If you’ve got a manuscript, illustrations or even an idea for a children’s book and you want to know what the next steps are, you’ve come to the right place!
Below are great resources, organizations and suggestions to help you break in to children’s publishing (in Canada but much of the advice will also apply to other countries).
These suggestions were from the first Breaking In panel CANSCAIP’s
2016 Packaging Your Imagination Conference in Toronto in 2016. They were updated and supplemented with resources from the 2017 Breaking In panel, both of which I moderated. (Information about those panels and the really great line-up of panellists is at the end of the article.)
“BREAKING IN” RESOURCES
No resource is going to be absolutely right for everyone — so do your own due diligence and use at your own risk, of course, but we do hope this list will give you a starting point as you begin your journey to being published!
1) KIDLIT CONFERENCES
At these conferences, you’ll find many kidlit publishers’ booths. Check out their books and see which ones are like the one you want to publish. That way, you’ll know which publishers to pitch, and whether your book would fit into their list. Also, you can contact the conference organizers and pitch an idea for a session for an upcoming year!
OLA SuperConference (Ontario Library Association) – Jan 31- Feb. 3, 2018, Toronto
One of the biggest conferences in Canada, you’ll find most–if not all–of the kidlit publishers. You can also chat with librarians and teachers, as well as bookstore owners (who also have booths). If you can’t afford to go to the sessions, at least go to the trade show, itself. Well worth it. http://www.olasuperconference.ca/
Reading for the Love of It – Around Feb. 23-24-ish, 2019, Toronto
A large conference, where you will find most Canadian publishers; the audience is teachers and librarians. A wide variety of great speakers … (***Including me! I’m doing two presentations on “How to Avoid Fake News.” If you’re there, say hi!)
Telling Tales Festival – Sun., Sept. 16, 2018, Rockton, ON
A well-run, excellent festival with high-profile speakers. It takes literacy seriously, promoting and helping schools year-round. Definitely worth the drive to Rockton!
I presented at this festival in 2017 and 2018. See you there!
CANSCAIP – PYI – One of the best Canadian conferences for people who want to break into kids’ publishing. I moderated the “Breaking In” panels in 2016 and 2017, and every year I team up with social media expert Angela Misri to offer author website critiques. See you there!
2) WRITING CLASSES AND EDUCATION
In addition to learning how to hone your skills, you’ll meet writers who are on the same journey. A large number of writing critique groups get their start at writing classes, and teachers often have good contacts, and can recommend outstanding students to their own agents and publishers. There are many courses out there — do your research and find out which are right for you.
Humber School for Writers
Offers a number of flexible programs to help writers hone their manuscripts. I’ve done this course twice, and highly recommend it. The way I chose to do it is distance-learning; you are paired with a mentor who is a published author whose work dovetails with the work you’re doing. You send them a set number of words every week and they critique it. It’s a great way to get a solid mentorship and a professional set of eyes on your work, while learning. Graduates earn a Professional Graduate Certificate.
This course can lead to the University of Gloucestershire MA in Creative and Critical Writing.
Here is more information on my journey through Humber and University of Gloucestershire.
University of Gloucestershire, MA in Creative and Critical Writing
Connected to the Humber School for Writers, this long-distance education program pairs you with a supervisor who critiques your work. At the end of the year you submit a dissertation. The course requires you to submit 1,000 words a week on a written work of your choice (novel, children’s book, poems, short stories). It is a “master-stage progression,” which means you must have completed the Humber School for Writers certificate program first. I have taken this course and found it invaluable not only for my own growth as a writer, but it helped me to take my first grown-up novel across the finish line. I highly recommend it. (This is me, taking a selfie with a UGlos tote bag.)
George Brown College – Continuing Ed, Writing Children’s Fiction
Children’s Writing at the University of Toronto
Ryerson – Writing for the Children’s Market
3) KIDLIT WRITING CONTESTS
Writing contests can help build your writer’s CV, and they often get your work in front of agents and publishers. A few offer a contract as part of their prize. Many writers have broken in this way.
CANSCAIP Writing for Children Contest – enough said!
Mslexia Children’s Novel Contest – only runs every few years – probably not until 2020 now – but worth checking out.
Chicken House/Times – Run by Barry Cunningham, who is best known for signing JK Rowling – the deadline this year is Sunday December 18th – so hurry!
SCWBI Emerging Voices Award – for writers from underrepresented ethnic/cultural backgrounds.
