When to Attack a Publisher

10 Dec

In the transient world of publishing, “keep your eye on the prize” is misleading and problematic.

While some writers focus on one picture book at a time. I’m a factory. Generating new ideas is not only a breeze, but also a subconscious excuse to avoid finishing a draft. But there’s no greater distraction then ‘eying the prize’ and imagining your own display in Barnes and Noble.

Upon finishing a handful of picture book manuscripts, I got the ‘fever for fame.” I became obsessed with longterm career planning and searching for the right publisher for books that were merely ideas. Like many, I picked up the most recent copy of Writer’s Digest Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market guide book. In addition as a SCBWI member, I took advantage of their free and useful Publication Guide. For weeks, I hilighted and took down notes on prospective publishers.

Disillusioned, I felt having a personalized publisher list would make it easy to find the perfect home for each book as it came off the assembly line. This list was to be an excel file  complete with contacts, genres, leads, tips, etc. I got as far as scratching notes in various notebooks and failed to completed the list.

Presently, I have 37 manuscripts.Of these, 15 have been chosen for the next round. They’re currently in the factory being revised and examined and torn apart as they would at a publisher’s acquisitions meeting. As each piece is nearing the finish (though nothing creative is ever truly finished) The time has come to locate a distributor for my ‘products.’

Some say it’s best to write a book specifically for a publisher. I disagree. I think inspiration should come from the natural world and not the desire to be published. Though, I suppose one could be inspired from a catalog and then naturally develop an idea that comfortably snuggles in the publisher’s nest of titles. 

Instead of hunting for a publisher one book at a time, I decided to scan my un-finished list for leads. Evaluating the publisher’s core values, audience, genres, and style I would decide if any of the 15 titles were a perfect match.

I remembered Barefoot Books standing out. Now, most of my books are chaotically zany and initially felt they didn’t embody the soft and mature style Barefoot embodied. Nonetheless, I stopped by their website, and soon realized… I had a book for them! “Excuse Me Mr. Thunder” would work perfectly” I thought. “It compliments existing and selling titles such as “I Took the Moon for a Walk,” “Star Seeker,” and “Boy Who Grew Flowers.” I won’t be the illustrator, but I could picture the drawings matching Barefoot’s catalog. “YES!” I shouted. I found a prospective home for “Excuse Me Mr. Thunder.” Then I looked at their submission guidelines and read: “We appreciate hearing from members of our community, however, our publishing program is currently full and we cannot accept manuscripts, queries, or art samples. Thank you for your interest, and we wish you the best of luck!”

Reality’s ugly fingers took a needle and popped my hopes and dreams. Last year when I had begun compiling the publisher list, Barefoot Books was accepting unsoliticed manuscripts. For whatever reason, they aren’t now. Of course, in the future they will again open their doors, and hopefully not to agented material only. In the meantime, what should I do?  Fast track to an agent to work their magic to get me in the door, or perhaps ‘pucker up’ make a contact at Barefoot? Those may appear to be brave and bold acts proving a writer’s passion for the piece, while in truth they are merely acts of desperation. We can’t forget the cliche, “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.” While the number of publishers accepting unsoliticited manuscripts is dwindling, the fish are still biting. Just make sure you’ve got the right bait.

I always consider a manuscript as a draft until I find the publisher. This way if I have to slant or tweak the piece to meet the publisher’s needs, it’s easier to do since I’m not attached.

Consequently, don’t even look at prospective publishers until you know your piece is ready for that final treatment. Sure it’s ok to keep a journal of notes of possible publishers, but don’t foster expectations. It’s fun to think you’re a social services worker. and think “We’ve got this great kid who we believe in, now we just have to find the right home that will equally believe in him.” Though, wait until that child is born before you start looking for its home.

Keep your eye on the product, and not the prize (publisher).

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