How to Write, Illustrate, and Pitch a Children’s Book to Publishers

By Steff Metal in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

So you’ve come up with a great idea for a children’s book and you’d love to see it in print—with your own artwork as illustrations, of course! The question is, how do you approach publishers with your idea?

1. Write your manuscript

The first thing you’ll need to do is complete your children’s picture book manuscript. If you’re not an experienced writer, you could take a class on writing for children or check out any of the hundreds of books available on the subject.

A children’s manuscript should be around 500 words, and should be interesting enough to carry the reader from page to page.

Once you’re happy with your story, get a friend or professional editor to cast an eye over it. It’s vital your story be free from spelling and grammar errors before you send it to the publisher.

If you don’t have a specific story in mind, or you’d like to illustrate children’s’ picture books for other writers, wait for next week’s article, which is about how to become a children’s book illustrator for other authors.

2. Illustrate your character

Now that you’ve written your story, it’s time to illustrate your main character. Begin with a series of rough sketches and studies, and begin to refine and simplify your character design. You may find it useful to take photographs of children or animals in different positions or find pictures online for reference.

A great book for aspiring children’s book illustrators is Illustrating Children’s Books: Creating Pictures for Publication by Martin Salisbury.

3. Draw a storyboard

Once character creation is complete, you’ll need to draw a storyboard. To do this, draw out a series of boxes representing 32 pages, organized into a series of double-paged spreads. Now begin to block in where you want your characters and text to go.

You’ll need to create a few different storyboards before you get an arrangement you’re happy with. Don’t forget to alternate angles and views, and to be careful which illustrations you place next to each other—each page should flow into the next.

4. Create a dummy book

A dummy book is a series of pages stapled together to look like a children’s book, with illustrations, text, a cover and endpapers all bound together. The difference is, instead of illustrating every page, you choose one spread to illustrate and leave the rest as rough drawings.

The dummy book forms the basis of your pitch to the publisher. It shows them what the finished product will look like, while giving both them and you the flexibility to change ideas and layouts.

Never illustrate the whole book before publication. The publisher will make changes and all your work will be wasted.

5. Find a publisher

Now that your dummy book is ready, it’s time to find some publishers who may be interested in your book. Start by searching guides to children’s publishing houses—one of the best is the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, which lists contact details of thousands of publishers. Also, look at individual publisher’s websites for their specific guidelines.

You may have to pitch several publishers before you get a response. Some of the most famous children’s book writers pitched hundreds of times before they got accepted.

Choose five publishers to start with and read their submission guidelines carefully.

6. Submit and wait

Every publisher’s guidelines are different, but most will want to see a query letter and your dummy book. A query letter is a cover letter for your submission that “sells” your book to the publisher. It’s a bit like the back-cover blurb on a book—you want to hook the attention of the publisher without giving the story away.

Some publishers will want to see the dummy book and your portfolio via mail instead of a query. Never send your original dummy book—always make copies. If in doubt, follow the individual guidelines on the publisher’s website.

Now that you’ve sent off some submissions, it’s time to wait. Publishers take a long time to respond—anything from a month to a year or more. So be patient! Soon you could be the author and illustrator of your very own children’s book.


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