Hi everyone! Big thanks as always to all the people who sent in their publishing questions! I hope everyone, whether you sent in a question or not, finds this post helpful and informative.
As with my previous Ask the Editor posts, I humbly ask that you take my comments in the spirit in which they’re intended. The advice here is meant to be friendly and helpful; I sincerely hope no one finishes this post feeling vulnerable or discouraged.
Also, a general disclaimer that my thoughts are my own; I do not speak on behalf of my publisher or the publishing industry in general. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that you’ve heard an editor or agent say something that directly conflicts with my perspective. Everyone in publishing has their own views and preferences, and I can only be honest about my own.
Finally, if you have any questions about writing or publishing that aren’t addressed here, please feel free to email me. I’m always happy to gather questions for my next post!
Thanks so much, and happy reading!
As my own agent, I send out postcards to art directors and editors, and have to constantly update my contacts list. Is it better to send things to specific individuals, or will a generalized department or position suffice?
I think it honestly depends on what you want to prioritize. I certainly don’t get offended when I receive submissions that say “Dear Editor” on them rather than my name, but it does make me think that the author is sending out a huge batch of submissions without much research or discernment, instead of purposely selecting me because they think I’ll have a particular interest in their work.
So in the case of postcards, which I’m assuming are artist samples, if your main focus is just getting the word out about your work, that you’re available, etc., I think it’s probably fine to send them to a general publishing department. (Especially when all the time you spend researching who works there is time you’re not spending on your art.) But if you’re trying to get someone interested in a specific project, or looking to form more of a lasting connection with the agency or publisher, I think the front-end research (finding out who works there, what sort of books they publish, etc.) will lead to better results in the long run.
I entered an SCBWI-sponsored event last October and received a good critique from the agent I chose. She asked me to work on it and send it in within the 6-month time frame, which I did on Query Tracker this past March. The automated notice said, “I can't get to this for at least three months…” How and when do I follow up with this agent, if I don't hear back from her within a couple more months? Do you have any advice?
In this specific circumstance, I think it’s fine to follow up once the three-month marker has passed; you should explain the situation (that you received a critique, revised and re-sent it in the requested time frame) and ask if she has received the manuscript. I personally wouldn’t advise asking her when you can expect a response; nobody likes getting that question, and her automated response indicates that she’s especially bogged down. But it’s already coming up on a year since you received a critique from her, so it’d be good to double-check that she received your submission and that it’s on her radar.
If she doesn’t respond within a few weeks when you reach out to her, I’d suggest moving on and submitting the project to other agents, unless part of your arrangement involved keeping it exclusive. There’s always a possibility that you’ll get a delayed response, but ultimately, you want to find someone who’s excited about your work and reaches out to you with enthusiasm.
Do editors prefer to work with agented or unagented authors/illustrators? Does it make a difference?
There are several publishers out there who only accept agented submissions, but many are willing to consider both agented and unagented authors and illustrators. I’m not sure it makes much of a difference from the editor’s point of view—as long as the quality of work is the same, it’s usually just as easy to work directly with an author as it is to work with an agent.
I think the difference between having an agent and not is much more keenly felt on the author’s end of things. When you have an agent, they’ll query for you, negotiate for you, and advocate for you. Many agents even go beyond that, helping with marketing and promotion ideas, providing editorial feedback, etc. Of course, it’s no easy task to sign with an agent, and I know a lot of professional writers who manage just fine without one. Ultimately, I think the author or illustrator needs to decide for themselves what would best serve their goals.
How would I go about getting picture books published that have the same main character and are written as a series? I've read articles that say this is a hard lane to get into, because of the rhyming in the storytelling.
Series are definitely challenging from a publishing perspective. On the one hand, it’s great to have a reliable series on the list—you can get a fairly accurate sales forecast based on the previous books, and they can help to balance a list, so it’s not all stand-alones. That said, launching a series is a gamble; if the first book doesn’t take off, the publisher’s suddenly in a tough spot when it comes to the sequels. And that’s even before getting into the rhyming issue you mention!
If you have a picture book series in mind and you’re not yet an established author, I’d suggest making sure the first book can stand perfectly well on its own and pitching that book, rather than a whole series concept. Mention in your query letter that you have other picture book manuscripts featuring this character, but keep the focus on the first one for now. If they publish the book and it does well, their first question will be, “Can we do another one?”, and you’ll already be all set with the sequel.
Over and over I hear, “Work on being the best writer you can be, and you will get an agent and get published.” The message seems to be that elbow-grease and a great deal of time and energy equals getting published, but much of what is out there to help me build my craft is expensive. Any guidelines for what to spend my time and money on?
Great question! As a general rule of thumb, I think a cost-effective approach to getting published is to study the craft as cheaply as possible—check out writing books from the library, attend free webinars, listen to podcasts, join critique groups, etc.—and save the splurges for the things that help you connect with industry professionals.
Whether it’s meeting an agent or editor at an in-person conference or paying to have them read and critique your manuscript, I think the things that bring you closer to the gatekeepers tend to be the best investments. If you form a genuine connection with someone who likes your writing style, they’ll be eager to find a way to work with you!
Thank you, Katherine!
To submit a publishing question, email Mitten blog editor Sarah LoCascio with "Ask the Editor" in the subject line, and she'll forward your question to Katherine. Or, stay tuned on the SCBWI-MI MichKids listserv – Katherine will ask for questions a few weeks before her next post.
If you missed any of Katherine's previous Ask the Editor posts, go HERE to browse through all the questions and answers.