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5 Truths About Breaking Into Children's Book Publishing

By Aubre Andrus

Breaking into the children’s book publishing industry is notoriously difficult, but there are some strategies to keep in mind that can help you stand out from the crowd—whether you decide to approach a traditional publisher or go the indie publishing route and tackle the project on your own. The publishing industry is currently going through many changes, which makes it more important than ever to find the right path for your individual project.

Children’s books are a product like any other product.In the traditional publishing model, a book must be pitched to an agent then sold to an editor, and lastly purchased by consumers. You’ll need a strong product, pitch, and marketing hook to break through all of those levels. Publishing is a business and publishers want to make money on your book. Marketing is a part of the process you can’t escape regardless of how a book is published. Consider marketing angles during the ideation process.

  1. There are serious gatekeepers to overcome.We all know that parents are gatekeepers to any children’s product, but in the publishing industry teachers and librarians are powerful and hard-to-reach gatekeepers. Some libraries and schools can only purchase books through certain distributors and have very small budgets for books outside of that distributor. This is key to consider when self-publishing. A traditional publisher may be more likely to break through to these walls.

  2. You can write to market. Traditional publishing says “don’t write to market” because it can take two years for a book to be published. By that time, the trend du jour will have passed. (But if you can self-publish that book tomorrow, do it!) However, you can find marketing angles with long-lead times. For example, if you’re pitching a picture book about the moon two years before an expected moon landing, that’s a great marketing hook! Or if you’re publishing a young adult historical novel based on the life of Louisa May Alcott just after a Little Women film remake has been announced, that’s another great hook! You can also look up which well-known properties are entering the public domain in the upcoming years.

  1. Know your superpowers. You don’t have to be a writer to be a writer. In fact, a doctor who writes a book is far more interesting than a writer who writes a book. Not only are non-writers more interesting authors from a marketing perspective, but they are simultaneously subject matter experts who add legitimacy to any project. Worried you’re not a good enough writer? That’s what an editor is for! And if you really need some help, there are always ghostwriters available for hire to partner with you through the process.

  2. Your goals matter. Traditional publishing certainly comes with some ‘prestige,’ but it’s not the answer for everyone. If you want full creative control over this project (from choosing an illustrator to designing a cover) and you want to build an audience that you have access to for the long haul (via a website and email list) then self-publishing may be a better option for you. It’s the more entrepreneurial path but print-on-demand technology and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing make it easier than ever to dive into publishing at a relatively low cost.

Aubre Andrus is the award-winning author and ghostwriter of more than 50 books for kids published by American Girl, National Geographic Kids, Lonely Planet Kids, Disney, Scholastic, and more. She’s also the founder of Adjective Animal Publishing, an indie children's press that debuted with The Look Up Series, a biography series featuring diverse women in ridiculously fun STEM careers (think ice cream scientist, toy engineer, and more!). 



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