FINDING AN AGENT
Dear Author Enabler,
Several years ago, I wrote and made a prototype of a children’s book best suited for the board book format. I have shown it to several college professors, including a children’s literature professor, and all of them agreed that it is worthy of publication. Unfortunately, I don’t have the slightest idea how to market this to publishers. Even if I did know who to contact, I’m not sure how I would proceed because I would not feel comfortable sending my prototype out unsolicited. I have published some poems in literary journals, but this seems an entirely different procedure and one with which I am thoroughly unfamiliar. Can you give me any advice?
Washington Crossing, PA
First, congratulations on having produced something that knowledgeable people recognize as being worthy of publication. That, in itself, is quite an accomplishment.
The tried-and-true path to getting published is to find a literary agent to represent you. Trade publishing is very competitive, and the major publishers almost never accept submissions “over the transom” (i.e., un-agented). If you are well connected or extraordinarily persistent and gifted at selling, it’s possible you might get your book published without an agent. But most of us don’t have the required skill set and connections. That’s why you need the help of a good agent who has connections and knows the market.
When seeking an agent, be sure to put your best foot forward. I’m surprised at how sloppy or impatient people can be with this stage of the process. Make sure your material is polished and do your homework before you send out query letters. For instance, check agents’ websites to be sure they represent children’s books. Carefully follow submission guidelines, and send your queries in small, manageable batches.
There are no real shortcuts, but writing conferences can be a boon for aspiring writers. Book Passage, the Bay Area bookstore where I am the marketing director, presents a Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference each June. Participants work with other writers and illustrators and with agents, editors and publishers to develop their ideas, hone their skills and learn how to find a publisher. Conferences such as this one offer aspiring authors a chance to connect with agents and publishers, and sometimes even lead to a contract. Writing conferences are also an excellent forum for meeting kindred spirits. We all need that since writing is such a solitary occupation.
GOING IT ALONE
Dear Author Enabler,
I’m tech-challenged but want to turn my writing into eBooks. Where do I begin? How do I prevent being taken advantage of?
West Dundee, IL
The process of eBook self-publishing is evolving so fast that it’s hard for publishing professionals to keep up, much less tech-challenged amateurs like yourself. It’s true that there have been some amazing success stories in which unknown writers have sold hundreds of thousands of eBooks. But far more often, writers who have experienced a lack of response from traditional publishers self-publish their work in eBook format out of frustration, or because they believe they can make lots of money by cutting out the pesky middlemen.
Self-publishing an eBook can be rewarding if it is done well, but making a hit out of a self-published book in any format is hard work—as hard as trying to get published in the traditional way.
Your best approach is to thoroughly research the subject and make sure that eBook self-publishing is the best route for you. I recommend that you explore some thoughtful articles, including “5 Things Beginners Need to Know About E-Book Publishing,” by Jane Friedman, web editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, and “How to Self-Publish an E-book” by CNET Executive Editor David Carnoy, both available online.
Send your questions about writing and publishing to firstname.lastname@example.org.