Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Everything You Need to Know When Getting Started: The Basics with Harold Underdown – Notes 12/4/22

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READ current children’s books to learn about books and about publishers and publishing.

UNDERSTAND: GENRE: Kind of story (fantasy, historical fiction). Not a genre: YA (age range) and PB (format); AGE RANGE: middle grade, YA; FORMAT: Picture book, easy reader, novels, graphic novel; MARKET: where publisher plans to sell.

Picture Books: (0-6 years old); read to children. Concept PB’s: From simple to sophisticated. Emphasis on concept, not story. Toddler PB’s: specifically for the very young. Often bedtime or toddler activities, relationships with parents. “Classic” PB’s: ex: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Fully illustrated. Picture Storybooks:  Not published anymore, but established authors and titles, such as Patricia Palacco’s The Keeping Quilt are still published. Nonfiction PB’s:

Transitional Books: Children reading on own. Vocabulary/sentence length simple. Easy Readers (ages 5-7): Mostly series. In Easy Readers with chapters, each chapter may be its own story. Children don’t stay long in this stage. Not as many published. Chapter Books (ages 6-9): Some illustrations. Each chapter may be a stand-alone single story .

Novels: Big range of ages, page lengths, and fluency. Generally, not illustrated. Middle Grade Novels (ages 8-12): Early MG and older MG. Transitional Novels (ages 10-14): aka older MG, younger YA, tween. Readers on the cusp of puberty. Not a big area for these. YA/Teen (12+): YA is a label for libraries/schools.  Teen used for bookstores, so that it’s more commercial.

More Kinds of Books – nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and so many more.

FINDING BOOKS: Bookstores/libraries: browse, ask what’s new or worth reading. Read award winners; check end of year lists from Horn Book, Booklist, School Library Journal (focuses on school and library market) etc.; NSTA (Science), NCSS (Social Studies); Professional Magazines: Publisher’s Weekly (reviews and new info), The Horn Book (select reviews so if a book is reviewed, pay attention)

GETTING STARTED: Join SCBWI and critique groups. Read “How-To” books. Be Open to Revisions: Major (story level issues); Re-thinking your approach to story/subject; Tweaking and polishing. Sentence and word level done after major revision.


Types of publishers: Trade: sells to bookstores. Mostly agented writers. Educational/Instruction: school and library market. Possibly bookstores. Can usually submit directly. Mass market: Licensed products, popular trade books and characters. Find books in aisle of pharmacy or Walmart. Few opportunities. Publishers approach agent. You don’t submit.

Other publishing markets: magazines, religion, niche, regional, packagers.

Publishers: Market Guides; SCBWI Essential Guide; Publisher’s catalogs (print and online- shows what they publish). Research smaller/new publishers: How they operate. Hybrid Publishers: Offer publishing services and by books for a cost. Harold’s tip: Don’t pay to be published.

Editors and Art Directors: Information not in market guides. Meet at conferences, online interviews, SCBWI discussion boards (people discuss experiences.), Who’s Moving Where on Harold’s website; Harold is on Facebook groups: e.g., Kidlit 411.

Agents: Market guides, Publisher’s Marketplace, conferences, agent websites, interviews, discussion boards. Agent must have prior experience either interning at an agency or working in a publishing house. Publishing knowledge is key.

What Agents and Artists Reps Do: Contact publishers and editors, negotiate contracts, negotiate boiler plate contracts and details of legal wording, keep track of financial info. What agents won’t do: improve your writing/art (might give feedback), guarantee a sale, take all your manuscripts or art. When submitting to editors/agents, follow guidelines. No response means “No.”


Three Main Ways Acquisitions Happen: 1. Old-fashioned way: The editor will ask the publisher wanting to acquire a manuscript. 2. Acquisitions Committee: a team of sales and marketing, lawyers, and the editorial team.  3. By Commission: Publisher approaches a writer or agent to do a particular story.

The Contract: Study and read the contract thoroughly.   Don’t have an agent then hire a lawyer. Authors and illustrators own the copyright to their art. Publishers own the publishing rights. Contract very specific about what rights you’re granting publisher. If working without an agent, sign all rights to publisher. They have capability of making sales. .

Payment: Royalties (most trade) vs. Flat Fee (Educational publishers) With flat fee contracts, check if offering limited rights or if it’s work for hire where you’re selling copyright to pub.

Royalty Percentages: 10% list price of hard cover.  Paperback is 6-8%. Net vs. List: Royalty on what publisher gets per book from wholesaler vs. royalty on what a consumer pays per book; Advances: first time authors may get $3000-$8000 for PB in trade pub. Illustrator gets more (their work is still ahead). Novels advances are larger, more than PB’s.

Your Obligation:  Meet the deadlines (there are exceptions for wiggle room, new time authors and emergencies).  Marketing not in contract, but sometimes it’s written to do events around time of book release.  Publisher pays for expenses to promote book; Social media not pushed unless you have big platform or are a celebrity, then might be in contract.

Authors and Illustrator Contracts: 95% identical.  Payment for PB 50/50, Chapter book: writer may get 8% and illustrator 2% or illustrator paid a flat fee.

Not in Contract:  Who illustrator is; price of book; when it’ll be published (might say within a certain # of months after final art received); what format; and how it’ll be marketed.

Subsidiary Rights: Further uses of copyright directly related to book. Book rights: everything derived from book–paperback, ebook, audio book, book club, translation, foreign. Other Sub. Rights: Educational use (ex. test passages), software/apps, games and toys, and merchandising.

Out of Print Clause:

The contract states when the book goes out of print, rights go back to author/ illustrator.  Find out how to retain and get back the rights to the book.

Editorial Process: Structural editing – A book that needs lots of structural editing is taken on if editor is confident it can be fixed. Line-editing – At least two rounds, but as many as needed.  Then copy-editing, proofreading, typesetting, final proofreading.

Illustration Process: Differs with type of book, from full color to black and white. Works with an art director. Stages: thumbnails to character sketches and then to finished sketches, layouts, and final art.

Marketing: Catalog (print vs. online), Metadata, review copies (PDFs or physical books), promotional items (might not), and sometimes advertising if best-selling potential or had starred reviews (might put ad in Library Journal or PW.)

Publicity Process: Press Releases, other media, social media (Twitter, Instagram TikTok), Online list launch events (to librarians and booksellers, Editors presenting what they like. Sit in to get a good sense).

Sales Team: Either in-house or commissioned; launch meeting and sales conference; Bookstore visits; Your advocates in the field.

Your Role: Authors and Illustrators plan an activity around your book signing event.  Team up with others. Create events. Do school visits. Be paid. Social media: Not expected. Not a good use of time.  If you’re adept, do it. Won’t make a different in sales of books. Start writing the next book.

Distribution: Where the books are stored. Publisher’s warehouse sends to Amazon. Distributors/wholesalers fulfills orders to bookstores and schools and libraries. Books can be returned. Remainders (books not sold): When they clear out warehouse, Authors will be offered books at cost of production. Opportunity to buy them.