Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Twelve Things Every Children's Book Writers Should Do - #10 Be Professional

You have your manuscript ready to send to a publisher. That's fantastic! But now what do you do? Whenever you are prepared to send your manuscript, you must prepare for it as you would for a job interview.

When you are looking for a job, you don't apply to just anything? Of course not. You look for companies that interest you, openings that match your skills, and so on. This is the same when you send out your manuscript. Look at the company. What kinds of books do they publish? How about the editor? What does look for? What past books has he published. This takes some research, but the payoff is worth it.

Okay, you've found what you think is a good match. Now, take a look at that particular editor's or publishing house's submission guidelines. What do they want? A chapter and novel synopsis? How do they want it - by email? By mail? Follow the instructions carefully.

Remember, presentation is everything. You don't have the opportunity to put on your best suit and present yourself in person, so you have to let everything you send do the talking for you. You wouldn't send in your resume on pink paper, so now isn't the time for that either (yes, I had this happen quite often). Plain white paper and typed (please!) is best.

Just as you must always send a cover letter with your resume, you must always send a letter with your manuscript (or summary, or whatever the house or editor has asked for). This letter should always try to establish some of the following:

  • Establish the book's setting
  • Give a plot summary
  • Convey a sense of the characters and why the editor should care about them
  • Demonstrate your writing ability
  • Explain how the book differs from all the other books in its genre (this should be done in summary)
  • Show an understanding of the house and editor

These basic points should always be covered in your letter. In addition, you must always be sure that:

  • It is typed 12 pt double-spaced
  • It is no longer than one page
  • You have a good, clear letterhead with several means on contact
  • You are formal and polite in the letter
  • You formally close thanking the editor for her time and consideration
  • You have read and edited the letter making sure there are no errors

This is your chance to be seen and heard, so be as professional as possible.

There are many good websites that give a lot of information on how to write a good query letter. The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) offers a lot of help on formatting manuscripts and how to write a good query letter. However, it also helps to look at what NOT to do.

With that in mind, I offer two fantastic sites. The first offered by Cheryl Klein, a wonderful editor at Arthur A. Levine whom I have had the pleasure to meet, presents a humorous look at the Annotated Query Letter from Hell. I've read it several times and still enjoy reading it over (and yes, we have all been guilty of one sin or the other, so don't worry if you recognize something you've done. As she says, acknowledge the sin and then sin no more.) Next is a wonderful website dedicated to YA query letters called Query Shark. Every week, the shark (a literary agent) sinks her teeth into query letters explaining what works and doesn't work with them. You can even submit your own query letter and let the bloodletting begin!

Although you should be professional, also remember to be yourself, and have fun.

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