The picture books that we publish are usually, but not always, fictional stories that relate to animals, nature, the environment, science, and math. All books should subtly convey an educational theme through a warm story that is fun to read and that will grab a child’s attention. Each book has a several page "For Creative Minds" section to reinforce the educational component of the book itself. This section will have a craft and/or game as well as “fun facts” to be shared by the parent, teacher, or other adult. We do accept simultaneous submissions.
Manuscripts must be less than 1500 words and must meet ALL of the following four criteria:
Fun to read – mostly fiction with non-fiction facts woven into the story. We are NOT looking for pure non-fiction
National or regional in scope
Must be able to tie into early elementary school curriculum in some way
Must be marketable through a niche market such as zoo, aquarium, or museum gift shop
We are NOT looking for manuscripts about:
pets (dogs or cats in particular)
magic or fairy tales
series of any kind
young adult books or novels
holiday-related books (including ones with holiday names in the title)
we are no longer looking for bird-related manuscripts
We ARE looking for manuscripts about:
Fables/Folklore/Myths that explain scientific events. We prefer that these be adapted from North American cultures. Please include reference to the specific culture.
We do not consider manuscripts that have been previously published in any way, shape, or form -- including e-books or self-published. We don't like manuscripts with a lot of dialogue that is difficult to illustrate.
If your manuscript is accepted or a contract offered to an illustrator, we offer small advances against royalty.
Manuscript Submission Guidelines:
We only accept submissions by
. Submissions received via snail mail are discarded without being opened.
Please put the manuscript title and “manuscript submission” in the subject line.
The manuscript text can be either placed in the message or attached as a Microsoft Word document.
Please include a biography of 300 to 400 words. Tell us what other works, if any, you have published. Let us know about any applicable awards you have won.
Include a paragraph explaining why you wrote the manuscript; tell us about any competition (author/illustrator, publisher, year published, sales data if available, etc.). If there are competitive books, please explain why your book is different and why you believe it should sell better.
How do you envision the marketing of the book?
Only one submission per e-mail. Include your bio with each submission.
Please include links and a bibliography to indicate research if appropriate. All accepted manuscripts will be vetted for accuracy by experts in the field. The underlying scientific facts must be accurate.
Authors do not need to submit art. Unless there is a specific reason, authors should NOT include illustration suggestions. That would be the illustrator's job.
Illustrator Submissions: We are generally looking for realistic-style (not cartoon) illustrations for children.
Please provide a link to your website. You may attach one or two illustrations that target the type of art we are looking for (bright colors and realistic style). We will contact you if we need further information or samples. If you don't already have a website, then please do not submit. At this point in time, a website is a requirement for the industry. If your website includes nudes or "adult" material, please do not submit. Have two different sites if necessary but do not combine as young children often look at illustrator websites.
Please put “Illustration Submission” in the subject line.
Include a biography.
Author/Illustrators: We do accept submissions from illustrators who have written manuscripts. Please submit the manuscript as indicated above and attach two JPEG sketches (one in color if available). We do not accept snail mail dummies and they will be discarded without being opened. If we are interested in seeing the dummy after reviewing the email, we will contact you with further instructions.
We try to acknowledge receipt of the manuscript within two weeks but we can get backed up. If you have not heard anything after two months, please re-send as it may have not gotten through. If the manuscript has been rejected, please do not resubmit it unless Donna has specifically suggested it. Please do not ask Donna to critique your work or to recommend another editor or publishing house to whom you should submit.
Thoughts on rhythm and rhyme
As you’ve probably figured out by now, many publishers do not accept manuscripts written in rhyme. While rhyme makes for a great read aloud, it is also the most difficult type of “story” to write. I’ll also share, that while we do accept rhyme manuscripts, the translations become difficult. I much prefer a good story written in prose or a rhythmic read, not necessarily in rhyme. If you submit a story in rhyme, please ensure that it meets the following basic criteria for rhyme:
The rhyme tells a story and has all the necessary ingredients of a good story.
