Frequently I’m asked for advice about breaking into children’s literature. It’s frustrating because I have very little to offer. I kind of lucked out at a small publisher, no agent, and the series grew from there. To this day I have no means of getting inside the big publishers –including Random House which distributes my books. But I finally have a great piece of advice I want to share.
If this were a late night infomercial, I would say “learn what they don’t want you to know!” I’ve been a children’s book author for 7 years, an illustrator a little longer, and I attended my first writer’s conference last weekend (SCBWI Western Washington’s 22nd Annual Writing & Illustrating for Children Conference). If I had only known the real deal about writer’s conferences –the thing they won’t tell you– I would have gone YEARS ago. If you’re an aspiring writer, go to the very next writer’s conference you can. Why? Because it’s a racket.
You know all those art directors, editors, and agents that are speaking at the conference? Those people whose names you’ve gleaned from the fine print of the Writer’s Market, whose submission guidelines generally include the dreaded phrase “no unsolicited submissions?” Every unpublished author knows that that means you need an agent. But have you ever tried to get an agent? I have. And even after selling over 100,000 books I still can’t get one. What hope is there for an unpublished author? I submitted a book to Chronicle Books’ slush pile about 4 years ago. Still waiting to hear back.
Here’s what I didn’t know about writer’s conferences. When you pay your admission fee and get your badge and program, take a look inside the program. Along with the bios of the speakers you’re dying to get an audience with is exclusive contact information. Within 6 months of the conference anyone who speaks there agrees to review an unsolicited submission from anyone who attends the conference. That’s the racket. Quid pro quo. The conference pays editors, agents, and art directors an attractive fee to speak at a conference and in exchange they agree to take a look at whatever horrible book idea you want to show them.
So would you rather spend months vainly searching for an agent or pony up a couple hundred bucks and get direct access?
Why don’t they advertise this? I can only assume they consider it a bit grubby for the rarefied world of literature. I’m a member of the SCBWI and I hope they’re not mad about me blowing their cover. I also strongly encourage anyone considering a career in children’s literature to join SCBWI.