How To Get A Children's
by Robyn Opie Parnell
How do you get a children's book
I'm sure there are many varied answers to this
question depending on who you ask. I can give you
my experiences and advice after many years of
writing for children.
I'd been writing for five years before I got my
first book accepted by a publisher. I joined a
writers' centre, completed several writing
courses specific to children's fiction, read many
books about writing for children, and joined a
writing group for children's authors. I learned
everything that I could about writing for
children and wrote, wrote, wrote. I call this my
One evening, I went to the writing group for
children's authors and one of the members had a
letter from a publisher who was looking for
submissions. She photocopied the letter for
whoever wanted a copy. I almost snatched a copy
from her hand, I was eager for an opportunity to
submit, especially to a publisher who actually
asked for submissions.
I sent off 31 little stories to the publisher.
Then, like all good writers, forgot about the
submission and went on with my next project.
Months later, I received that magical letter in
the post. "We'd like to publish . . ."
The publisher accepted 3 of my little stories. Of
course, I did that little dance for joy. Then
It helps to know what publishers are looking for
at a given time. Writers' groups and writers'
centre are useful sources of information.
Publishing information and guidelines are often
available on websites. A telephone call to a
publisher can sometimes help but there are many
publishers who don't know what they want until it
lands on their desk.
My next experience was a similar experience. I
found out through a friend from another writing
group that a publisher was looking for novels of
around 4,000 words. I sent four off and had three
Not long after this, I found out from another
friend from the same writing group that a
publisher was looking for short stories. The big
difference in this experience was that the
publisher was known for commissioning 95% of his
Now writers are a stubborn bunch. Otherwise we
wouldn't keep writing. And we're not put off by
news that a publisher commissions most of their
work after we find out that they're looking for
My friend and I sent off a couple of texts. The
publisher sent me an email that went something
like this "I can see that you've done this
before." I'm now one of his commissioned
authors and I have more than fifty published
titles with this publisher.
Afterwards, we found out that the publisher had
sent an email to his writers telling them about
his project and asking for submissions. He'd
received very little response, so he was
desperate for new blood. We came along at the
My experience provides several important points
about getting published.
1. Learn everything you can about writing for
children. And write as much as you can.
Publishers receive an enormous number of
submissions, so even when you know what they are
looking for, you have to get your manuscript on
their shortlist. Writing for children is a skill.
You need to learn how to do it. Then you need to
practise, practise and practise to do it well.
2. Read current children's books. Reading helps
you improve your own writing skills as you
subconsciously take in the language and style of
other writers. I'm not talking about copying
other writers but learning the simplicity of
language, format, structure etc which comes with
frequent exposure to certain types of books.
Reading current children's books also helps you
keep abreast with what is being published.
3. Join writers' centres and organizations,
writing groups, chat groups, subscribe to
newsletters about writing for children. Check
publishers' websites, enquire about publishing
programs. Go to writing/book seminars and
conferences. Do everything you can to put
yourself in the right place at the right time.
4. Learn about the industry and the market. Keep
abreast with changes.
5. Be professional. Make writing your business.
6. Always submit your very best work. Have a
professional manuscript assessment done prior to
submitting your manuscript to a publisher.
Writers are often too close to their work and it
takes "fresh eyes" to see areas that
need further work or improvement.
7. If you know that a publisher is looking for a
certain type of story - i.e. a certain word
length or genre - submit as many of your
manuscripts that fit the bill. But make sure that
they are your best work. Writing is a numbers
game. The more you submit, the more chance you
have of being accepted.
Persistence is one secret of success when writing
for children - in most things. Persistence means
hard work and commitment. Another secret of
success is being in the right place at the right
time. Someone has to be there, why not you?