Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, The Publication Process

Follow the Yellow Brick Road, er, Writers’ Guidelines

wizard-oz-2.jpgMany writers DO NOT follow directions. As a conference director and an instructor for a children’s literature course, I see it time and time again. I also saw it when judging a contest for Children’s Writer. It frustrates me. And I know from editors’ and agents’ talks, blogs and twitter comments, that it frustrates them. So like Dorothy, who had to stay on the Yellow Brick Road to get to OZ, you have to stay within the guidelines to get your submission read.
Here are possibilities of what might be asked for in writers’ guidelines or in submission policies:
Full Manuscript – very common for a picture book or for a magazine piece. Not so common for a novel.
Cover Letter – whether it is stated or not, for a book length work, it is polite to send a one page cover letter. Some book editors or agents say they read it first; some last. Magazine editors may or may not care whether there is one. However, if the guidelines ask for one, do it! For a magazine submission you may need to tell what theme you’re aiming your article or story–a cover letter is an easy place to do so.
Query Letter – unlikely for a picture book, and not so common for magazine short stories or articles, but it depends on the magazine. Definitely common for novels, whether submitting to an editor or an agent. But unless you read the specific guidelines for where you’re submitting, you won’t know. What accompanies the query letter is as varied as the days of the month, but here are six common requests:
1. A Partial – part of the manuscript – yes, they know there is more. The editor or agent will ask for more if she likes what she read.
a. First or First Three Chapters – yes, it’s always the beginning of the novel. If those aren’t your best chapters, rewrite until they are.
b. Number of Pages – 5, 10, 100 – again follow the directions. If on the last page of what you are requested to submit, you have an incomplete sentence, delete it so you end on a full sentence.
2. Plus Synopsis or Outline – in addition to a paragraph in your cover letter, an editor or agent may ask for a breakdown of your story. Some may want a chapter by chapter outline. Others a one page synopsis. Yet others a longer synopsis. The guidelines may be very specific about this so you’ll probably have a number of versions of your synopsizes.
3. Bibliography – of course you’ll have this information anyway when doing your research for an article for a magazine, but whether or not an editor will require it depends on their guidelines. You may also have this info for a picture book, especially a nonfiction one.
4. Résumé – some houses and magazines only want a query with no manuscript submission of any kind. They often want a résumé. You’ll also see guidelines for queries that request partials asking for a résumé. Before the Internet I never saw instructions on how to do this, so listed a summary of published books, articles and short stories with a selection of titles and magazines for the latter two. I also included membership in writing organizations. Since then, I’ve found two online resources specifically aimed at children’s writers, but now they are gone. 🙁  So here’s one for authors in general.
5. Clips – article or short story “clipped” out of a magazine – obviously photocopies are acceptable. What they want here is to see some samples of your published works. Some magazines only work with writers after they’ve seen a résumé and clips, and then they assign articles. Some work for hire or educational publishers want to know how you write before they consider you for a project and will also ask for clips. In some cases you can reference online articles as well, though this is not as common.
6. Samples – a sample of your writing. In this case it does not need to be published. Again, this is so they can determine whether they want to try you out with an assignment.
Special requests. These could be quite varied. I recently read in one magazine’s guidelines that they want “the date of submission on the first page of the manuscript.” Of course, many magazines will want to know what rights you are selling. However, if they only buy all rights, that is what they will assume you’re selling. Some publishers may request you to give them a marketing plan.
Writers’ Guidelines will also let you know the acceptable method of sending your manuscript or query. The standard postal mail aka snail mail is still the norm for many publishing houses and magazines. Agents are more likely to go with email. But email has its caveats: what the subject line MUST say or include, query and/or manuscript portion pasted into the email itself or as an attachment. If an attachment, it must be in a certain format, i.e. Microsoft Word. Mess up on following the “how to” on an email submission and it will probably not be read.
Okay, I know it’s not a deep concept, but really READ THE DIRECTIONS and FOLLOW THEM! You’ll avoid an automatic rejection by doing so, and perhaps you’ll get in to meet the Wizard of Oz, er, Editor or Agent.

Posted in Market Prep, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, The Publication Process

Mind Your Cs and Qs – part one

Today I’m talking about Query and Cover letters–including requests for guidelines and catalogs.


