Those of you that follow me on Twitter @Fi_BGB will know that I have recently signed a contract with Tiny Tree Books to publish my next picture book in 2018. I thought I would tell you a bit about how this new exciting development came about.
One day early in 2017 I was messing about on Twitter (as you do!) and I saw a post from a writer who had signed with a publisher called Tiny Tree Books. I will fess up now and say that I hadn’t heard of Tiny Tree so, of course, I immediately googled them. I discovered it was a children’s book imprint of larger publisher, Matthew James Publishing Limited; a UK-based independent publisher with a 20-year pedigree.
Picture-book imprint – check.
Unsolicited submissions – check.
Matthew James motto is ‘publishing with ideals’ and their website seemed to suggest this wasn’t just reflected in their catalogue but in the way they dealt with authors. I bought one of their existing books. It looked great! How could I resist?
I looked at their ethos and existing titles and at my own stories. I chose carefully and submitted one that had a strong moral theme that I thought might fit into the Tiny Tree catalogue. I had done a lot of work on this story with my lovely SCBWI critique group and several editors. I found the advice of Lou Treleaven particularly helpful and changed a couple of key factors in the story just prior to my submission to try and make sure it was a commercial proposition. I had already commissioned some pencil sketches of key spreads from Howard Gray with a view to self-publishing so I thought it wouldn’t do any harm to submit one of those as well. This goes against all received wisdom but it was a really good drawing! I had seen on the Tiny Tree website that, as a small independent publisher, they expect authors to take an active role in promoting themselves and their book. I made sure my cover letter detailed my previous self-publishing experience, work in schools, links with local book sellers etc.
I pressed send in May 2017 and got a yes in July 2017. Cue much jumping up and down and whooping!
So what made this one work compared to the many, MANY other submissions that had gone before? For this blog I asked Tiny Tree what made the submission work for them.
They told me that the first thing that stood out was the pencil rough (thank you, Howard). They don’t recommend sending illustrations with submissions but a single, high quality pencil sketch was enough to attract their interest initially when it popped up in their inbox. The second thing they liked was the cover letter which made it clear that I was prepared to work hard and already had an established network of contacts to promote the book. Third, they liked the format of the submission itself with suggested page breaks showing that I understood conventional picture book layout. The actual story only came in fourth! It is a mainstream, wholesome story with no agenda. Something the editor would be happy to read to his son at bedtime. The publisher told me that they felt that, as a package, me and the story were a good commercial proposition for them.
So what have I learned about increasing the chances of making a successful submission? I happened to make the right submission to the right publisher at the right time. That’s luck. But I like to think I contributed a bit to making my own luck. I did my research, I listened to advice, killed a few metaphorical babies, met a brilliant illustrator at the SCBWI conference. It hasn’t worked again since, not yet anyway, but I’m working on it!
I’m looking forward to the next stages in the journey of this story and can’t wait to share it with everyone! That’s at least a year away but, this is children’s publishing, and we’re all good at waiting. Right?!