As a published children’s author I often get approached by authors or illustrators who have written or created a story, wanting to know about how to get it published. Sometimes it is their friends who approach me – authors and illustrators can be a diffident lot.

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It’s hard to give advice without this being seen as a criticism of the work itself, which is often penned with flair and illustrated lovingly. Maybe it’s a family story, a fun Dr Seuss-like rhyme, or  wonderful pictures of New Zealand birds.  The illustrations are cute, the rhyme is fun, your kids or grandkids love it. Unfortunately that won’t automatically translate into a book that publishers want to publish and other adults want to buy. Read on for the 3 most important things to take on board if you want to get published.

  1. Take a realistic approach: It’ll be near to impossible to have your first work accepted by a publisher. To give you a sense of scale, David Ling, of Duck Creek Press says “I receive 300 submissions a year and only publish 6“.  Given the scale of difference between submissions and actual publications, some publishers will only accept work from already published authors, others will only take submissions at certain times of the year. Most publishers’ websites include a section of ‘information for contributors’ or ‘submission guidelines’, read these thoroughly. Look at the kind of books they publish, does your book idea or manuscript fit with the kind of books they publish? Don’t waste your (or their) time sending your book where it isn’t wanted. For a list of New Zealand publishers see: PANZ.
  2. Do your homework:  Barbara Murison, a well known children’s literature expert and manuscript assessor, says “If you want to write for children and young people you need to be very aware of what this group is reading, and is interested in, by reading as many current books yourself as possible and by talking to and listening to what this group is saying.” Remember too, that booksellers are a key part of the publishing chain for illustrated children’s books. Visit your local bookshop and ask, what kind of books sell well? what topics would they like to see covered in books? Become familiar with books that are already published, is there a gap that your book would fill? Join the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA) and learn what you can about writing and publishing.
  3. Invite critique: there are knowledgeable people around the country, such as Barbara, who offer manuscript assessment services, take the opportunity to get some guidance, which could also help you on the way to being published. NZSA has a list of assessors as well as a scheme for members to get their work assessed. Barbara also recommends joining an informal writer’s group “These groups are usually small where a new writer can read their stories aloud and get supportive (and helpful) feedback (most public libraries will be able to help with details and it none exists, help with ideas of how to set one up). ” Ask yourself, how wedded are you to this one book you’ve developed? If you want to be a writer or illustrator you may have to let that first idea go and keep working until you have a book that hits the spot with publishers and booksellers.

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Footnote: If you don’t plan to become a children’s author or illustrator and would just like to see one manuscript you’ve developed in print, then choose self-publishing or the so-called ‘vanity’ publishing route. The technology is there to make a great production for friends and family, even to sell though the local store. See the NZSA website for information on publishing including self-publishing.