Wednesday, November 28, 2007

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.
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6 Comment:

At 10:48 PM, Blogger Brandy Brow Left a note...

Your post hints that you're talking about children's picture books. Does it also include middle grade novels? I thought agent and publishing stats were better for that section of the children's market.

Brandy Brow
The Building Brows
Christian Writers' Group International (CWGI)

At 11:21 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


I wrote about children's books--across the board--not just picture books. Go back and carefully read this post--and follow the link to the background story about J.K. Rowling's literary agent. He had no initial interest in middle grade novels. http://terrywhalin.blogspot.com/2007/07/literary-agent-for-jk-rowling-harry.html This reality continues in today's market with literary agents and how they handle children's authors--all types of children's authors.


At 10:16 AM, Blogger Jay Left a note...

Terry – can you provide any guidance on obtaining an agent or getting my work in front of a publisher? I have self-published a children’s book (grades 3-6) that is adored by the children who read it (www.johnfastramp.com). Locally, I have received a decent amount of media attention. However, because it is self-published, reviewers don’t want to even look at the book.

I believe the book would be a commercial success based on the reaction I have from local children and their parents. But, the deck is stacked against self-published work. How can I move forward?

Thanks for any advice.

Jason Alter
John Fastramp and the Dakota 3000 Challenge

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


Since you've self-published your children's book and have it in the market, your absolute best option is to sell tons of them. Usually when I meet authors in this situation and ask about their specific sales, I find out they have sold 100 or 1,000.

To get any attention, you need to sell 10,000 to 15,000 copies--self-published and outside of the bookstore market. When you get in this range, then agents and publishers perk up and get interested. Yes, it takes a lot of effort to get to that level.

The reason I say outside of the bookstore is the stores are the traditional territory of traditional publishers. If you have gotten in the stores, then you are getting into their turf. Some people have ruined the chance of moving from self-published to traditional when they violate this area.

Hope that helps, Jay. Persist is all I can tell you.


At 9:38 AM, Blogger Staff Left a note...

Thanks for the post Terry. I have been thinking about trying to get into the writing end of the the children's books industry for a while. Right now I am at the other end of the spectrum. I just ordered the books you recommended. Thank you.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Brandy Brow Left a note...

Thanks, Terry. I had read that post you referred me to, but had forgotten it.


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