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I've written a children's story and had it illustrated. It's a picture book.

I've heard that publishers prefer to receive manuscript only -- not illustrated, unless the author is the illustrator.

I guess this is because otherwise, the choice of illustrator is often not good.

My career background is in Copywriting and Creative Direction (though not for the book publishing industry). I'm happy that the work is good -- story and illustrations.

I've had a few copies of the book digitally printed. I could send printed copies to publishers, though I'd like to send it to quite a few agents / publishers, and it would keep costs down to email a link to the images / story, rather than to send each agent / publisher the printed book.

So I was thinking of calling agents and/or publishers, pitching the book, telling them a little about my background, and asking if they would be happy to receive an email with a link to images of the pages.

How does this sound as a strategy?

Any advice on what I should include in the pitch?

Do agents / publishers, in general, accept submissions by email?

Thanks, Richard

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Well... where do you stand on actually following the guidelines and not submitting the illustrations? See e.g. danidraws.com/2009/01/22/… on the subject. –  Standback Jul 30 '11 at 21:26
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3 Answers 3

Before you start querying, you must, must, must familiarize yourself with submission guidelines - for the field in general, and for the specific agents and publishers you find are appropriate for you to query.

With the strategy you suggest, you're running smack into two common guidelines. And even if your case, for whatever reason, is so exceptional that you think those guidelines don't apply, it's a safe bet that people considering your query will find these violations annoying and unprofessional, and be dead set against your submission from the start. Because, believe me, they get a lot of people who think they're exceptions.

Submit your manuscript, not illustrations

How to Find an Illustrator for your Picture Book says it all clearly and concisely. In a nutshell: you don't.

When you're submitting an MS for a picture book, do not submit illustrations unless you yourself are the illustrator. The article goes into this in detail, but the basic thrust is:

  • Selecting an illustrator is the publisher's job, not the author's. The publisher will have a lot more experience, resources and selection than the author will.
  • Publishers of children's books know how to read an unillustrated ms. That's what they do. I know it looks odd or sparse or incomplete. Nonetheless.

Do not call an agent

This advice is repeated over and over throughout the web. Janet Reid is really quite emphatic on the subject (also snarky).

Why is this? Moonrat touches on why cold-calling is so bad:

Don't call on the phone. Ever. Two reasons--1) The phone is bad for us, because we can't choose the timing. If you email us, we can address your issue thoughtfully and when we have time to. Plus the phone is super awkward--I always feel backed up against the wall when someone I'm not expecting to talk to is on the phone. 2) The phone is bad for you. If you get us on the phone and ask for the status and we didn't like it, we're going to have to reject it right there, on the phone with you. Also, maybe we were thinking "maybe" about your project, but now, since you've forced us to talk to you on the phone, we're suddenly thinking "no." Just. Don't. Call.

The other thing is that accepting open calls just makes agents and editors too exposed to too many people, some of them real weirdos (see Moonrat's full essay for more on that). So this is pretty much verboten, and it's not a line you want to toe.

Follow the Guidelines

I'm kind of dismayed that your reaction to hearing "publishers prefer X" is "well, I'll do X anyway." Well, if was just a preference ("We also prefer that your book be about vampires!), I could see that, but we're talking about an established industry standard. That's not the type of thing you want to mess with without an enormously good reason. Particularly as an unpublished author.

It sounds like you're not very familiar with industry standards, guidelines, and processes. I strongly recommend you get familiar with them before you start submitting anywhere. You've got a book you poured sweat and blood into, a book you're proud of, a book that's fantastic - you don't want to mess up querying, because that's just learning how these things are done, and then doing them.

My own advice is to find blogs by agents and editors, read them through, and learn what works and what doesn't. If there's something that seems to tick agents off, then really try to avoid doing that thing. I've found Janet Reid to be helpful, as well as the sadly-defunct (yet delightfully archived!) Editorial Ass (aka Moonrat) and Miss Snark. But in your case, I'd take special interest in children's publishing, which has quirks of its own. I don't have anything specific to recommend, but I'm sure you can find great stuff online. The first article I linked, on illustration, finishes off with some links that might be a big help for you.

Sorry to be discouraging, but I really hope this will be helpful. Better to do this right than to take a quick stab in the wrong direction. :)

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Each agent and publisher will have their own submission guidelines, and many do accept electronic submissions. I don't know of any, however, who will take phone calls from new authors who have never been published. You'll most likely end up with a message left with a receptionist somewhere.

I would recommend starting out with agents by sending a link to your electronic file. (Sending the actual file may clutter their Inbox, and some companies block large files to open e-mail addresses to prevent e-mail server attacks. Again, the submission guidelines will most likely help you with this.) If an agent decides that your book has potential, they will be better positioned to suggest how to proceed from there. They would have a better idea as to whether you should try to promote the current story with the existing illustrations or go with just the story itself.

BTW - I did a Google seacrh on "find an agent", and the first couple of links were to searchable databases that were free. This might be a good place to start.

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Calling agents/publishers before sending your stuff is a good idea. Especially when you have questions how you should submit your stuff.

Normally the homepages contain hints how you should send your manuscript. Some people like email, some like snail mail. I would stick to what they describe on their homepage, even though there are enough successful examples where people ignore these guidelines willfully. So that's up to you.

If you call them (what I think you should), be prepared for their questions. It's a pitch as you said. You must be able to explain your book in two/three sentences. Short and informative. Don't talk for minutes without breathing. Give them the opportunity to ask their questions.

Probably they will not be happy, that it is already published (digitally). I assume it shouldn't be a stopper, if you only gave a few copies to friends. But they will tell you that.

Good luck.

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Do not call agents. See my answer for detail and links. –  Standback Jul 31 '11 at 6:36
    
@Standback: Call agents, of course not for asking the status, but for the first contact. Many agents prefer this method (at least here in Germany). They can dismiss easily manuscripts they would never look at anyway and you can clear question like the OP has. Better than having hundreds of manuscripts in the mail which are of a field they do not cover. –  John Smithers Jul 31 '11 at 15:53
    
Interesting. What I'm seeing from a lot of blogging agents is a) it's the querying author's responsibility to decide whether an ms is entirely inappropriate and b) they have no difficulty sifting the entirely-inappropriate queries from their inbox. The ones I linked to describe needing to consider them by phone as far more of a hassle than by email. But... YMMV, I guess? –  Standback Jul 31 '11 at 18:18
    
@John Smithers Agents employ slush readers that go through all submissions and weed out the trash and the ones that don't fit with that agent's area. Most agents are too busy to speak with every curious author on the phone. Email gives them a chance to reply when they have a chance, not when they're in the middle of working with someone who's paying them to work for them. I have not seen a since US agent that encouraged calling. –  Ralph Gallagher Aug 1 '11 at 14:57
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