Hope For Children's Writers
Almost weekly I receive queries from would-be children's writers asking me to represent their work at my literary agency. These requests continue to come even though the agency submission guidelines clearly say that I’m not interested in representing children's books.
Many writers have no idea about the reasons or what to do about it. They've decided to write children's books because they are reading lots of them to their own children--and believe they could do a better job than what is out there in the marketplace. There are several business realities these would-be authors never consider:
First, children's books are a high risk area for most publishers. Full-color printing for children's books is expensive. I've seen a number of printing statements inside the publishing house which is well over $150,000. Children's writers believe because there are few words on the page, they don't think about the actual business expense involved for a publisher. The publishers who last make careful decisions about what they print--and even then they are surprised. I can recall a specific series of books where one of my former publishers put a lot of money and energy into marketing and producing full-color, graded picture books. These books came out with great fanfare--and have since faded from the marketplace. I did a simple search and found them in the used book market--but not on the publisher site. It means they are mostly out of print and involved a huge loss for the publisher. Almost no author thinks about this risk when they propose their little children's book idea to a publisher or a literary agent.
Second, many children’s advances are modest (read small). Literary agents work on commission or a percentage of the deal (typically 15%). OK, take off your writer’s perspective for a minute and look at your children's submission from the literary agent's view. Understanding the average first-time children's author with a traditional publisher may receive a $500 or $1,000 advance for their book--and that 90% of nonfiction books never earn back that advance or earn additional funds, which would you want to be selling as an agent? Would you rather sell an adult novel or a nonfiction book proposal for a larger advance (even for a first-time author) or a modest children's book writer? Simple economics are one of the reasons that it’s hard for any children's writer to find a literary agent which will represent their work.
Third, book packagers produce many children’s books. I've written a number of posts about packagers. Look for many of these posts in September 2006. Many writers do not want to write for these packagers because they are typically work-made-for-hire yet it’s another reality check about the children's book market. Publishers are turning to book packagers to produce these books. So if you want to write them, then you need to be working with the packagers.
OK, if you are still reading this post, you are probably wondering where is the hope for children's writers. I’m getting there. The first step as a writer is to face the realities of the marketplace so you know what you are facing. Then you will increase your chances for success.
The children's marketplace is alive and well. If you want to write this material, you need to arm yourself with knowledge, insight and good information. Here's a new 2008 resource which is available for you from the Institute of Children’s Literature, the nation's oldest home correspondence course for children. I'm a former instructor in this company and know they produce quality materials.
If you follow this link, you will see the 2008 Book Markets for Children’s Writers which contains more than 50 completely new markets and 574 updated and verified listings. More than the publisher information, this book contains detailed feature articles to help you craft the right pitch to the right publisher.
Many children's writers have tunnel vision. They only want to write children's books yet they need to build their visibility and reputation in the marketplace over in the magazine market. Also I recommend 2008 Magazine Markets for Children's Writers. This comprehensive book includes more than 65 completely new markets along with 676 updated and verified listings. Beyond the listings, children's writers need to study the feature articles and learn about animal and nature writing, holiday and seasonal needs along with multicultural markets.
Writing for children is a noble and good idea--but you have to be armed with good information or you will simply collect rejections. I wish you well in the learning process and the publishing journey.