The best thing an aspiring writer can do is read…read work in the genre in which you are writing, and note the qualities of award winning work (see what other writers have done, and analyze how they did it); also note who has published the work you like.
Further training: Check out any writing program that offers a chance for group feedback as well as constructive feedback from the instructor. Writing courses taught by writers connected to universities are generally good choices.
Check out potential Writer in Residence Programs at your local public library. These community support people are often very helpful mentors in revisions and publishing tips. This is a free service, available throughout the fall and winter term.
Market Ideas: Explore organizations such as the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild who offer information about current markets: www.skwriter.com. Check out your provincial writers’ organization for the best support for you!
Finding a Publisher
- Choose a publisher that publishes work similar to what you are working on (genre, audience, etc).
- Check out their website to see how to go about submitting (and if they are accepting unsolicited manuscripts).
- A general query is composed of a letter of introduction to you and your work, and a sample of the manuscript (in cases of picturebooks, send the whole 24 or 32 page manuscript, divided into sections that indicate page breaks; publishers generally do not want art work along with the ms).
Manuscript Evaluation Service:
If you would like to have your manuscript evaluated by a professional author, there may be funding available through your local writers’ guild’s Manuscript Evaluation Service.
Authors who submit their work to this service will have their work read and commented on by an author who works in their genre. They will learn the strengths of their manuscript, areas they could improve, and what steps they need to take next. The program may be subsidized by a provincial Arts Board, so the costs to individual authors are usually very reasonable.
This program is open to writers who work at any level (from very beginner to established professional) and to those who write in any genre.
For full details of Saskatchewan’s program, including costs and formatting requirements for submissions, see www.skwriter.com/programs-and-services/manuscript-evaluation-service.
Reviews of Books for Children (and their publishers)
The best comprehensive venue for children's reviews is CM Magazine, an online journal whose business it is to review new Canadian material. Generally teachers are contracted to do reviews of the books sent to them; check out CM’s website for further information: www.umanitoba.ca/cm/.
CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers)
CANSCAIP may offer a free newsletter prior to decisions about membership. This organization gives a sense of what else is being published in Canada as well as allows writers to broadcast their own work. Teachers, parents, and beginning writers often join at a lower cost as "friends,” while published writers join as members. CANSCAIP also has a manuscript evaluation service. For further information see: www.canscaip.org.
- Consider approaching a publisher drawn from your reading whom you know is doing well with material of a similar nature. In your query letter to them, offer the following information:
- a summary of your material (as would be suitable for a back-cover blurb)
- an author bio (if you have other publications in any area, include them here so the publisher has a sense of your depth and breadth as a writer; include here any qualifications you have as well as interests…you are basically ‘selling’ yourself here as an interesting and capable professional and it is possible to do this with with or without previous publications)
- why you chose this publisher to query—what have you read by their authors that inspired you; how your work might be similar to, and yet different from, their previous titles
- a sample of one or two chapters from your manuscript
- In addition to the above suggestions re seeking a publisher, also consider publishers closer to home that might have a vested interest in publishing someone local (publicity, for example, is much easier when the author and publisher are in the same city). Go onto the publishers’ websites to see how to make a specific query fitting their requirements, as well as whether they are taking unsolicited manuscripts (this means manuscripts sent to them by an author without an agent as intermediary). Thistledown Press in Saskatoon, for example, has had some excellent young adult titles published recently. Shimmerdogs was a stellar title on the Governor General’s Awards list.
- Also have a look at awards lists to see which publishers are doing well with their children’s titles. The Governor General’s Awards for Children’s Text is one; the American Newbery Awards is another list to seek for some good reading and inspiration.
- If you have friends who are interested in writing, start a writers’ group where you plan regular meetings and read and respond to each other’s work. This offers a great learning opportunity, as well as motivation to continue. (Two or three other people is a good number to start with; any more and one doesn’t have one’s own work read very often).
- Consider offering the book to young people you know from the age range for whom the manuscript is written; be aware, however, that their feedback will not necessarily be very helpful unless they are very critical readers who are not afraid to tell you something you may not want to hear. Asking a young person who is an expert at something you are writing about, however (i.e. skateboarding; parasailing…) will often be extremely useful.
- Agents in Canada who represent authors of children’s and young adult work are rare. Generally agents want a writer to have a proven track record before they will even read a proposal for a business relationship. CANSCAIP and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (another good source of information) have in the past offered lists of Canadian agents including contact information.
- Look for opportunities to enter your manuscript (or a shorter piece) in contests as this is also a great way to alert publishers to your worth as you are formulating your query letter. The Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild has contests (with spring deadlines) that involve a category for children’s literature, and this has been enormously helpful to many other writers. ***Be cautious of “vanity press” contests that ask you to pay a fee and then offer publication in book form of all the work that is shortlisted…sometimes these involve collecting all the work that is submitted, good or bad, and then simply compiling it—not a good idea to have your skilful writing shown alongside bad stuff, and worthless as a real “credit.”
- Be cautious as well of self-publishing outfits. These are increasing in Canada, and while the idea of a published book is a big carrot, in my experience as a reviewer, a very small percentage of self-published works have strong literary merit. In addition, adding a self published book to your cv will not look good on your resume as a motivator for a “real” publisher to consider your work, nor will such a book usually bring in much profit (although the idea of cutting out the “middleman” of a publisher who takes much of the proceeds is tantalizing, publishers have a very important role in making sure the book is of high quality, and, in addition to this, advertising the book. On one’s own, selling copies is extremely difficult and usually involves dragging books to bookstores and then going and collecting damaged books that have not sold and which the stores eventually want off the shelves).
- Don’t give up! In my experience, my best work has been rejected by a publisher, set aside, and then years later, rewritten. Coming back to a manuscript after a good length of time has passed is always enlightening—I always see where it needs further work and refinement.
Peter Carver's title So You Want to Write a Children's Book (Red Deer Press, 2011) offers a wealth of good advice for new and experienced writers.
Another great resource is Kathy Stinson’s guide Writing Picture Books: What Works and What Doesn’t (Pembroke Publishers, 2012).