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Pitching a Children’s Non-Fiction Book: How Does the Process Work?

If you're writing a children's non-fiction book, there are two different processes; writing to a commission or submitting your own proposal. In this extract, Linda Strachan explains the difference.

Writing to a commission  

A commission is when a publisher will ask you to write a specific book. This would usually happen if you are already a published author, or an expert in a certain field.

So what would the publisher approach you with? Well,  you would most likely be given a rough (although in some cases, it might be quite detailed) concept of what the publisher wants, along with possibly a sample from the illustrator, information on the word count, and a rough design idea. The publisher will want to see and approve a book plan before you start, and will expect you to work within an agreed schedule for delivery. 

Often writers will send in their work in batches to make sure it is what the editor is looking for. This is to ensure that your writing is hitting the mark, and that you're delivering what is expected of you. 

The marketing department will also have some input, especially at the concept stage, and although there is not normally a big marketing spend in children’s non-fiction, they will know their market and how best to satisfy the readers they are aiming at. 

Once you have the final text, it's likely that an editor might change the text. As the concept belongs to the publisher, and they approached you, it's in your best interest to work cooperatively. You have the expertise, but you need to deliver what has been outlined in the brief. 

Submitting your own proposal 

If you are not commissioned to write the book, but would like to send in your own proposal, the process is fairly similar. 

You need to prepare a book plan and sales pitch to put to a publisher, suggesting the market you are aiming at, why your book fills a gap in the market or its USP (Unique Selling Point), including any specifics such as where it ties in to a particular seasonal event or even a one-off celebration or event. Some smaller children's publishing houses may accept unsolicited manuscripts/proposals, however if you have an agent, they will submit your proposal on your behalf. It's likely you'll have spent a bit of time working on your proposal with your agent, too. 

Once the proposal is accepted, the deal agreed and finalised, the editor should discuss any changes they want with you. They may offer you some say on the illustrator and the design, but you should also be open to this kind of discussion. It pays not to be too awkward after the project is agreed, as you may want to work with them again, but you can ask questions if you don’t understand why they want a significant change. 

If a publisher is interested in your proposal, you will generally have meetings or discussions with your editor about ideas on layout, and they might ask you for some sample spreads if they were not already in your proposal. 

If a packager is involved, this will also be sent on to the publisher who will sometimes try to test the market and they will be looking for co-editions (that is, agreements to publish editions with overseas partners) to make sure that the books will sell beyond the home market. 

Creating a non-fiction book can be expensive, so publishers need to be sure the project is commercially viable. The illustrator chosen will depend on the publisher or packager, and also on the budget.  

The Writers' & Artists' Guide to Writing for Children & YA by Linda Strachan, is available to purchase now