A Writer's Resolution: I Will Submit!
by Eugie Foster
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The start of a new year is a time for resolutions, and it is the rare writer who isn't wrestling with some elusive, as-of-yet unrealized goal: this year I will produce a story a week, never miss a deadline, finish that epic novel, and top the New York Times bestseller list. Whether we keep these well-intentioned objectives or forget them in a week's time, it's inevitable that as the old year draws to a close, we hanker to brush off the detritus of the past and look to the future as a chance for improvement, change, and a fresh beginning.
There are a myriad of reasons why people are compelled to write. Some are content to get their stories on the page, freeing the words clamoring in their head without need for external validation or an audience. Others glean all the readership satisfaction they require from sharing their works with family or friends. But many crave publication and the knowledge that they have reached a wider audience. Often, children's writers especially yearn for publication because unlike works geared toward grown-up peers, the true culmination of these efforts is having youngsters enjoy our carefully wrought tales.
But it can be intimidating moving from the safety of penning stories for only yourself or a circle of loved ones (who have a vested interest in not hurting your feelings) to putting your creative efforts before a stranger to evaluate. The prospect of rejection is a daunting one, and it's sometimes hard to remember that when an editor or agent sends a rejection, they aren't judging or rejecting you, the writer, but only a manuscript.
Fortunately, a great balm to a writer's ego is learning how to keep the creative aspects of writing distinct from the marketing and business ones. For children's writers who have resolved for this new year -- I will submit! -- here's a coldly analytical approach to marketing in three steps to help you realize your resolution:
Step 1: Establish your priorities.
After writing the best story you can -- polished prose, tight pacing, and clean of typos and errors -- decide whether you want to submit it to magazines/ezines, book publishers, or agents.
Magazines and ezines take unsolicited submissions, are open to new writers, and don't require that work be submitted by an agent. Book publishers vary in size, distribution, and the amount of advance paid. Many children's book publishers take work over the transom, especially picture book manuscripts, although many require submissions be through an agent.
Criteria to consider:
- Pay. Children's magazines are among the top paying fiction 'zine markets in the industry, but they still tend to pay less than an advance from a major publishing house. Landing an agent won't get you any money upfront, but may be the only way to get your manuscript before editors from big publishing houses. There are also semi-professional 'zines, many of which are well thought of and have a good readership. And if money isn't a priority, there's nonpaying markets.
- Circulation size. Unsurprisingly, there's a correlation between pay rate and circulation. Professional rates typically mean a larger distribution. Nonpaying markets which compensate their contributors in "exposure" often don't have much in the way of a readership.
- Prestige. While the top markets that receive the most critical attention and accolades are the professionally-paying ones, some non- or low-paying markets also have excellent reputations for quality fiction despite their lower pay scale. One such is Skipping Stones (http://www.skippingstones.org) which, while not paying its contributors at all, is well thought of due to its multicultural philosophy and mission.
- Response time. This is an industry which demands patience. Writers cultivate it, learn to fake it, or resign themselves to a lot of suffering. If you're not the patient sort and haven't been worn down to "resigned" yet, you may wish to bump editors, publishers, and agents that have a reputation for speedier responses up your priority list. Response times are often specified in guidelines, although it's best to take them with a grain of salt. As a caveat, "speedier" is relative. While some editors do respond in as little as a few days or weeks, the norm is months, and it's not unheard of to wait years or to never get a reply, especially from agents. To give you an idea of what to expect, Andrew Burt maintains a response time database, as reported by writers, for speculative fiction markets (including several ones for children) at http://www.critique.org/blackholes/.
- Print versus electronic publication. There are several advantages to electronic publications such as ezines and e-books. Electronic markets normally take email submissions, which saves on postage, paper, envelopes, and ink, while most paper ones don't. Response times are often faster, and since it's a newer publishing format, the competition is frequently not as fierce. However, many writers prefer the feel of a hard copy -- having pages to turn and a book to hold. Many also believe that paper publishers are superior to electronic. E-publications, being easier to start up without having the outlay and overhead of a print outfit, may fold as easily as they were created. There's also a tradeoff to weigh between wider exposure through the Internet and missing readers who might not have computer access.
