Columns > Published on May 14th, 2012

Ask The Lit Coach: "What Self-Published Authors Must Do to Win Friends, Influence Readers and Possibly Gain the Attention of a Publisher"

As an agent, the number one self-published genre to cross my desk was children's - never mind that I didn't specialize in the trade. Children's publishing and adult publishing have many differences, except when it comes to what publishers look for when considering a self-published title. There is no set criteria for a self-published author to meet in order to be considered "pub worthy" by the publisher. If you're considering self-publishing in general, read on.

Question from Heather B

If I self-publish a children's book, is it possible to have it picked up by a publisher? 

Though the possibility to have your self-published book picked up by a publisher always exists, there is no set criteria or rules you must achieve or follow to earn that book deal. What works for some houses doesn't work for others. And frankly, I can't think of another publishing scenario more frustrating than this. Though I've never worked in children's trade publishing, I did sign on two very promising adult trade, self-pubbed titles, both with glowing praise from some of the best in their respective field. Sales were strong enough to show interest and the author's marketing attempts weren't yet exhausted - there was still plenty of opportunity for a publisher to take on the title and make it their own - and still, no go.

Maybe this was just my experience in the adult trade. So I asked literary agent Bree Ogden with the D4EO Literary Agency, who deals specifically with the children's market, to shed some light on your question. Here's what she had to say: 

Some publishers have a rule about self published books--they won't consider them at all. Publishers often feel that if a writer has done so well with the book on their own, there isn't much for the publisher to bring to the table.

Some agents will take on really successful self published books to work on subsidiary rights for them. And then possibly represent their next work. But if Amanda Hocking is any indication, a lot of copies need to be sold to gain that kind of attention from agents and editors. 

Bree's talking about thousands of copies here. 

So, unfortunately, there is no definitive answer I can give you. Only lots of well, this worked for this author but not for this one...

If you decide to self-publish your children's book in the hopes that an agent or publisher will want to take it on (and this goes for everybody who decides to self-pub), understand you're committing yourself to a full-time job. Here's a list of things you CAN and MUST do to ensure you're putting out your best product.

1. Join SCBWI - this is a solid gold resource for anyone wanting to publish in the children's book market. What you'll learn here will be invaluable.

2. Have an online presence. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Blogging - decide the best fit for you. Devote some time in your schedule, develop a social media strategy and do your best to stick to it. Your best resource for all things Kid Lit on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ is children's book author and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi, AKA Inky Girl. She's a trove of helpful information and a must follow.

3. Have your children's book read by those who've published in the trade. Not everyone can or should write children's books. There are very distinct rules for the genre and subgenres. A seasoned professional will let you know if you're on the right track or not.

4. If your manuscript needs work, hire an editor with a successful background in children's publishing to get your manuscript as humanly close to perfect.

5. DO NOT SETTLE FOR SUB-PAR ILLUSTRATIONS. I have considered some awesome self-pubbed children's books with the most amateurish illustrations. Always, always, always, I put the book down without finishing. I've even shown them to my kids when they were younger - just to see if it mattered to them - and they could not have been less interested. The art must be in a perfect marriage with the story. The finished product must look like something you'd find on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. Please, for the love of all that is holy, invest in the best illustrator possible. If that's you, wonderful. Again, the feedback from others in the field is important to consider.

6. After your book is self-published, plan on 6 months of hard-core publicity. Three months prior to the book's launch and three months after. If you can invest in a publicist who has worked with children's authors, do it. If not, invest in some books that will show you how. SCBWI will once again be a great resource for you.

7. Continue to sell. Continue to do events, read to kids at local libraries and schools. Connect with other children's authors in your area to see if there are opportunities for joint events for a cause or charity. Get creative. What are other children's book authors doing to keep their books relevant and their careers rolling? Keep in mind, most of this (if not all), you'll do for free. Don't expect to get paid.

8. You ARE the publisher. Don't think about what a publisher or agent wants during this process. Don't let it cross your mind for a second. You are the one making all this happen. You've invested in yourself and your project, so get out there and make it work! When and if a publisher should choose to take you on after all your hard work, you can decide whether or not handing over the reins is a good decision for you.

Yes, this is all a lot of work. It's a high bar to reach. But, there's nothing here that a traditionally published author isn't also expected to do. 

Good luck to you, Heather!

Have any helpful advice for Heather? What worked for you? Share it with us.  

That wraps this issue of Ask the Lit Coach. Thanks to those of you who submitted questions. 

Now get out there and do something worth writing about!

About the author

ERIN REEL is a Los Angeles based publishing and editorial consultant, writing coach, columnist, blog host of The Lit Coach's Guide to The Writer's Life and outspoken advocate for writers. A former literary agent with nearly 10 years in the industry, Erin has worked with a wide array of writers worldwide. She has contributed to Making The Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye (Sands, Watson-Guptil, 2004); and Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents (Frishman & Spizman, Adams Media, 2005).

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