The fact is, acceptance depends on many variables, and a lot of them are variables writers have no control over. An editor or agent in a bad mood the day she picks up your manuscript can be the death of your baby. An editor or agent who just hates first person stories may not even look past the first “I” in yours. Your submission may fall into the hands of a first reader who rejects something the editor would have loved.
As writers, we have no control over those things. But there are many things we can control and staying on top of them can make all the difference in the world. Before submitting anything, consider the following:
What Are You Submitting?
Define your work. It’s not enough to define it as a middle grade novel. What genre does it fall into? Historical, fantasy, contemporary? Now go a level or two deeper. Is it a humorous fantasy, an adventurous fantasy, an alternate history fantasy? Is it written for upper middle grade or lower middle grade? Is it commercial (usually plot-driven) or literary (usually character-driven?) Let’s say you wrote a commercial humorous historical fantasy for upper middle grade readers. This information is for you, not an editor or agent.
Where Are You Submitting?
The next step is to find someone who wants a commercial humorous historical fantasy written for upper middle-graders. No one is going to list that in their blurb of needs and wants, which is why it’s necessary to study the market. As you research publishing houses, editors and agents, you might list everyone interested in middle grade books then whittle that down to middle grade fantasy. Once you get to that point, start looking at the publishers left on your list.
Head to your local book store or library, or check out Amazon.com for the latest middle-grade fantasies put out by the publishing houses on your list. What kind of fantasy are they? Wizards and dragons? Time travel? Alternate histories? Cross off the publishers who only do wizards and dragons. Now reexamine the list and eliminate anyone who does only lower middle grade books. Of those left, who publishes humorous alternate histories and time travel books? By now, your list is probably down to perhaps ten or so publishers. These are the ideal candidates for your story.
Who Are You Submitting To?
At this point, start checking out individual editors at each house. Choose the books you’ve liked best of those you’ve researched, or those most like your own, and find out who edited them. You can also check out editors on line. Some may have their bios and wish lists posted on their publishing house’s web site. Some may have their own web site or blog. Learn what you can about what they like and don’t like, and give them a ranking on your list.
Why Are You Choosing Her?
Consider your reasons for ranking the editors as you did. Is she number one on your list because her tastes and interests line up with what you have written, or because she looks and sounds like a friendly person on her bio? Does she often purchase the type of book you wrote, or is she just your dream editor or agent? At this point, you may want to change the ranking of the editors or agents you’ve chosen.
And now you’re ready to submit to the ten or so best editors or agents for your book. My suggestion would be to submit to 4-5 at a time. If for some reason you don’t get any nibbles, you have the opportunity to revise before submitting to the next group. If you submit to everyone at once, you immediately use up all opportunities at once.
For most of us, it’s a long road to publication. If you take the proven, well-traveled road, you’ll reach your destination. The shortcuts might get you there, too, but there’s a big difference between ‘might’ and ‘will.’
2011 Children’s Writers and Illustrators’ Market (CWIM)
2011 Writer’s Market
2011 Guide to Literary Agents
On the web - publishers
SCBWI Marketing List Members only access.
Children’s Book Council (CBC)
Colossal Directory of Children’s Publishers Top Left hand column
And because not everyone can be trusted, be sure to check the Science Fiction Writers of America, Writer Beware site for a list of publishers and agents you should not do business with. In fact, the whole SFWA site is filled with all sorts of goodies that are useful to any writer, whether you write SF/F or not.