Monday, March 28, 2011

A Dose of Reality--Searching the Market

Week of March 27: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
Monday, March 28: A Dose of Reality—Searching the Market

I’ve had a difficult time getting started on blog posts this week. I have no idea whether it’s been a lack of inspiration, frustration, laziness, or what. I would blame writers’ block (or blogger’s block), but I don’t ever let me students use that excuse. If they try I say, “What does your mom (or dad) do for a living?” Then comes the answer: hair dresser, truck driver, teacher, preacher, whatever. Next I’ll ask, “Does she ever get hair-dresser block? Truck driver block? Teacher block? Preacher block?” No one else uses that as an excuse not to work, so why should writers?! Truth is that right now I am a bit bewitched, bothered, and bewildered about where to send my manuscripts.

Even though I’m a baby boomer, I’ve spent most of my life in an immediate gratification kind of world. Hungry? Throw something in the microwave. Lonely? Call someone on the phone. Have a question? Google it. Writing—whether my picture book writing or my blog writing—is not like that. The closest I get to immediate gratification in writing is using spell check or finding the perfect rhyming word.

Having exhausted my contacts from conferences and online sources, I started methodically scouring through the 2011 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market®. Editor Mary Pope says about 50% of publishers still accept unsolicited manuscripts. That may be true, but by the time I’d sifted through categories that I’m not currently writing for—Christian, YA, MG, Jewish themes, nonfiction, etc.—and sorted out publishers with criteria I didn’t meet—Canadian only, Alaskan authors only, Martians with three eyes only—I first found 26 U.S. publishers who would take unsolicited manuscripts for picture books. (By the way, why are Canadian publishers who only take Canadian authors listed with the American/North American publishers and listed again with foreign publishers? Not judging, just wondering.)

As I searched through the book again (and read between the lines), I found a total of 32 publishers who would take unsolicited picture book manuscripts. But still, you have to admit that 32 is pretty slim pickin’s. On the other hand, having 32 potential publishers is much better than not knowing any publishers who might want my writing.

As I read I found quotes like these:
·   “You should find a reputable agent and have him/her submit your work” (p. 211). Sounds easy, huh? Face it, most of us would take an un-reputable agent at this point!
·   “This publisher does not offer payment for stories published in its anthologies, and/or book collections” (p. 193). Sounds lucrative, doesn’t it?
·   “Do NOT send a self-addressed stamped envelope. We regret the inconvenience, but unfortunately, we are too understaffed to maintain a correspondence with authors. We will continue to accept unsolicited manuscripts but we can contact you ONLY if we are interested in acquiring your work” (p. 149). This is purgatory for an author—never knowing, never being able to ask, eternally thinking if you’ve not been contacted maybe they’re still interested.
·   “[We] have a moratorium on manuscripts” (p. 158). That doesn’t sound promising for us or them.
·   “Publishes one picture book a year” (p. 169). There will be some stiff competition for that slot!
·   Then there are the publishers who want an exclusive submission and will get back to you in four to six months. That just doesn’t seem wise to me.
·   I swear I saw a quote that said one publisher received 20,000 manuscripts a year, but now I can’t find the quote. Perhaps I was really over-indulging my poor-pitiful-me side.

I guess I’ve been reminding myself that this is a tough, tough business. You just don’t start a career overnight or (perhaps) even over years. There is real competition out there and only the best, most unique manuscripts will survive. That means my creative muses and work ethic have to kick into high gear.

By the way, while reading through Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market I did find two or three publisher entries that made me remember stories I had started and put away thinking they weren’t commercial enough. Some publishers are looking for a very niche market stories—nature, Buddhism, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered-friendly, kids with special needs, etc. I’ve revisited some of my manuscripts this weekend. A few would probably never pass muster with an agent or a traditional publishing house, but they might find a home in a more “specialty” house.

My next step is to research a handful of the publishers I discovered and get more manuscripts in the mail. Then next weekend (while riding in an RV to and from Atlanta) I will be pouring over the agent section of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market to try to scrounge up the best agents to pitch to.

I don’t know that I’m any less bewitched, bothered, and bewildered . . . but at least I have a plan!

It’s Your Turn!
1. When’s the last time you spent time looking through a book, magazine, or web site searching for possible publishers for your manuscripts? You may need to start this week.
2. Make a short list of publishers you will research further.

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