- Electronic submissions versus paper. Related to the above criteria is whether a market accepts submissions by email. While many semi-pro markets accept electronic submissions, most of the professional ones (e.g. the Cricket Magazine Group, Highlights for Children, Boys' Life, etc.) only accept paper. Postage and associated fees may seem negligible at first, but once you get several manuscripts in circulation, it begins to mount up, and you might find yourself reaching a point where your postage outlay exceeds a story's prospective income.
- Rights sold. Many children's magazines (e.g. Highlights for Children, Odyssey, The Children's Better Health Institute publications: Turtle, Humpty Dumpty, etc.) purchase all rights outright. That means that if you sell a story to them, they own it in its entirety unto perpetuity, and you cannot sell reprints or other publication options to it. Other markets buy first publication, first serial, first English Language, or nonexclusive rights. Writers need to know what they're offering when they submit their manuscripts as well as what markets are asking for.
- Simultaneous submissions. Simultaneous submission is the practice of sending a story to more than one place for publication consideration at the same time. (Different from "multiple submission" which is sending more than one story to the same market at the same time.) As advantageous as it is for writers to be able to simsub, most markets don't accept them. Some are willing to consider them as long as writers tell them upfront and inform them immediately if a manuscript sells elsewhere.
Step 2: Identifying appropriate markets.
Establishing your marketing priorities allows you to sort through the various markets and come up with an action plan for places to submit your manuscript. There are several print market listings for children's publishers such as Children's Writers & Illustrators Market (CWIM) published by Writer's Digest Books, [an error occurred while processing this directive]Book Markets for Children's Writers and [an error occurred while processing this directive]Magazine Markets for Children's Writers published by Writer's Institute Publications, and Writer's & Illustrator's Guide to Children's Book Publishers and Agents: Who They Are! What They Want! And How to Win Them Over! published by Three Rivers Press. While good resources, writers can expect to pay around $20 for them, and they are updated, at best, only annually.
However, the publishing industry is a volatile one; editors leave, publishing houses split and consolidate imprints, merge, and move their headquarters, magazines have reading dates and changing themes, and semi-pro markets pop up and close with little notice. With the lag between information acquisition and publication, the content in paper market listings can be out-of-date by the time they hit the bookstore. As such, the Internet is a writer's best resource for current listings, and most online market information is free.
Study guidelines carefully before submitting to ensure that a publication's target age range, themes, and word count are a good match with your manuscript. You may also want to read sample copies in order to get a better idea of the kind of material a market publishes. Be aware that some editors ask that writers vary from standard manuscript formatting and some magazines have reading dates. And if you're sending a paper submission, don't forget your self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). Likewise, markets that accept electronic submission may ask for file attachments or text pasted into the body of an email. Don't risk sparking an editor's ire, always follow guidelines to the letter.
Step 3: Send it out and keep it out.
Once you have a list of appropriate submission markets for your story, package it up (or create that email), and send it out. When the rejections come in, as they will, don't fixate on them. Get that manuscript back out! Check your list for the next market, make up a new submission packet, and dump it back in the mailbox (or editor's inbasket) that very day. And if the waiting gets torturous, cure those empty mailbox blues by writing another story.
Remember, in the publishing game, you can't win if you don't play. So write, submit, and have a happy New Year!
- The Children's Literature Web Guide - Children's Publishers
- The Children's Literature Web Guide - Booksellers on the Internet
- Eugie Foster's Children's Markets listing
- Write4Kids.com Children's Writers Marketplace
Copyright © 2007 Eugie Foster
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Eugie Foster is a short-fiction writer specializing in genre and children's literature. She has sold more than a dozen stories to the Cricket Magazine Group, including Spider, Cricket and Cicada, as well as to an assortment of other children's magazines including Dragonfly Spirit and Story Station. She holds an M.A. in developmental psychology, has co-authored a textbook on child development, and is a frequent speaker at Dragon*Con's Young Adult Literature Track. She is a member of the SFWA and managing editor of Tangent (http://www.tangentonline.com). Foster maintains a list of children's SF/F magazine markets at her website, http://www.eugiefoster.com.
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