Your picture book manuscript is written. You’ve revised it again and again, gotten feedback from other writers, revised yet again, and it’s in the current word count range—which these days is mostly under 500 words. (Nonfiction and informational fiction may be longer.) Now what?
The following is advice aimed specifically at writers.
You can submit directly to some publishers—mainly smaller houses.
First, read some of their books. Look at their online catalogs. Does your manuscript look like it will fit with their other books? Has the topic been already done? Do you have a fresh twist? Don’t submit without making sure your manuscript suits their list—not all publishers publish all kinds of picture books.
You might gain special insights by attending a conference, workshop, or webinar where you can hear an editor speak. (And sometimes get a chance to submit to a house normally closed to unsolicited manuscripts.)
Some publishing houses offer subscription newsletters that talk about their newest books—another chance for you to “get acquainted” with them.
When and how to submit.
Always check to make sure you’re reading a publishing house’s most current submission guidelines. Some publishers have windows of open opportunity. Others are open year-round. At times they’ll be closed to submissions entirely. Some only want a query letter—others may accept full manuscripts. A few still want hard copies by postal mail. Most probably want manuscripts via email. Some will ask for the manuscript to be pasted into the emails—others may accept attachments. Yet others may have a form where you paste in your query or cover letter and manuscript. However, they want it sent, you’ll be ahead by completely following directions.
Here are some links to some house’s submission or writer’s guidelines that are currently open:
Albert Whitman & Company
The Innovation Press
Page Street Publishing
Sleeping Bear Press
Sterling Children’s Books
Tilbury House Publishers
Any of these could close tomorrow. Research well before submitting. This list is not an endorsement—I’ve just done some research for you.
You can submit to agents who handle picture books.
Often, it is recommended that you have at least three manuscripts ready when you submit—in case an agent asks to see what else you have.
Here’s a great resource: the Monster List of Picture Book Agents.
Again, with agents there will be specific guidelines. For example, some agencies you may only submit to one agent. Certain agents may be closed to submissions, etc. They usually list clients and you may be able to get an idea of the agent’s likes and dislikes from their titles.
How do you decide where to submit?
Take the time to do your homework. Do you like what you see on their website when you are looking at either agents or publishing houses? Have you read their entries on manuscriptwishlist.com or their blogs? Search for interviews. Check Twitter.
Make sure the editor or agent is legit. If you’re an SCBWI member, you can check to see if a publisher is on their list by going to your member page and act as if you are entering a new book. If the house’s name comes up in the search, you’re good to go. If you’re not finding information elsewhere, ask in groups such as Sub It Club or Kidlit411 if someone is familiar with a specific agency or agent.
Prepare your cover letter* or query letter, proof it, and do the actual submitting.
One useful tip for submitting via email is to paste in your letter, paste or attach manuscript, type in your subject as guidelines specify, proofread, THEN when everything looks good, type in the TO: email address. This will avoid accidental sends before you are ready.
Be ready to keep going despite rejections.
*I like this post on writing cover/query letters.