How the 'Big Sister, Little Sister' story began....


"Big Sister, Little Sister" didn't start out as a book at all. Like most parents, I was worried that the birth of my second child would greatly change the dynamics with my firstborn. I'd read so much material about sibling rivalry and had seen previously wonderful kids become anxious when they lost their "only child" status. I didn't want that to happen to my daughters. I looked all over for a book that would get my eldest daughter totally pysched about the birth of her sister. I wanted her to look forward to the event as much as I did. I couldn't find any published children's books out there that put a positive spin on becoming a sibling. All the stories I found resolved the tension between the two siblings on the last page and frankly all the nasty stuff in those story lines freaked my daughter out BIG TIME! For fun, I started taking pictures of my daughter interacting with my enormous belly. She would wash it, feed it Life cereal and give it gifts. Needless to say, she was equally enthralled with the real life version.


When my youngest daughter, Taylor, was nine months old, they began that wonderful dance called, "Give and Take". They were learning to negotiate, pacify and teach each other. As a photojournalist, I couldn't get enough of photographing their interactions. As their bond grew, so did my need to document this wonderful relationship. Soon I had quite a collection of photos showing how fun it is having a goofy sister around.

Before long the idea for the book started to germinate and within a year I was extremely lucky to have my first children's book contract with a real bonafide New York publisher. While my editors loved the concept, they felt the sisterly bond was universal and wanted to expand my scope to include other sets of sisters. Within a few months, I'd found three more sets of sisters who also shared a passionate relationship with each other.


So How Do I Get A Children's Book Published?

        So that is the short version of how my first children's book was published and it's very condensed. In truth, it's a very, very slow process. From the time I sold my first manuscript to the time it actually hit the bookstores was two years.
        I get a lot of questions and queries from people asking about how they get a children's book published. As a photographer, I realize that everybody who has a camera considers themselves a photographer. The same is true for everyone who writes. We're all writers, just not published authors. Millions of people out there have a manuscript for a book, a children's book, a play or a movie tucked into their drawer somewhere. So here's step number one for getting published..... ready? Take it OUT of the drawer. You can talk till you're blue in the face. Nobody is EVER going to publish your book if it's in your drawer!
        Step number two is to join a group of writers that critic each other's work. I'm not suggesting their word is Gospel, but if you belong to a few of these group and you start hearing the same comments over and over, you might want to consider that they are indeed onto something!
        Step number three is to join an organization where you have access to the people who have actually accomplished what you're trying to do. Their advice is immeasurable helpful. They'll be able to give you pointers and help you avoid common pitfalls. My Society for Children's Books Author and Illustrators (try saying THAT two times in a row!) was about $100 and it saved me a fortune in time and money. It's also given me access to a lot of people who have similar ups and downs in their career. It's a great place to build a community of peers and well wishers. We get together in person and they post questions on their chat boards constantly.
        Step number four should seem obvious, but isn't to a lot of people. Do some research. Are there other books out there similar to yours? Who publishes those kinds of books? Once you've figured out who publishes your genre, either ask your local library for a copy of their catalogue lists so you can at least go back a few years to see if they have anything like your book. You can also write to most publishers, sending a self addressed envelope and they will send you their latest catalogue (or lists). They come out quarterly. You want to be able to offer something unique, but marketable.
        Keep in mind they are a business. They are only interested in publishing your book if they think they can make their money back and then some.
        Self publishing used to be a terribly risky way to go. No bookstore would touch it. To use the phrase "self published children's books" was the same as saying "I got rejected from every single publishing house". Things are quickly changing and even many of the big publishing houses are scaling back their lists, their advances and going to something called "publishing on demand". So do your research, become a well versed and knowledgeable author before you jump in or before you give up prematurely.
        The final step is to start sending out query letters to either publishers who do publish your kind of manuscript or to an agent that handles your genre. I personally thought it would take as long to find an agent as it would to find a publisher. I'm very lucky. Penguin Putnam's imprint that I published through changed their policy very soon after I was picked up to a fairly universal policy of no unrepresented authors being read, so you can't even make it to the slush pile. Editors like to lower their risks, so if you have been published in a newspaper, magazine or someplace else, you'll seem less risky since somebody thought you were good enough for their publication.
        My last piece of advice for how to get a children's book published is to not worry about the art. So many people assume they should either hire an artist to illustrate their manuscript or a designer to lay it out so editors can "see the final product" to get your true intention. Putting together author & illustrator teams is a big part of what editors do. It's their job and purgative to create a team. They don't want to be presented with a final project. Rarely do they like both members of a "team" and since they don't want to step on toes or reject one or the other of you, they'll simply reject you both. Don't assume you know how to do their job (which is exactly how they'll see it). If you are a children's author / illustrator like myself, the rules change drastically. You can submit and polish it to your heart's content. Okay, so this is my final, final piece of children's book publishing advice.
        So many people tell me they love their manuscript just the way it is. They've labored, they've polished and now it's perfect. And they assume it will be accepted for publication in the perfect form they sent it to their children's book editors. Not so! Your manuscript may not even be recognizable by the time they're done with it or by the time you jump through all their editing hoops. So if you're married to your manuscript, publish it yourself! It will change and probably realistically it will change drastically if it gets picked up by a children's book publisher. Best of luck in your children's book publishing journey!

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Images from "Big Sister, Little Sister" used with permission from Dial Books For Young Readers. Copyright 2000 by Marci Curtis, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.





Copyright 2011 Marci Curtis






Getting A Children's Book Published