(This information is aimed at those submitting directly to a book publisher or magazine themselves. If you’re using an agent, what’s in the query or cover letter is the same, but you will be researching the agent, not the houses or magazines. Note: agents generally do not handle magazine submissions.)
Have the most recent market lists (SCBWI puts one out annually for members) and market books ( Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Institute of Children’s Literature’s Book Markets for Children’s Writers and Magazine Markets for Children’s and make notes when you hear of editorial or submission policy changes.

See if submission or writer’s guidelines are available online. You may want to save them on your computer, print them out and/or bookmark the site. If not available online, write a letter to the publisher requesting guidelines. Keep it simple: Please send me your writer’s guidelines for AAA BOOKS. I have enclosed a self-addressed stamped envelope for your convenience.

  • Write the date you received/downloaded on the guidelines themselves so you’ll know how current they are.
  • File guidelines so you can locate them when needed.
  • Perhaps, mark in your market book that you have this publisher’s guidelines.

Know what kinds of books or magazine pieces are appropriate for this publisher.

  • Editors really hate getting picture book submissions when they only publish novels, etc. More than that, you need to know the flavor of a publishing house. i.e. If they only do edgy material and yours is not, you’re wasting your time and theirs.
  • Go to the library and/or bookstore and look at what a specific publisher has published recently, which leads to the next point . . .
  • Catalogs! Check websites to see if a publisher has an online catalog. Pick paper catalogs up at conferences. Ask bookstores for any extra copies they have–last spring’s is better than nothing! Write a letter requesting a catalog, again keep it simple, but abide by what the market book says on what you send with it. i.e. Please send me your most recent catalog for BB BOOKS. I have enclosed $3.00 and a self-addressed stamped envelope for your convenience.
  • You may want to indicate in your market book that you have a publisher’s catalog.

Know something about the editor of the publishing house. Have you heard him or her speak? Read interviews written by them or their blog or followed them on twitter? Each of these will give you some insight. Is she into paranormal or sick of it? Does he like humor or serious fiction? At the very least researching an editor will help you get title and name correct.

Have your story written, critiqued, rewritten until ready to go. Never send something the moment you hit the end. If you belong to a critique group, great. If not, consider doing so. At the very least, let your material sit a while (weeks, months) so you can come back to it fresh. Read it aloud. Consider reading self-editing tips (in books or online). Rewrite. Let it sit again. Repeat as necessary.


Q: What’s the difference between a query letter and a cover letter?

A query is sent without the full manuscript. It’s a letter sent to the editor asking her if she would like to request a partial or full manuscript (or rest of manuscript) to read. What you send depends on the house’s or magazine’s writer’s guidelines.

A cover letter is an introduction letter sent on top of a manuscript, similar to a letter that goes with a résumé. The full manuscript is right there for the editor to read.

Why you’d choose one over the other . . .

The former is an easier way to reach more markets at once. Many novel publishers want a query with 1 or 3 chapters, or 5 -10 page – always send first chapter(s) or page(s). Nonfiction often requires a book proposal.

Picture books are usually sent with a cover letter. Many magazines do not want to be queried for fiction either. Some editors want to see the complete manuscript for a novel. In any of these cases, you’ll use a cover letter.

The wrinkle of electronic submissions . . . Queries and cover letters can be sent electronically, at least if that is something the magazine or house wants. Some guidelines will say “no attachments” and want all text pasted into the email. Others will accept attachments, but will tell you they must be in Word.
You must read the guidelines to see what an editor, house or magazine wants in their submissions.

Q: Okay, I’ve decided not to query. Should I always send a cover letter with my submission?


I don’t. The reasons I do are:

1. The magazine requests manuscripts with a cover letter.
2. I have more information I want them to know (i.e. why I wrote the piece, or my submission fits a theme).
3. It might be pertinent for them to know my other writing experience and I don’t think a full résumé is needed.

What one editor says: “As an editor, I did find submissions that lacked a cover letter a bit rude, like a phone caller who doesn’t bother saying hello or identifying themselves before launching into the conversation.” – Jacqueline K. Ogburn former children’s book editor

Next entry, I’ll go into more details on the specifics of a query letter.