If you’re an aspiring children’s book writer, here’s some great advice on getting published from someone who has been on both sides of the desk. Susan Hood ’76 has been involved in children’s publishing ever since her first job as an editorial assistant at Scholastic, where her main task was to read picture books for the Scholastic Book Clubs.
In 2009, Hood decided to focus on writing. “Admittedly, I had a leg up having been an editor,” says Hood, “but I had a healthy respect for just how difficult picture books are to write.” Today, she has published books with Hyperion, Kids Can Press, Penguin Putnam, Scholastic Press, and Simon & Schuster, among others. Titles include Spike, the Mixed-Up Monster, based on a type of salamander that lives in Mexico City; The Tooth Mouse, the French version of the Tooth Fairy; and Rooting for You, about a seed afraid to come out of its shell.
Hood says that publishers today are looking for series, graphic novels and character-driven books, and they should have a “promotional hook.” Rhyming stories can be tricky—“If you want to write in rhyme, study poetry and make sure your rhymes are flawless.”
What is her number one suggestion? Get an agent. “I can’t stress how important that is,” she says. “For one thing, many publishers will not accept un-agented material. And I had written work-for-hire books for years, earning a few thousand dollars each with no royalties. Once I got an agent, I earned many times that much, with royalties!
Here are Hood’s six tips for successfully signing with an agent.
1) Learn about the business of publishing
Read Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch to find out about trends, developments and issues in the business. You’ll appear much more professional if you understand the challenges facing publishers and editors. These news sources will also alert you to new editors and new agents looking to build their lists.
2) Narrow your search
With thousands of agents working today, how do you find the perfect one for you? Purchase a one-month subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace to access the “Dealmakers” page—a fascinating window into what book agents are selling and editors are buying. It allows you to track selected agents and publishers.
3) Learn about the agents you want to query
Read their blogs and interviews and try to see them speak at conferences. Would you feel comfortable having them represent you to editors? That said, there’s a fine line between “researching” and “stalking.” Never corner an agent in a bathroom!
4) Write a professional query letter
I found examples on the blog of former agent and current author Nathan Bransford to be particularly helpful.
5) Follow an agent’s submission guidelines to the letter
Each submission process is different. Some agents want email attachments; some don’t. Think about it—if you got 700 queries a day, wouldn’t you want an excuse to hit the delete button?
6) If you get an offer, don’t jump
While it’s tempting to sign the contract and break open the champagne, stop to interview the agent and make sure you’re on the same page. Do you have the same expectations? Do you have a rapport? Remember, this person is working for you!
Susan Hood is available for author’s visits to schools and libraries. Click here for more information.
Cheryl Dellecese is associate director, print and new media, in the Office of College Relations