4) WHERE YOU CAN FIND LISTS OF PUBLISHERS AND AGENTS
Remember, these lists are just a starting point–you’ll need to visit each publisher/agent’s website to find out what their specific submitting guidelines are. But they’re a great resource to get your search started!
The Canadian Children’s Book Centre Publisher’s List – comprehensive list of Canadian children’s book publishers. Includes submission tips, publisher contact info., genres, and submission guidelines.
The Children’s Writers and Artists’ Yearbook – this is published annually, and lists hundreds of agents/publishers worldwide, as well as featuring essays on getting published.
@inkyelbows — Follow Canadian author/illustrator and kidlit expert Debbie Ohi on Twitter and check out her list of Publishers and Agents on Twitter.
Association of Canadian Publishers – list of members. Search by category: Aboriginal & First Nations, Children’s Books, Non-Fiction, Teen & Young Adult, and more.
5) WRITERS’ GROUPS AND ASSOCIATIONS
Join an association to find like-minded people, advice and monthly speakers.
CANSCAIP – Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers
Monthly speakers — including tons of published authors who will be only too willing to help newbies with advice and information. If you’re not published yet, you pay a bit less per year to join than people who are published. And, they offer really awesome member pages where you can list presentation info (for teachers looking to hire in-class presenters). The pre-meeting dinners are a great opportunity to make friends and network.
CCBC – Canadian Children’s Book Centre
Not expensive to join, and it’s a truly wonderful and worthwhile not-for-profit organization. They do many things, including running programs to get books and Canadian presenters in front of children, such as the TD Book Week author tour. Also, when you join, you get a free ticket to go to the CAN’T SAY ENOUGH ABOUT THIS TD author gala, where some of Canada’s most prestigious kidlit awards are given out (and the food is amazing!). They also host writer/author pages.
TWUC – The Writers’ Union of Canada
Just four awesome things they offer: (1) New members get access to some free legal (ie, contract) advice. (2) Their “Ontario Writers in the Schools” program subsidizes your presentation fees when you do classroom visits. (3) Each member can have a member page — which teachers and librarians frequently access when they’re looking for in-class presenters. (4). They also host a list of publishers and agents. Also – when you do get an offer from a publisher or agent – they have ‘model’ contracts that you can check your own offer against.
SCBWI – Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Organizes conferences, local meetings, provides grants and awards, advice, a magazine, promotion of members’ books and a listserv to connect with other authors. They also have ‘The Book’, which has all kinds of useful resources, like lists of agents, interviews on what books they are acquiring, and awards and grants.
6) QUERY ADVICE
There are many webpages and online resources for polishing your queries, as well as a variety of hashtags used for pitching contests. These can be useful, but occasionally have conflicting advice. If in doubt, always go by the agent/publisher’s submission guidelines.
Query Shark – a resource site of query letters – and how to edit them to make them work. It also has a fair bit of general advice. Reading a lot of these will help you to edit your own letter.
Manuscript Wishlist – this website collects together agents/publisher’s wishlists – as well as having a lot of general query advice. It’s a really good way to find someone who is looking for exactly the kind of manuscript you have written – you can search by genre/age group and keyword.
Twitter – follow agents you are interested in on Twitter. Many tweet what makes them reject/request manuscripts, and you can avoid mistakes and hone your own query to attract attention this way.
#MSWL (stands for Manuscript Wish List — what’s on agents’ wish lists)
ARBookFinder – find details on competing books in your niche. Interest level, word count, ATOS book level, Topic/subtopic.
Twitter Pitch contests
There are many hashtags for pitch contests from time to time, where agents/publishers ’like’ book pitches, and in doing so request a query. It can be useful in helping you shape your own queries, but remember, you can skip this and query an agent you like anyway.
#pitdark – for darker manuscripts
#DVpit – for diverse pitches
Caveat: If you are contacted through a pitch party, be careful. There are a few scammers and unprofessional businesses in the mix too. Do your research before submitting. Does their website look professional? How long have they been in business? What books have they put out? Are they just e-book publishers (which can be fine if that’s what you want)? Are their books available in stores? Any mention of the author paying the agent or publisher is a red flag. Find and try to chat with other authors who have successfully published with the agent or publisher.
7) CRITIQUE GROUPS
Many critique relationships last years, as the writers develop and grow – they often start through online groups, classes, or people who meet at conferences. Here are some online groups to start you off. Find people whose opinion you respect – and they can be your Beta readers and crit partners.
