Use ICL Market Guides as a launching point for your research—find a variety of publishers, what they publish, and their websites for further market research.
Submissions: Why Market Guides Are Your Best Friends
When it comes to how books go from writing to publication, there isn’t just one road to take you to your desired destination. Market guides provide a path but there are other ways of getting from Point A to Point B. For some, books are written based on assignments from publishers and a fee is paid. This kind of work-for-hire is common in educational publishing.
For other books, writers take on all the roles in the publishing process, and the resulting books are self-published (though some self-published writers prefer the term “indie.”) This road tends to produce the most sales when authors already have a fan base or when authors write in popular genres and take the time and energy to build a fan base through releasing book after book within that genre. Usually, sales for the first book are very small, but as popularity and name recognition build, self-publishing can become a lucrative publishing option for some.
Still, most writers think of the publishing process as one where the writer writes a book and then goes in search of a publisher. Even along this path, there are branches. For most young adult books and many middle grade novels, chapter books, and even picture books, writers first interest an agent who then shares the book with contacts at a variety of publishers. One of the benefits of agents is that they are able to bypass the closed-door submissions policies at so many publishers. If an author’s book is high concept or fits a particularly hungry niche in the market, agenting makes sense, because an agent can get the author the best deal and get the process started more quickly. If the agented path interests you, next week we’re going to look at agents and whether you need one and how to pick a good one.
But not all children’s and young adult books are sold with an agent. Even today with so many publishing houses closing to direct submissions, some remain open, at least partially. A partially open publisher will limit submissions by having only a short time frame of being open or by only allowing submissions from writers who meet editors at conferences and workshops (including online workshops). A fully open publisher will accept submissions (or at least queries or proposals) all the time.
Having so many options make careful research essential for success. Writers need to know which markets require which kinds of approaches but finding this information can be challenging. Information about most publishers and agents exists online, but the internet is hardly an easy method of gleaning accurate information.
Some writers have favorite information sources online, but no matter which sources a writer uses, they only represent a tiny sliver of all the many options available to writers, so developing a collection of online sources that you check regularly for updates is well worth your time. These can include newsletters like this one. They can include Twitter events like manuscript wish lists or pitch parties. They can include blogs that share market lists like the one at Nonfiction ninjas.
But sometimes it’s nice to have a source that doesn’t require the internet at all and that’s where print market guides come in handy.
Market Guides, You Need One
Printed market guides have pluses and minuses. They are easy to navigate, they include a wide variety of types of publishers, they put the most relevant details about the publisher in the listing, and they always include URLs to further your market research. They also often include extremely helpful articles about a variety of useful topics with tips for better submissions, information about trends, and stories from the experiences of other writers. Market guides also cover more than book publishing. You can buy specific market guides to cover magazine markets. And there are even niche market guides for things like poetry or Christian publishing.
Really, the only minus about a market guide has to do with the constant changes happening in publishing. Publishers change their websites, their policies, their staff, and even their ownership and focus. These changes happen in response to changing needs of the publisher. This means that even the best market guides will include information that is out of date. They can’t help it. Even if the time between researching the markets, writing up the entries, commissioning and editing the articles, and turning all that into print books was no more than a month (and it’s actually much, much longer than that) some of the information would already be obsolete because market changes can happen that fast and that unpredictably. As a result, having a market guide is never enough. It’s very important, but it cannot be your one and only step in the submissions process, because that will result in potentially missing the best opportunity for your book.
How Use Your Market Guides
The best use of market guides is as a launching point for your research. When I get a new market guide, I spend hours studying it, visiting publisher websites based on the links in the guide, and using highlighters to mark those publishers I want to keep an eye on because they are a good match for the type of writing I do, the kind of voice I have, and the goals I have for my work. I also visit every website I’ve not heard of before.
When I check out publisher websites, I specifically want to know if these publishers are producing work that seems to be professional and well-designed. Publishers putting out rough or poorly designed books are immediately struck off my list of options for one simple reason: ugly, unprofessional-looking books mean the publisher is not investing money in the process of creating the book. If they don’t even have the money to produce the best package for my work (the printed book) then how are they possibly going to have any money for promotion and marketing? It is NOT true that no publisher promotes and markets. But some don’t, and I simply have no interest in a publisher that isn’t going to get behind my book.
So, buying a market guide is buying a research tool that will need effort on your side. You’ll need to update the market guide constantly as your additional research makes you aware of changes. Again, being aware can come from visiting the publisher websites, taking part in message boards about publishing, and reading newsletters about books and publishing. And sometimes you can get information in unexpected ways as well.
Sometimes you need to think outside the box to catch all the potential new information available. Sometimes the best tips I’ve received didn’t come from sources that were trying to help me market. For example, I’ve found markets I hadn’t considered via Facebook when people are talking about their publishing experience, and via Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf newsletter (I do this by checking out publishers I’ve never heard of when I see their names in their reviews section or in the section reporting deals). I also learn about new publishers by simply going to real bookstores (and the library) and looking at books similar to mine (in genre or in tone/themes, etc) to find out who is publishing them.
I’m constantly looking for news about publishing. The best tool for learning about markets is curiosity. The desire to know about everything in publishing can help you stumble across information you wouldn’t have accessed any other way. Also, I like to look at things like pitch events on Twitter or manuscript wish list (#MSWL) tags even when I don’t have any manuscripts I need to sell, because it can help me watch current trends and needs from publishers and agents, and help me track agents and see which ones I like. It lets me follow the careers of editors, so I know which ones work where. All of this will shorten the time for me to make the best market matches when it comes time for me to begin the process of submission.
I want the submission process to be as easy and accurate as possible. I want feedback from editors. Here’s a secret. In situations where an editor can’t accept your manuscript (because it doesn’t fit their present need) but they were impressed by you, they’ll sometimes respond even if they’re from a “no means no” publisher. And that response, that rejection, is a connection for the future. I can’t talk them into wanting this project (and I shouldn’t try), but I can note in my market guide that this editor saw something in my work that resonated. I’ll want to remember that in case my next book is a better match.
For me, the process of researching markets is interesting and exciting. It helps me stay on top of what is happening in publishing and that helps me be more successful, but it also allows me to help others. And being helpful is valuable in this business. It’s never a bad idea to be remembered as someone people like working with.
So, the biggest suggestion I can make about the research part of submissions is to cast a wide net and fall in love with the process of learning about this business. You’ll never be sorry you did.
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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.
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