As writers we can easily get caught up in the mode of looking for anyone who will accept us. This is especially true early on in our writing careers, but all publishers are not created equal. After the initial glow of “someone liked me!” wears off, will we still be happy with the published piece? The best way to be sure of a good end result, is to think critically about the places we choose for our submissions.
STEP ONE: Check out the publisher’s website.
Most publishers (whether they are book or magazine publishers) have some sort of online presence so they can connect directly with potential readers. Their website can also teach an author a lot, if examined critically. Consider these questions as you check it out:
A. Do they offer material that appeals to you?
If the books strike you as ugly and the blurbs don’t appeal to you, they would probably not have a niche where you would thrive.
B. Do they offer peeks inside?
If so, read the selected pages and imagine your own submission. Does yours seem like something that would fit in the same “family” as the material they offer as samples of their best?
C. Do they publish both fiction and nonfiction?
Do they publish material of the same type as what you’re offering in terms of age level, genre, and format? There is simply no point in submitting the wrong thing to the wrong publisher. It wastes everyone’s time and resources.
D. Would your manuscript fill a hole?
Although it can be good to look for holes in the publisher’s line, keep in mind that a submission that is far afield from the sorts of things they publish may not be filling a hole. It may be simply missing the mark.
STEP TWO: Time to go to the library and bookstore with possible publishers in mind.
Look at some of the actual books or copies of the actual magazine produced by the publisher. For books produced only for classroom use, it may be helpful to have teacher friends who can show off their classroom materials. For magazines, you may want to visit one of the big box book stores and check out their magazine collection. Skim an issue, reading a page or two. If the magazine still appeals strongly to you, consider buying a copy. A good collection of sample magazines can be a great help in targeting the right publisher with your shorter works. If you find that neither your library nor the local big box bookstore has any samples of the publisher’s works, this is also something to consider. How much exposure would you like your work to have? Books and magazines with little distribution ultimately tend to have few readers.
As you read the books, note how similar the format is from book to book. Look at how the book is organized. Note how much material is on the page. How is the book focused? Again, ask yourself if the book, format, and style is appealing. Notice also the illustration. If the publisher always chooses bright, simple illustrations but you prefer realistic art, keep in mind that your story might not look quite as you’ve been imagining. Will you be okay with that?
Track down your local children’s librarian. There are few sources more valuable to a children’s writer. Often they’ll have a stack of publisher catalogs that you could look at right there during your visit (and may have a few you can take home). You may find a publisher you hadn’t considered. Or you may learn more than you did when checking the publisher out online.
STEP THREE: Track down submission guidelines and make contact!
Submission guidelines will help you know exactly what the publisher wants, but a lack of submission guidelines shouldn’t necessarily stop you. Educational publishers especially may not have guidelines but are still open to hearing from writers. Unless you know from your market guide or other research that the publisher absolutely does not take submissions, then all you need is an address. If you’re contacting by address alone, it’s normally better not to send a full proposal – send a brief letter that shows your familiarity with their line, then either ask to send a full introductory packet of your resume and samples of your work, or make a short pitch (if you have an idea in mind) and ask to send a full proposal. Then wait for a response while continuing to research other publishers.
By careful study of publishers, you stand the best chance of making the publishing connections that help you build your career and make you happy and proud of the end result. You spent a lot of time creating the piece you’re wanting published; it’s fine to be a little picky when you choose who will get to publish it.
With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.