STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO FINDING THE PERFECT PUBLISHER FOR YOUR MANUSCRIPT
by Sandra L. Cook, © All Rights Reserved
When getting ready to submit your manuscript to publishers, there are several things to consider before making your first submission. Start with a sheet of notebook paper for each manuscript. Write the title of your story at the top of the page. Use this sheet for information gathering prior to submitting your manuscript to publishers. Let’s begin the market research process….
First determine your audience’s age and write it down. Is your manuscript for toddlers or very young children? Is it an early reader, an early chapter book, a mid-grade novel or a young adult novel?
Picture books are generally written for the very young child, but can be geared towards children as old as 10. Early Readers have very simple text and generally cover 5-8 year-olds. Early Readers allow children to read the book themselves. Early chapter books are for 7-10 year-olds, Midgrades cover 8 through young teen, and Young Adult books are for teenagers.
There is variation in reading abilities at every age, so these ranges are not set in concrete. Use your common sense about topics are of interest to your targeted age group and what is readable by them.
Once you have decided the appropriate age range, pinpoint the topic (or genre) of your book. Is it fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, nature, concept, religious, adventure, suspense, history, contemporary, humor, folktale or educational? What type of book is it?
Jot down the names of all categories your manuscript will fit into along with your targeted audience’s age-level.
To narrow your field of publishers, write a descriptive statement for your book. Include its genre and choose two adjectives that capture the personality of your book. In example, “This is an energetic and comical non-fiction picture book”. Use the two adjectives to help you verbalize the tone, mood, and pace of your manuscript.
The tone is generally the overall ‘feel’ of the book that is a blend of emotion and read speed. Pace is whether the reading is fast or slow, steady or rhythmic. Mood is emotional… happy, sad, excited, angry.
Descriptive examples would include:
Deep (with meaning) and Simple
Straightforward and Uplifting
Dark and Suspenseful
It is important to have an established description. Editors say they like to get a ‘feel’ for a book from the cover letter and your descriptive statement is excellent material for your cover letter that will accompany any submission you make.
While the cover letter will not replace reading the manuscript, it will arouse the editor’s interest if your descriptive statement fits a need they wish to fill. After drafting descriptive sentences for your manuscript(s), write them down also.
Now it is time to research publishers….
You must figure out which publishers publish books in your manuscript’s category (genre). You must hunt for publishers that want YOUR book. Randomly submitting to publishers will insure rejection (which we all hate), will waste your time and money (which we all hate) and will waste the publishers’ time (which they hate)!
A 2012 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market (Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market) or Children’s Writer Guide is essential (Ordering information offered at the beginning and end of this newsletter).
Get a highlighter or pencil and get ready to mark in your book. If you cannot bear to write in your book, get post-it notes to use as placemarks. Start at the beginning of the publisher listings.
Scan each listing asking yourself the following questions in order(if at any time you answer ‘NO’ then move on to the next publisher’s listing):
1) Do they accept submissions or queries from writers like me? (‘like me’ takes into consideration unagented, unpublished, SCBWI member, etc – YOUR individual qualifications as a writer)
2) Do they accept submissions for the age range my manuscript targets?
3) Do they accept submissions of this type? (nature, adventure, humor,
Add any question you wish to use as a screening criteria – For example, I always see if the publisher buys ‘All Rights’. If they do, I don’t want to submit to them so I eliminate that publisher from my submission pool. Also scan for publishers that specifically say they DON’T want what you’ve written (such as “No Picture Books”).
If you answered ‘Yes’ to all of the questions you’ve listed, highlight or put a post-it note by that publisher’s listing. Go through ALL of the publishers. Mark each one that fits your manuscript and personal qualifications.
Highlight parts of the publishers’ listings that are important to you. I highlight in different colors depending on how strongly I feel the publisher fits my stories and style. I highlight in one color if they match everything, in another if they match most characteristics of my manuscripts, and in other colors for various criteria such as “simultaneous submissions” or “query only”. I keep a `highlight’ guide in the front to remember what highlight color represents which information.
