People who work with children aren't usually considered to be less skilful than those who do the same work with adults, so why then is the opposite so often assumed to be true of the adults who create books for children? At worst, it is thought we must be childish or that it is easier to create books for children than it is for adults. We don’t, I can reveal, have meetings surrounded by teddy bears, and I certainly feel that in many ways writing for children presents greater opportunities for creativity because of the very limitations of text and page lengths. Here we’ll take a look at what it takes to get an idea to print.
We constantly ask: ‘Who is this book for? Is it age appropriate? Does the cover reflect what’s inside?’ Research what appeals to children of different ages and look at the books which have been able to capture different generations of children. Study how these books have been adapted and changed over the years for new readers.
You should have a clear idea of your target audience. Never patronise your reader as children can be harsh critics. Also, don’t take your family’s opinion for gospel: they will adore anything you create, so do be realistic - the family drama of the hamster stuck down the back of a sofa in Bognor may not have that global appeal...but then again it just might!
Originality and ideas are paramount. The more ideas you have, the more you can discard, as it’s not too good to become too attached to just one idea. A flash of inspiration is not an illustrated book. On the other hand, a simple concept in the hands of a genius author or brilliant illustrator could be the next global bestseller.
...as well as in words - this is a picture book after all.
In submitting your work or ideas, follow the publisher or agent’s submission guidelines carefully
Take advice on the publishing business from many sources. Attend literary festivals. Be wary of one day courses and portfolio surgeries promising industry secrets, as they are often expensive and of limited use.
You need realistic expectations about what to expect from a publisher, but of course rules can always be broken and contracts negotiated.
Do not oversell: It's good to be ambitious, but writing about the multimedia and marketing potential involving a global TV/movie series when it is not relevant or an idea is half formed is a waste of time for everyone.
Picture books for print have 16, 24, 32, 40, or 48 (sometimes more) pages. 32 pages is the length that we prefer because we can have a wide enough spine in paperback to display only spine in a bookshop.
Rhyming text can decrease the chances of a book being accepted. Our picture books are printed in full-colour. To make the production costs for full-colour printing work, we depend on selling rights in our books globally. This makes selling rhyming or rhythmic text difficult, although not impossible. Certainly children enjoy rhyming texts, but they need to have a strong story to be worth translating, and have a clear and consistent rhyming pattern in English. It is best to read the rhyming text aloud to see if the speech pattern works and try it out in different accents - this is true in the case of all text, not only rhyming text. It has been our experience that foreign publishers have been indifferent to books with rhyming text. Similarly alphabet books are problematic beyond English speaking countries because of the different symbols and numbers of letters in individual countries’ alphabets.
If you’re a writer working with an illustrator, or vice versa, it’s probably best to not be too attached to your working partner as often a publisher might want to use only half of the existing work and pair either the writer or illustrator up with someone else to ensure that the venture is more of a commercial success.
Publishers pay authors and artists NOT the other way round
Be wary if you are asked for contributions towards the funding of the book being published.
Bingo! You’ve found your publisher!
Remember a publisher has a printing schedule and a publicity plan in place before printing begins, so deadlines need to be treated with care.
David Salariya is the founder and managing director of The Salariya Book Company. The Salariya Book Company has three imprints: Scribblers, Scribo and Book House, each imprint publishing books for ‘children’ of different ages, interests and needs. Writing or illustrating a picture book? Tweet us with tips about getting published that you would like us to share on Twitter.
Photo credit: Isobel Lundie