Do a bit of research, go into bookshops, read the books that are out there and figure out where your book belongs. Be clear about what age kids you want to read your book, so the agent or publisher will know where your book will be placed on shelves.
3) Read Children’s books
If you want to be a children’s writer, you should read children’s books. If an agent or publisher is interested in your book, they may ask you what books you love, and what children’s writers inspire you. Be prepared. Also, you don’t want to send in a book and then find out that the biggest book of last year was the exact same story as yours. Know the market before you submit.
4) Don’t say your children/grandchildren love your story.
I stopped counting the amount of times I’ve heard agents say that this is one of their pet hates in cover letters. Of course your children/grandchildren love your stories. You may have written the story for them, or about them, or about things they know and love. It’s a biased opinion and it doesn’t count.
5) Do not find an illustrator before you submit
Most agents and publishers have their own list of illustrators, and they will match your writing to one of their illustrators themselves. If you sumbit with an illustrator, you’re adding an immediate complication. This rule can be bent if you’re both a writer and an illustrator, but not always.
6) Don’t say your book is the next Harry Potter.
It’s not. And if it is, it’s up to the millions of readers to decide; not you. Apparently this claim is made in numerous submission letters.
7) Read the submission guidelines
While this goes for all kinds of writing, and not just children’s writers, I have found different agencies can have different guidelines for different age groups. For example one agency may ask you to submit the full manuscript for a picture book, or the first 3 chapters plus a synopsis for a middle grade (age approx 9-12 years) novel. It’s doesn’t take long to check the guidelines, and it could be the difference between your book being read, or thrown in the trash folder for not following guidelines (yes this can happen).
8) Submit a book as a stand-alone book, even if it’s the first in a series
Before a publisher will announce a new children’s series, they may want to see how well the first book sells. If you are a debut author, it is a gamble to take on a series, in case the fan base doesn’t follow. Therefore many publishers/agents prefer a book to be stand-alone, i.e. a complete story in itself. If the first book does well, then they may take on the next in the series, but generally the advice I hear again and again is to not pitch it as a series.
(c) Niamh Garvey