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Posted by Kate, June 26, 2015

How not to submit your book to a publisher

We really want to encourage people to explore their talent for writing and for illustration.

We’re willing to read unsolicited manuscripts (though we’d be the first to admit that we don’t get to them terribly quickly).

We run masterclasses and conferences to demystify the publishing process.

Here are just a few things that I see people getting wrong when they try to interest us in their books:

First, they ignore our submissions guidelines. They send stuff directly to me, having worked out or tracked down my email address. If they’re lucky, and I am keen to get it out of my inbox, I will take a quick look and reject it instantly (I can’t think of an example where this hasn’t happened). If they’re not lucky, and I’m away, it’ll languish unread in my inbox forever. I know it’s disappointing, but the fact is that I think our first duty is to publish to the best of our ability those authors and illustrators to whom we have already made a commitment.

Second, they over-egg their pitch to the point that I can’t imagine how we would ever establish a working relationship. They ask us to sign confidentiality agreements or other documentation before they will show me anything, fearful, I guess, that we’ll steal the idea or blab about it. They suggest that we might go out to lunch to talk about the multi-media potential of their property, presenting the books as just one part of a pitch involving a TV series and an extensive merchandising programme. It’s great to be ambitious, but these things suggest to me that an author doesn’t have a sufficiently realistic grasp of the children’s book business. In over a quarter of a century, I’ve never signed anything before seeing a project, and I’ve never gone to lunch with a prospective author who’s written in speculatively.

Third, if they’re a writer, they’ve already paired themselves up with an illustrator, and if they’re an illustrator, they’ve paired themselves up with a writer. Usually, it’s part of the publisher’s contribution to the process that they pair up authors and illustrators. At its best, this pairing can be a creative and commercially transformative act.

I used to feel bad about my position of power over the hopes and dreams of authors and illustrators. I still feel a huge sense of responsibility when I accept a book, but less, nowadays, when I turn one down: self-publishing means that traditional publishers don’t have to worry about depriving an audience of a masterpiece. Anyone can publish today.

This blog post was born of a sequence of email conversations with prospective authors over the last few days – authors who were getting it wrong. It’s not a grouse: I really want authors and illustrators to give themselves the best chance of success. But it occurs to me that I can use this as a marketing tool: if you want more tips, and, probably, a more positive spin than I am giving here, then come to our next masterclass.

Tickets for the next Nosy Crow How to Write Children’s Fiction masterclass, taking place on October 10, are available now: you can book your place with the form below, or at this page. Both of our upcoming How to Write Picture Books masterclasses are currently sold out, but if you’d like to be the first to hear about new events, you can sign up to our books mailing list here.