- First, if you are sending right now, stop sending because you can't re-send the revised manuscript to publishers you've already tried.
- Publishers like to use their own illustrators. If your manuscript is already illustrated and you like it that way, you will probably have to self-publish.
- If you've written the story in rhythm and rhyme, it had better be expertly done or you are better off writing plain prose.
Next, contact a professional editor. The market for children's books is extremely competitive, because the majority of the book business is adults buying books for adults, and adults tend to buy for children the books they used to love: Make Way for Ducklings, Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh, Little House on the Prairie. Having your work professionalized and perfected gives your manuscript an edge.
- feedback on your plot and characters and suggestions for any improvements
- corrections of any grammatical, punctuation or spelling errors
- feedback on rhythm, rhyme and vocabulary, and (with my master's degree in poetry) I can rewrite rhymes so they're professional quality
- I will tell you whether the manuscripts are ready to publish or require revision
- I will tell you whether the market is saturated with similar stories and you're better off writing some new stories more likely to sell
- I will pinpoint the age range of your readership. You might think you have written a picture book for ages 2-5, but in fact the text might be accessible only to ages 8 and up. I once read a Wind in the Willows-type manuscript with many references to early 19th-century styles and culture that young children couldn't appreciate. The characters spoke in Hollywood-British dialect and vocabulary ("What ho! Who goes there? Show yourself, lackey!"). The book was really for adult readers who could see is cleverness.
- advice on professional formatting, and I will format your manuscript if you want.
- an assessment of your cover letter, if you want. If it's less than optimal I will rewrite it or make suggestions, as you choose. If you didn't send a cover letter, we can compose one of professional quality so at least your cover letter won't hold you back.
- suggestions regarding potential publishers
Picking up the forceps, I said, "Why don't you hire a professional editor to read it and give you feedback?"
He said, "But that's so counterintuitive!"
Clamping the forceps around his head, I said, "Business is counterintuitive. But business is part of writing. We can be 90 percent artist, but have to be 10 percent businessperson."
Then I decided I didn't have the right to yank on him; he might yet be 10 to 20 years away from being ready to be born as a (professional) writer. But if he's ready, he will:
-budget to pay for professional advice.
-not be scared to learn a professional's opinion. In fact he will be eager for it.
-realize he needs help, that he can't do it alone or with just one or two writer friends his own age.
-see that I am not trying to drag him down to my (less talented) level; I'm just telling him something I learned.