Kidcrit – Run by Marsha Skrypuch, many CANSCAIPers can be found there. http://www.calla.com/wordpress/kidcrit/
Online Writing Workshop – useful for YA science fiction/fantasy writers.
SCWBI’s Blueboard – some of this board is only available to SCBWIs members – it also has a lot of information & resources on other aspects of breaking in. http://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php
There are also manuscript appraisal/critique services — some of these will even help put you in touch with agents — but they are often expensive so do your research on these — some are better than others, and you don’t want to waste your money.
The Literary Consultancy is a UK-based critique service with a proven track record and relationships with some major agents. They will be honest (sometimes brutally so!) but if they like your work, they have several ways in which they can champion it and raise your profile. https://literaryconsultancy.co.uk/
Volunteering can help you to build supportive networks, who can provide you with good advice and teach you a lot about the industry. You can make friends and have fun. Contacts you make may be able to help you break in, and will certainly be an asset once you are published. As well as the societies and events noted above, consider the following events as well as events in your communities.
International Festival of Authors
Word on the Street
Festival of Trees
Eden Mills Writers’ Festival
Telling Tales Festival
9) OTHER RESOURCES
HOW LONG IS A BOOK?
JENNIFER LAUGHRAN’S (FAMOUS) WORD COUNT POST
Agent Jennifer Laughran has the definitive post on word counts (she happens to be my agent but I promise I’m not biased–everyone says this). How many words for a YA novel or a Picture Book? This post has all that and more.
While we’re on the subject of Jennifer Laughran, you should listen to her awesome podcast, Literaticast. She interviews kidlit agents, writers, illustrators, publishers, booksellers and lots of other people who provide great advice on breaking in and staying sane in this business. Aaaaaand, her website.
Follow Jennifer @literaticat on Twitter.
JOSH FUNK’S GUIDE TO WRITING PICTURE BOOKS
This is a fast, scrolly thing that provides a Picture Book 101 in 11 short, easy lessons. If you want to remind yourself about character, leaving room for the illustrations, arc, etc., this is a great and quick way to do it.
CLAUDIA OSMOND’S ‘REAL TALK’ WRITERS’ BLOG
Many superlative children’s writers (and illustrators and others as well) have written great posts about the writing process. Usually four or so authors talk about one subject so you get a more well-rounded view of things like writer’s block or imposter syndrome.
There are a number of scams out there, all designed to take advantage of the writer who is looking to break in. Do your research. Writer Beware is a good site to check for the worst offenders, with a ‘thumbs down’ agency and publisher list, as well as a list of abusive practices that should be a red flag for any writer.
THE 2016 “BREAKING IN” PANEL
Moderator: Joyce Grant’s debut novel, Tagged Out, is an MG baseball novel. (Feb. 2016, Lorimer). Gabby: Wonder Girl, is the third book in the G abby picture book series (Aug. 2016, illo: Jan Dolby, Fitzhenry & Whiteside)..
Mahak Jain is the author of Maya, a picture book about the power of storytelling and imagination. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph and was previously the Managing Editor at Owlkids and at Lobster Press. www.mahakjain.com | @kveenly
Kate Blair’s debut Transferral is set in an alternate UK, where criminals are punished by having the diseases of the innocent transferred to them. It has been nominated for a MYRCA and optioned for a potential TV series by the producers of Orphan Black and Killjoys. www.kateblair.com
THE 2017 “BREAKING IN” PANEL
Moderator: Joyce Grant has written two middle-grade novels: Sliding Home (2018, Lorimer) and Tagged Out (2016, Lorimer) and three picture books (Gabby series, Fitzhenry & Whiteside).
My breaking-in advice:
Give, to get. I was a book blogger. While looking for other people’s books to review, I found my publisher.
Melanie Fishbane is an expert on L.M. Montgomery. Her first novel, Maud (Penguin Random House) stars the famous author as a teenager.
Heather Camlot‘s debut, Clutch (Red Deer Press), was inspired by her father’s childhood in Montreal. The story won CANSCAIP’s Writing for Children Competition in 2014. It has been nominated for the Silver Birch Award.
My breaking-in advice:
I sought out, and listened to, other people in the kidlit community. I went to CANSCAIP meetings and conferences and got advice.
GOOD LUCK IN YOUR JOURNEY WITH KIDLIT PUBLISHING.
WE WISH YOU ALL THE BEST ON BREAKING IN!