Researching the right home for your kid lit with Harold Underdown

Recently, on Facebook, generous kid lit aficionado, Harold Underdown, began a page entitled A Webinar: Researching the Right Agent, Editor, and/or Publishing House. I asked him about it and researching the right home for your kid lit.

Researching the right home for your kid lit with Harold UnderdownWM: It’s exciting to hear you’re hosting a webinar about researching the right agent, editor, and/or publishing house. This is your first webinar. What prompted you to hold this class on-line?

HU: I was contacted by Carrie Pearson, who was organizing a series of webinars on the overall theme of “From Manuscript to Submission” for the Michigan SCBWI—you can see more about it here: http://michigan.scbwi.org/2013/10/20/announcing-the-scbwi-mi-webinar-series/. My webinar is actually the third in the series.

I was reluctant at first, as the webinars I’ve experienced have either been Skype sessions, with possibly pixellated video, or glorified Powerpoints. But I was impressed by their format, which allows for the presenter to be seen in a video window while the presentation is displayed AND the audience chats via text. They use the text chat to gather question, which the presenter answers at the end. So it’s a good format, and they provide support and training to the presenters.

Both the support and being part of a series made this look like a good opportunity to try this out.

WM: Why is researching agents, editors, or publishing houses before sending out a manuscript a good idea?

HU: If you don’t, you’ll just be submitting at random, and may waste a lot of your time. You also may not know about all of the possible places to send your manuscript, or about changes that have happened since .

Almost everyone has to do some research before submitting. My aim in this presentation is to explain the kinds of research that are likely to be the most useful, and how to go about them, and also to show some kinds of research that people may not know, such as how to analyze a catalog to learn about a publisher.

WM: Do you feel researching is an under-utilized skill among authors and illustrators?

HU: That’s a bit of a loaded question! No, I don’t, not at all. In fact, I think that it’s possible to do too much research, which is one of the issues that I will be addressing. But I know that authors and illustrators are always looking for more information about editors and agents and publishers, and my intention is to show them, from an insider’s point of view, the best ways to go about acquiring that.

I’ve talked about most of this before, of course, at conferences, and much of what I’m covering is also covered in my The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books (http://www.underdown.org/cig.htm), though in different form, and I’ll be talking about using social media to do research, which wasn’t really on option the last time I updated the book.

WM: You will be touching on submission etiquette in this class. In your opinion, what are the top 5 red flags in a submission packet that turn off agents or editors?

Researching the right home for your kid lit with Harold UnderdownHU: That’s tough, but here are five things to avoid:
• Carelessness—bad spelling, poor punctuation, getting the editor’s name wrong.
• Comparing your writing or illustrating favorably to such greats as Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, or Judy Blume.
• Telling us how much your children/students/grandchildren loved the story.
• Making statements that reveal how little you know about the agent or publisher (better to say nothing at all).
• Not following the guidelines. Professionals always follow the guidelines.

WM: The webinar filled up almost immediately. That’s wonderful for you, but sad for the people who missed out. Will you hold another session?

HU: It’s not strictly true to say that it filled up almost immediately. It was announced at the beginning of January as part of the MI-SCBWI webinar series, and they publicized it through the usual SCBWI channels. I also announced it on The Purple Crayon. At the end of February, I think they had 75-80 “seats” of the 100 they can handle filled. That’s when I set up a Facebook “Event” (https://www.facebook.com/events/402818103189026/), and the response to that led to the remaining seats being filled.

However, people can still sign up for the archived presentation, and watch it as many times as they want over the three months after the webinar happens.

Will we hold it again? That’s not entirely up to me. As I said earlier, I think there’s a good possibility I’ll be doing other webinars in the future. Whether that will include an encore performance of this one or not, I don’t know.

WM: Is there any additional information you’d like to add, either about the webinar or the submission process in general?

HU: In addition to my book, people can find a lot of information about the submissions process on my website. I particularly recommend “Getting Out of the Slush Pile” (http://www.underdown.org/slush.htm)

Thanks for asking good questions!

WM: Thanks for visiting and for sharing your knowledge on researching the right home for your kid lit with us, Harold!

About Harold and the work he does: He’s a children’s book editor, working as a consulting or independent editor and writing teacher. Previously, he was Vice President and Editorial Director at ipicturebooks. Before that, he was editorial director of the Charlesbridge trade program, and have also worked at Orchard Books and Macmillan.

He is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, now in its third edition. He gives workshops through Kid’s Book Revisions. He speaks at conferences, provides editorial services to publishers and authors, and maintains the Purple Crayon website.

If you want to know more about him, please explore his website, or you can see a (very out-of-date) list of books he’s edited.


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