Publishing FAQ

So you’re writing a book? Congratulations on following your heart!

As a traditionally published author, I often get asked questions about the publishing industry. Due to my current obligations, I’m no longer able to answer individual emails about my journey.

I’ve put together an FAQ I hope you will find helpful! Please note, I’m am not an indie author, so I’m not able to share much about self-publishing.

Where can I go for reliable publishing info?

A book I recommend to everyone is Before and After the Book Deal. It will provide a lot of background information on the industry. It’s probably best to read this or similar resources prior to contacting publishing professionals, as you will be able to ask better questions.

Can you tell me how to publish a picture book?

I write novels for kids aged 8-12. This category is called “middle grade” or “MG,” and includes books that are typically 35,000-50,000 words. Guidelines and advice for publishing in other categories vary, and I don’t have much insight into other areas.

Where can I find other pre-published authors of children’s books?

If you are interested in kidlit (picture books, middle grade and young adult), consider joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). As the name suggests, SCBWI is the key organization for authors and illustrators of children’s literature, and they have many resources including workshops at libraries or online, conferences, a newsletter, etc. They also have the Essential Guide which gives an overview of the business of children’s lit.

Should I get an agent?

If you want to be traditionally published, in general you would need to query and sign with an agent who wants to sell your book. [Note: Your book must be finished before you can sign with an agent.]

Finding an agent can be quick if you have good timing, but for some people, it can take a year or longer. It took me a year.

The agent is important because many traditional publishers will not read or consider a manuscript from an “unagented” author. [There are also countless things agents do on your behalf beyond securing the deal].

Publishers who do accept “unagented submissions” will generally pay less, and you will want to make sure you have a legal or business representative to read your contract before signing so you get the best deal possible.

How fast will I publish my book?

Traditionally published children’s books take a long time. I finished writing my debut in 2018, signed with an agent in 2019 and sold my book in a two-book deal in November 2019. Just Right Jillian was published in February 2022, and The Many Fortunes of Maya was released January 2023. This sales-to-publication timeline (2+ years) is pretty typical of traditional publishing, but picture books and graphic novels can take longer.

Your covers are so cute? How did you find your illustrator?

Thank you! Many picture book writers come to me asking how to find an illustrator. You would not generally find or use an illustrator if you are going to be traditionally published. The publisher will hire an artist for your project, unless you do your own illustrations. Illustrators have a separate agent and get their own contract.

How much does it cost to become a published author?

This is a big difference between independent publishing and traditional publishing. If you are traditionally published, you should not spend any money to get published. Your publisher will pay you for the rights to publish your book. Your agent gets a percentage of your book deal. The publisher will pay to have professional editors review your manuscript and they will also pay for cover design and illustration, for the layout and for the printing of the book. They will distribute it to indie bookstores and to large stores like Barnes & Noble (if the stores purchase it). In traditional publishing, all money flows to the author. Whether it’s a little or a lot, when it comes to creating the book, the money comes to you, not from you.

Indie authors will pay all costs and will sell copies to recoup what they have spent on the book. On the flipside, they have complete control over the timeline and the look of the finished product. I’m not aware of the costs of indie/self publishing so I am not able to provide any estimates.

What about marketing and publicity?

Some publishers provide social media graphics or videos for upcoming books. Publishers will often pay to place ads on social media or in trade magazines, and may also send some authors to events for publicity. Sometimes publishers will provide authors with an in-house publicist who can pitch articles to local and national publications. None of this is guaranteed, but many traditionally published author do get one or more of these services/benefits.

Do traditionally published authors spend any money, ever?

Many authors will pay a graphic designer to create social media graphics or design swag (bookmarks, stickers, etc. that must then be printed).  Sometimes authors will pay to attend relevant conferences or festivals. If they want to go on tour for their book, they may pay to take themselves. More established authors will sometimes pay to hire a publicist to help get personalized attention and a better chance at getting publicity for their career or their book. None of this is required, but many authors find some of these things helpful. You’ll notice that many of these are the same things listed above. This is because what publishers provide is based on how much they have budgeted for your book. A lead title at a major publisher will get everything. A small title at a small house will get much less. Many authors are somewhere in the middle and will supplement if they have the resources to do so.

Can you read my pages and tell me if I’m on the right track?

I am not offering critiques at this time. Even for short reads, it’s time consuming to do well; therefore, most authors will only do it either in a peer critique group, or as a paid service, or as an offering for an auction, etc.

What is a critique group?

For ongoing development as a writer, the number one best thing you can do is find and join a peer critique group. The group will have a moderator. The members of the group bring in pages on a regular basis and read each other’s work and offer feedback. It becomes an even exchange of time and resources.

Usually they are free to join, although sometimes they will ask you to critique others for a month or two before you can offer your own pages, just to make sure you are truly a member of the writing community. They are often organized by local writing organizations. There are also some online. The best places to find them are either your library or, for children’s lit, through a local chapter of Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Best wishes on your publishing journey!