Now comes the difficult part! Make a list of all potential publishers for your manuscript. It is time to get down to the nitty gritty. Go to the publisher website (if they have one) by coming here, then to the publisher sites to see what books the publisher is currently publishing.
You can also go to our Bookroom to search for books by publisher. Other places to do research are the library or a bookstore, but the online sources often have the newest publishings available.
Look at the books published by each publisher. Do they look anything like yours? In other words, can any of the books be described with the same adjectives you’ve chosen to describe your book?
On some books, you will be able to determine this from the description alone. With other books you won’t be certain.
If the publishers’ books are NOT at all similar to yours, mark that publisher off your list. If their books are compatible, note at least three or four titles they have in the same genre as your manuscript. After looking up each publisher, you will have a list of several who seem like good matches.
What I am about to suggest next will seem like an overwhelming task, BUT… you do NOT have to do this EVERY time for EVERY manuscript you write. After you have completed the following exercise, you will have solid knowledge about which publishers publish which types of books right now. This is an exercise to do at least once a year – I like to do it over the Christmas break (two weeks of reading by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa 😉 – Or on an ongoing basis. It’s relaxing, fun, and educational!
Go to the library and check out the titles you have listed for publishers who publish books like yours. Then.. Read them. WHAT?!?!
Yes, read them.
You don’t have to check them all out at once and you don’t have to read them in one sitting, but you MUST read the publishers’ books to know the flavor and style of the publishing house. As you read each book, write two adjectives next to the publisher’s listing to describe that particular book.
Many publishers will have a few adjectives that will describe book after book. Some will have varying books that are described with a wide range of adjectives. This is because some publishers have a narrower focus than others.
It will be easy for you to see if your manuscript fits a particular publisher’s style. If it doesn’t, cross them off the list for this manuscript, but keep the information on file for future manuscripts.
Since I write picture books, I check out 20 books at a time and read them. When I’m done, I return them and check out the next 20. I have been known to make great progress and have checked out 80 books in a week!!
If you are writing mid-grades, obviously you will not be able to cover the same number of books. Research any series’ published by a particular house as well as the best-selling books in their line. Two or three books from each house is all that is practical to read initially, but you can make your reading exercise ongoing throughout the year.
Any time you read a book, note the publisher and add the title with adjectives to your list. Look over your list of adjectives and see what publishers have books that are described with the same adjectives you used to describe your manuscript. Highlight them. These are the houses you want to target.
Look down your list for publishers that have books described with similar adjectives. Highlight them too. These are the houses you want to target if needed.
NOW you are finally ready to get down to addressing envelopes! Are you tired yet? Writing, researching and submitting is NOT for the faint-at-heart! But, if you have made it this far, you have done the HARDEST part of the job. You will KNOW your publishers and can submit with confidence knowing you have done your research. You are likely to reach the right editor at the right time by doing this research up front.
Next locate the submission policies for each publisher. You need to acquire a copy of the CURRENT submission guidelines. You can write the publisher for the guidelines, being certain to enclose a SASE for their reply, or you can look on my website for a direct link to their guidelines. I’d recommend coming here first and saving yourself the postage costs if possible.
When you get the publishers’ guidelines, follow them. This may seem blatantly obvious, but there are many writers who don’t bother. The publishers have guidelines to fit their work flow and will not be happy if you don’t comply. If they aren’t happy, they are less likely to make you happy!
Your final step is Submitting and Waiting…. and waiting… and waiting. Now, submit and wait. Write some more and wait. And write some more and wait.
By time you get your response, hopefully you will have more manuscripts circulating. Your targeted submissions will be more likely to land you a coveted publishing contract in less time than average. Your goal in getting a contract is to be ‘below average’ (that is, meeting with success in less than the “average” amount of time)!!! Of course, your writing MUST be above average, which will lead to the former.
You can order the “Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market” for the required research at:
Our Amazon Associates Store
If you’d like to learn more about writing for children, I’d highly recommend ordering “Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children” or “You Can Write Children’s Books.” You must have a “Publishable” manuscript before any publisher will purchase it. You can find more books about perfecting your manuscript at
Our Amazon Associates Store
I hope this information helps you in your quest for publication.
Best of luck and Happy Submissions!!
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