In general, there are several books for children which help adult readers understand how a picture book comes about. Eileen Christelow's What Do Illustrators Do? and What Do Authors Do? are clear and straightforward. Janet Stevens's From Pictures to Words shows the process of creating a picture book as well as an example of a book dummy.
Some helpful how-to, nuts-and-bolts books for adults about writing, illustrating, and publishing a children's picture book, informational book, or novel are Jim Giblin's Writing Books for Young People; Barbara Seuling's How to Write a Children's Book and Get it Published; Judith Appelbaum's How to Get Happily Published; William Zinsser's Worlds of Childhood: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children, and many others. Kathleen Horning's From Cover to Cover presents clearly what makes a children's book a good one, genre by genre. Check at your local library.
The July/August issue of The Horn Book Magazine always reprints the speeches of the current Newbery Medal winner (best written book) for that year.
Many authors have written autobiographically about their writing life. Some of these include Guild members Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Katherine Paterson, plus others such as Mem Fox, Mollie Hunter, Ralph Fletcher, Eloise Greenfield, Marian Dane Bauer, Jean Craighead George, Sid Fleischman, Richard Peck, Cynthia Rylant, and many others. Ask at the library.
- Read today's children's books. While you are reading, check to see which publishing companies are publishing work similar in spirit and genre to yours. It is a waste of your time and theirs to send a manuscript to to a publisher who has no interest in publishing the type of book you are writing. Libraries may not have the newest books, so you should check bookstores, too, to get the most current information. Ask what is selling, too. Markets change as do things in the publishing world. Magazines found in most libraries, such as School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers' Weekly, frequently discuss trends and issues.
- Editors receive many manuscripts a year. Only the most carefully crafted and original will get their attention. It can be invaluable to have your manuscript critiqued professionally at a class on writing for children at a local university, college, or adult education program. Writer's conferences often offer critiques, too. One long-running writing conference that is offered by the Highlights publishing group can be found by clicking on "workshops" at www.highlightsfoundation.org. They also offer numerous mini-workshops throughout the fall and spring, plus a helpful question-and-answer section. If you go to the web site of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, www.scbwi.org, you can find out about their conferences held all over the US. There is also a section on how to prepare a manuscript for submission. SCBWI has a huge membership and is a good organization which anyone can join. Their conferences offer excellent opportunities for learning and networking.
- Unless you are a writer-illustrator, editors prefer to receive picture book manuscripts without illustrations. If a publisher were to buy your manuscript, the editor would find and contract separately with an artist to illustrate it. Writers usually have no say in who illustrates their work until they have published several books.
- There is no need to have your work copyrighted in advance. The publisher takes care of this for you before publication.
- If you are considering a nonfiction book, it is essential to survey what is out there on the topic before you begin. Publishers are always looking for fresh, age-appropriate information and today's nonfiction has never been better. But you want to be sure your idea hasn't been done several times already, or with the approach you plan to use, before you spend time in researching a topic. Write a query letter to a publisher explaining what you hope to do, why your proposed book is necessary, any competing books and how yours differs, what age you aim for, and your approach.
- Up-to-date addresses, submission policies, etc., for each publisher are found in Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, available at bookstores and libraries. It comes out yearly. The same information may be found in Literary Marketplace. You can also find current publishers' information in the "members" section of the Children's Book Council website plus a host of information for getting published at www.cbcbooks.org.
- You may find it easier to break into the magazine market first by submitting to such journals as Highlights, the Cricket Group, and so forth. This also gives you some writing credits to put on your resume before trying to submit a book to a publisher. Again, see Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, Children's Writer, or Literary Marketplace for publishers of children's magazines.
- Those who have published a book or have a book contract in hand are eligible to join the Authors Guild. This organization promotes the professional interests of authors and benefits include review of a book contract. Contact them at www.authorsguild.org