Stanzas have the same number of lines.
Each line has a consistent meter or beat.
Rhyme is not forced or awkward.
The story must fit a standard picture book format—(we look for 13 spreads for a 32-page book).
Grammar and punctuation follow the same guidelines as normal sentences. Don’t let your spell check capitalize the first letter of every line if the line doesn’t start a new sentence. Use punctuation!
Hand a printed version of your story to someone who is not familiar with your work and have them read it aloud. Listen carefully to where they stumble and then fix it.
Don’t even think of submitting to any publisher until you’ve worked with a critique group and polished it to perfection.
Understanding the submission process – a heart to heart from Editor Donna German
First, let me say that I have been on the author side of submissions and I vividly recall the 27 rejections that I received prior to my first “yes!” I know that you have written a manuscript that is near and dear to your heart. I also know that you can “see” it in published form and that there is a frustration with the whole submission process – not only to Sylvan Dell but to other publishers as well. Hopefully this will help you to understand what editors/publishers need/look for in submissions.
Please understand that the submission process is overwhelming for editors too. Reading submissions and selecting the list is just one of the many jobs that an editor does. I try to read all submissions within a few weeks and I either reject or tend to hold those which have some possibilities. As the year progresses, I try to keep the number down and will periodically cull the list.
This is a very bizarre business and if you are still waiting for your first break, I recommend that you start reading books about how to market your book. That might help you in understanding what it is that editors/publishers are looking for when they select manuscripts. Don't forget that this is a business – not just your love and art of writing. The authors who survive (and thrive) in this business are the ones that truly understand the business end and commit to doing what it takes.
Every publisher looks for different things. Our four criteria are directly tied to our marketing and each manuscript must fit ALL FOUR categories! If the manuscript doesn't stand up to what we need to market, we would be wasting our money by publishing it. And, yes, I have turned down some really cute manuscripts because they didn’t hit all four criteria. It is simply not enough to tell me that you'll do signings or readings. Here's the "in" on how the criteria tie to our marketing needs:
Fun-to-read story: My first cut is whether I envision and parent and child cuddled up reading the book together. Would a child pick the book up and WANT to read it?
National or regional in scope: we can't afford to publish books that are provincial with limited marketing scope.
Niche market: In general, bookstores are only interested in trying new books if they suspect they can sell it or they will only look at new releases. Think about it from their perspective: they have limited clientele (those who live within X miles). They have to have a wide variety of merchandise available which is why they usually only buy one or two copies of a title (IF they buy) unless there is strong reason to stock more like the subject matter or a local author/illustrator. Don't believe me? Go into a bookstore and count... Let's not even go down the path of returnable books. So... where is the market? We believe that a strong market for us (science and math through literature remember) is the niche market which includes museum, zoo, aquarium, nature center, park gift shops etc. Unlike bookstores, their clientele constantly changes. If they find a product (any product) that sells well, they know it will sell for them over prolonged periods of time. They'll buy multiple copies of limited items but they keep those same items in stock. Now, let me add the real downer: if the organization with a gift shop is a non-profit, they are tied to IRS regulations that 90% of sales in their gift shops must be directly related to their non-profit mission. You can't expect a planetarium to carry an animal book. At a Museum Store Association conference, I had one buyer literally counting the animals in a title. She said she couldn't buy it because only 7 of the animals were found in HI waters and she needs 80% (8 of the 10)....
Last but not least: must tie into elementary school curriculum (remember our science & math through literature focus). We find that one of our largest clients is schools: either individual teachers or the libraries. But, with the No Child Left Behind, any book that a teacher uses in the classroom needs to be aligned to standards. Literally, the teacher has to fill out forms indicating why or how the book is worth using/reading in the classroom. In order to make our books usable in schools, we align each title to National Science & Math Standards. For most states, that is not sufficient; they need each title aligned to THEIR state. If the book isn't usable in the classroom, we just can't market to school.