FAQ: Basic Writing Help (Getting Started) by Sue Ford

If you’re getting started in the writing world, or just getting ready to finally send your WordBaby out there, here are some tips from Sue Ford, SCBWI Oregon’s co-regional advisor!  Enjoy!


You need to learn some basics of the publishing industry. Here are some highlights:

  • Editors and agents want to know word count on a book, not number of pages.
  • They also like to know what kind of book it is: a picture book, a chapter book, a middle grade novel, etc.
  • With picture books, publishing houses like to choose the illustrators.  They like to hook up an experience writer with an unknown illustrator and vice versa. That means you don’t get someone to illustrate your material.
  • Each publisher has different guidelines on how they want manuscripts submitted. So here are some suggestions:

…become a member of SCBWI and you’ll have access to their updated market list.

…go to a bookstore or library look at the most recent Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market Book – it has info on how to submit, what markets to submit to.

…go to the library and bookstores and look at books similar to what you have written.  See who publishes them.  Go online and look at what those publishers are publishing.

…go online and get publisher’s submission guidelines.

…when you find an editor you are interested in, search online for interviews about them, so you know their tastes.

  • Many publishers are not open to unsolicited submissions and only accept submissions from agents or those who have heard them speak at an event.

But first, before you even think about submitting…

…go to the library and bookstores and look at books similar to what you have written.  See who publishes them. Look online at those publishers.

…go to children’s writer and illustrator workshops, conferences and retreats.  Often they include some critique opportunities, but most important is what you’ll learn about the publishing process and the craft of writing.  These are also good opportunities to meet editors and agents.

…read and learn as much as you can about writing for children.

…connect with other children’s book writers, whether through SCBWI or another organization.

…you might want to consider joining a critique group—I know it sure made a difference in my writing.  There are groups for writers and/or illustrators offered through our local region as well as through other organizations.  (Sometimes we have events in Ashland that would be worth your while to attend—you can go whether you are a member or not.)

Some articles to read

I also have a lot of material on writing for children on my personal website. One you might find helpful is this Glossary of Publishing Terms: http://www.susanuhlig.com/2009/03/glossary-of-publishing-terms.html

And here are some links to a bunch of articles:

Some books on writing for children:

Hopefully, I haven’t overwhelmed you with information.   Let me know if you have further questions.

Sue Ford, Co-Regional Advisor Oregon SCBWI


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