Seven things I would tell you about publishing a children's book if you bought me a drink and didn't mind me getting all worked up

I’m only at around 10,000 words with NaNoWriMo, but I think that’s pretty good considering I had a BUST column to finish this week. It makes me a little woozy having to go from high-volume unedited spewing to working on something that’s only 850 words. It’s like I spent most of yesterday building a little dainty delicate ship in a bottle with teeny tweezers and now it’s hard to go back to whacking big rocks with a shovel. This is all to explain why this children’s book publishing advice I’m about to give you now probably comes off like…whacking dainty ships-in-bottles with a shovel. My apologies. But here goes:

1. Don’t even think of submitting your picture book story to a major publisher with artwork (unless it’s your own). This means no illustrations drawn by your best friend, or your kid, or your computer, or the professional artist friend-of-a-friend who once did some work for Nickelodeon, or anyone else. It doesn’t matter if the art is good. It’s a bad idea. Art is to children’s book editors what hair is to America’s Next Top Model: the experts get to decide the look, not you. I know it’s hard to hear that the cute kitty pictures your cousin painted are as wrong as Bianca’s pink weave, but IT’S TRUE.

2. This also means that you have to write something that’s not a picture book yet. It will be open to an artist’s interpretation. It will become something very different than what you orginally imagined; you have to write a story that has both substance and possibilty. If this mystifies you or freaks you out, then chances are you’re either not inclined or not ready to write picture books. I won’t say it’s harder to do than other writing, because I don’t think it is—just that it’s a unique skill that some writers have and others (even very good writers) don’t.

3. On a related note, and because someone always asks: no, you can’t write one of those wordless picture books. Not unless you’re also the illustrator. Yeah, sorry, nobody is going to pay you for thinking up pictures you can’t draw.

4. The cover letter is where you mention your previous relevant publishing experience, if you have any. If you don’t have any previous relevant publishing experience, then the cover letter is just something I skim to make sure you’re not incarcerated or blatheringly insane. AND THAT IS ALL. Therefore please feel free to write a cover letter that is boring and standard and not at all the hustling, “attention-getting,” ingratiatingly assertive pageant-mom kind of letter that gives me cancer of the last nerve. Thank you.

5. If you think that you are the first person ever to write a children’s book about a about a specific subject, you’re probably wrong. Then again, not everything in the universe needs to have a children’s book about it, so if there really are no picture books out there about, say, asbestos abatement, maybe the world doesn’t need one that badly! I’m just saying.

6. If your story is something that you wrote for your kids, or your kids’ class, or the class that you teach, or the creative writing class that you’re taking, or if you sent it out as a Christmas card, then it’s probably not ready to submit to a publisher as a children’s picture book, no matter how much it impressed your family/friends/teacher in the first place. Maybe it can be a children’s book eventually, but you’ll have to take the time to learn a little bit about the business and probably rework your story, and the whole process takes awhile, and really, you should do it only if you really want to do it, not because your family/friends/teacher think you should. It’s nice of them to say so, but if you were wondering if your family/friends/teacher know something about children’s books that you don’t know, I’m here to tell you that they don’t. (Unless your family/friend/teacher happens to be me, in which case you have already heard me ranting about this.)

7. I’m telling you all this stuff just for today, but this lady does it every week, so if you want more, read her.



Chris thinks “NaNoWriMo” sounds like the name of a hipster white rapper. NaNoWriMo is like a backpacker MC whose beats aren’t any good because he’s decided to base them on algorithms. And then he spits rhymes like, Tha numbers don’t lie, and neither do I! I’m NaNoWriMo!

Oh my God, I signed up, and I’m at something like four thousand words now. Tha numbers don’t lie! I’m really not sure if I’m in it to win it. I’m doing it because I’ve had a certain idea for a while now, and maybe if I set the freakish goony strength of this NaNo thing lumbering after it, something will happen. I just don’t know if I need 50,000 words for it to happen, because I actually kind of like my inner editor, and I might not be hardcore enough to totally banish her for a whole month and just dwell in my own filth that way. But I’ll let you know how it goes. I like it so far.

Per my last entry I’ll still be posting Stuff I Know About Getting Published (Though of Course I Don’t Know Everything) this month, too. If you read the comments you already know that you shouldn’t submit a children’s book manuscript with a friend’s illustrations, because I will lose my shit and lecture you mightily! But keep the questions coming.

In other news, I would like to congratulate my downstairs neighbor, Gracie, for peeing in the potty. Gracie, your parents are very, very enthusiastic about your progress. Or so I hear, in the laundry room. Well, good for you. And when that stuff gets old, you can always try NaNoWriMo.