by guest blogger Dr. Mira Reisberg
You’ve been pounding the keys for months or years, you’ve finally finished your manuscript and you’re ready to submit. You go to a publisher and they are only accepting agented submissions. You go to some agents and they are closed to submissions. You start pulling out the hair now that you didn’t pull out while writing your manuscript in utter frustration!! I want to explain a little about how this came to pass and what you can do about it.
A Little Publishing History
Back when I first started working in this industry, in the good old days of early 1988, first as an illustrator and then as just about everything else, it was a very different world. There were many publishing houses with many editors and art directors and many smaller independent publishers as well. It was fascinating to visit and editors had assistants and support staff that are rarely found these days. Publishing was wide-open and thriving.
But then over time, the corporatization of America started taking hold and larger publishing houses started buying smaller publishers, becoming larger corporations. Using economies of scale, they needed fewer editors, fewer art directors, and fewer assistants. Things started automating more with newer technologies stretching editors and ADs to do more. Many editors, ADs, and their assistants were let go, increasing the workload tremendously for those who remained or those who were newly hired. Big corporations started taking over or merging with other big companies increasing this economy of scale.
Enter September 11th and the Anthrax Scare
Following the 2001 September 11th attacks, there were numerous anthrax scares, as one NBC employee tested positive and a New York Times reporter received a suspicious envelope with white powder. An increase in submissions, partly enabled by changes in attitudes to self-expression, creativity, and access to education—plus access to improved writing technologies, fewer resources of staff to deal with the increase, combined with the anthrax scare—caused many New York children’s book publishers to close their doors to submissions and only accept new submissions from agents.
Then came Amazon with its deep discounts and the recession killing off more independent publishers, further narrowing the field. Fortunately, many smaller publishers did keep their doors open to what’s known as unsolicited submissions and quite a few wonderful independent publishers like Chronicle Books and Lee and Low remain.
Today there are 5 major publishers as well as a bunch of independent or semi-independent publishers. This is not to say that the major pubs aren’t producing wonderful work or that big publishers = bad, or small publishers = good (though most smaller publishers do need extra support). That’s overly simplistic and there are truly wonderful people working at all houses and imprints, big and small making equally wonderful children’s books. I’m just talking about the narrowing of the field for submissions. Some of the major publishers’ imprints still accept unsolicited manuscripts, but for many publishers, due to the overwhelming number of submissions and reasons explained earlier, they prefer the system of having an agent act as a kind of quality screener and gatekeeper.
Now It’s the Agents’ Time to Be Overwhelmed
These days we have a big problem with supply and demand where there are many more writers than there are agents, editors, or publishing opportunities. Also, many writers don’t do the work of learning the skills and techniques of being a professional writer, honing their craft over time, taking courses and learning the specific requirements of contemporary publishing and their specific genre. They submit their work and overwhelm agents who then close their submissions except through conferences, referrals and special circumstances.
So Back to You. You Ask Yourself, “What Can I Do Now?”
We understand that this is frustrating. Here’s a little information about what you can do to get past these restrictions. One of the best ways to get access is by making personal connections with agents and editors at conferences or through courses. There is nothing like a personal connection in any aspect of life. But remember that editors and agents are mostly overworked and underpaid. They do this work because they love books and helping others. As society changes with events in the world, we have to change with it. The thing that doesn’t change is that first impressions make lasting impressions. If you meet an editor or agent make a great impression by being warm, helpful, kind, and positive. As the saying goes, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” Of course before you submit, make sure your work is wonderful, brilliant, original, professional and publishable. But this is a given. If you make meaningful connections, chances are they’ll want to help you if they can, and besides the possibility of publishing, you might just make a wonderful friend.
To learn more about Mira Reisberg and her agency, visit HummingbirdLiterary.com. To learn about her upcoming writing course, visit ChildrensBookAcademy.com/writing-childrens-picture-books.html.