I recently attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) L.A. conference. It cracks me up that an association of writers does not have a better acronym. SCBWI—you cannot even pronounce that in any sort of comprehensible way. It sounds like ‘skibwee,’ which sounds like a derivative of scurvy.
Anyway, this was my fourth year at the conference. I was a senior in my knowledge of the conference: how parking works, where the bathrooms are, where is the best deal for lunch, what shops at the adjacent mall always have sales in August, etc. I also felt like a freshman since I have yet to publish a book. That’s okay since over and over I heard editors and agents urge sending only your best stuff in its absolute best condition. Let it sit for a few months if you have to, they say. In other words, don’t quit your day job because this will be a long process.
I always get new ideas and new perspectives from the conference. So even my best work that seems ready to jump out of the pot, is subjected to simmering and stewing some more. I rewrite, rearrange, and let it sit some more. If I pick it up the next time and it still seems good, or I catch a typo I overlooked before, I make a few small changes and go ahead and send it out to a carefully chosen publishing house. However, I don’t do it often enough.
The dichotomies of the children’s publishing business can be overwhelming. What I have learned over four years is that no rules are hard and fast. I have heard editors say they ignore cover letters and editors say they use the cover letter as an additional sample of your writing. I heave heard editors say not to compare your stories to existing work, and editors say to show you have done your homework and compare your story to current published work. Don’t submit in verse; we’re looking for verse. Feed our egos with compliments; don’t brown nose. No more than 200 words; don’t worry about word count just tell your story. Exclusive submission is mandatory; multiple submissions create urgency for us to read them. Blah, blah, blah.
One thing they all agree on is that a book is about the story and nothing else—no cover letter, clunky verse, or bad grammar—should detract from that great story you alone are able to tell. Onward I go to cook up that great American children’s story. The one your kids will ask you to read every night and you’ll enjoy it. Take my word for it!