Anna Grossnickle Hines           Home    Guide

 Questions and Answers About Publishing Companies

What is a publishing company?

A publishing company is a company that takes the stories an author writes and the pictures an illustrator draws and makes them into real books. They sell the books to bookstores, schools and libraries.

How does a publishing company make a book?

First the editor decides which stories to make into books, then she or he helps the writer make the story as good as it can be.  If the writer is not also the illustrator the editor and art director choose an illustrator to make the pictures.

The art director helps the illustrator make the pictures as good as they can be.

Here is my first editor, Susan Hirschman, in her office at Greenwillow Books in New York. I took this picture the day I delivered the quilts for my book, Pieces. She was a very busy and efficient person, never wasting a minute. Her walls and shelves were full of interesting things that writer's and illustrators have given her. Susan's still a busy person, but she's retired now and I have a new editor at Greenwillow.
This is the office of Ava Weiss, who was my Art Director at Greenwillow. She isn't at her desk because she is busy checking in my art and writing up orders for what has to happen to it next.  Like Susan she was always busy and efficient, and like Susan, she's now retired.

The art director has the words in the story set in type-- the little dark print in most books. She or he takes the pictures made by the illustrator and has them scanned, creating digital pictures.

The digital pictures are used to make plates that are used to print lots of copies of the pages of the book. The pages are printed on big sheets of paper. Sometimes a whole book is printed on one sheet of paper.

That big sheet of paper gets folded and trimmed on a machine. All the pages come out right side up, in the right order, ready to be sewn or glued together. After that is done, the covers are put on.

Fastening the pages together and putting the covers on is called binding the books, and when it is done the books are bound.  Then the paper jackets are put on and the books are ready to be sold.

These printers in Hong Cong are checking over a sheet of pages for Rumble Thumble Boom!  Most of my books are printed outside of the United States because it is cheaper. Some illustrators like to go to the "print run" to check the sheets as they come off the big presses.  They want to make sure the printers are using the right amount of ink and that all the colors line up exactly.  I think it would be fun to be there, but I'm not that technically minded.  I trust my art director to do a good job.  She's done it many times and knows just what to look for.
How do you send a story to a publishing company?

I found out the name of the editor and the address of the company and sent in a neatly typed manuscript, a dummy and a short letter telling just a little bit about the story and my writing.

What is an editor?

An editor is a person who works for the publishing company. She or he decides which stories to make into books and then they help the writer make the story the best story it can be.

How does the editor help you make your book better?

The editor might ask me a question to help me make something in the story more clear for the reader. She might tell me that part of the story is slow and sort of boring and I need to take out some of the words to make the action happen faster. She might say that part of the story seems too ordinary and too much like other stories that have already been published and I need to make it more interesting or exciting. Sometimes the editor might tell me I have something in the story that isn't really good for small children, and ask me to change it to something better. For example, in one of my books I had two older sisters tie their little brother up to get back at him for teasing him, just as my own two older children had done to their little sister once. But the editor said it was too dangerous and that it might encourage kids to hurt each other, so I changed it. Sometimes the editor will ask me to make a change I do not want to make. Then we talk about it. Sometimes when she tells me her reasons, I agree to make the change. Other times, after I tell her my reasons, she says we can leave it the way it is. Usually it is not too hard for us to agree.

Did you ever agree make a change that you were sorry about later?

Yes. Come To The Meadow, my second book, ends with the grandmother saying, "Yes, a lovely, wonderful, delicious picnic in the meadow because in the meadow..." Then the child finishes, "it's Spring!" I had originally written, "Yes, a lovely, wonderful, scrumptious picnic in the meadow." My editor said he didn't think a grandmother would say scrumptious, but my grandmother would have, and now I'm a grandmother and I'd definitely say scrumptious instead of delicious.

What is an art director?

The art director is a person who works for the publishing company and helps see that the pictures are the best they can be. When the writer is not also an artist as I am, she and the editor choose an artist who they think will make pictures that will be just right for the story. The art director helps choose the size for the book and often selects the type for the words. When I have sent in a dummy with sketches the art director checks it over, and later checks the drawings just before I trace them onto the good paper to finish them. She helps me find the things that I can make better, sometimes telling me that one of my characters seems bigger on one page than another or perhaps that I need to leave more room for the words. Finally, the art director is in charge of seeing that the book gets printed nicely, with all the colors as they should be.

Does it hurt your feelings when the editor and art director tell you something is wrong with your story or your pictures?

It can be upsetting because I have usually done a lot of work on the writing or drawing and tried to do my best, but usually I find that they are right. I want all of my books to be as good as they can be and generally like having people help me improve them. With a picture especially, after looking at it so much while I'm working on it, I get to know it so well that something can look right even if it's wrong. I like having someone with fresh eyes and trained eyes to help me find the things that can be improved while it is still possible to make changes. If I were to find a problem I could have fixed after the book is printed I would feel very badly. Instead of having just one picture with the mistake, there would then be as many as ten-thousand books with the mistake and nothing I could do about it.

What is a dummy?

A dummy is a little booklet made by folding sheets of paper together. The words are put on the pages and I usually make some quick sketches to show my picture ideas.  Sometimes I spend lots of time making good sketches in the dummies.  This may be  a good idea if you are a beginner. For one thing it's good practice and for another you want to show the editor and art director what a good job you can do.

What is a manuscript?

A manuscript is all the words in the story, neatly typed, double spaced, with nice margins.

What is a revision?

A revision is a rewritten story, done to improve it. Sometimes a writer revises a story because he or she has ideas for making it better. Other times the writer may revise it because the editor makes suggestions and asks the writer to do it. One teacher I had said that we should think of revision as an opportunity for re-vision, or seeing again in a new and fresh way.

What are galleys?

Galleys are all the words in the story set in type just as they will appear in the finished book. The writer checks them over for any mistakes or last minute changes. The illustrator uses them to see how much space they will take on the page.

How do you decide to which publishing company to send a story?

In the beginning I looked at the new books in libraries and bookstores to see which companies published books I liked, books that were kind of, but not too much, like mine. I watched for notices in writing magazines and the newsletters of writing groups such as The Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators that mentioned which companies were interested in which types of books, such as picture books, easy-to-read books, chapter books, non-fiction and so on. I kept sending stories to the companies that sent me letters asking to see more of my work.

Now I send stories to the companies that have already published my books, making guesses about which one is most likely to like each story. When I have a story none of them want to publish I have to decide whether it is really not good enough to be published, or simply not the type of story these companies want to publish right now. If it is the latter, then I'm back at the beginning, trying to decide which company might be interested in that type of book.  I'm always checking out the new books that come out and paying attention to which companies are publishing them. I also have an agent who finds publishers for my work.

A good place to find information on companies that publish children's books is the Children's Book Council website. If you join the SCBWI you can get a copy of their annual market guide which tells which companies are looking for which types of books.

How do you find out the name of the editor and the address of the publishing company?

By looking in books and on lists. One helpful book that can be found in most libraries is THE LITERARY MARKETPLACE. Two good lists are the one from the Children's Book Council, and one from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. You have to be a member to get the latter; CBC's member list including their publishing programs is available on their website.

What should I send to a publishing company?

You should check first to see what the publishing company is accepting.  Look on the lists in the last answer or call or write the publisher asking for submission guidelines. Some want query letters first, especially for longer works or non-fiction, and some do not want any submissions at all. Some want a synopsis and sample chapters.

For picture books I recommend that a writer-illustrator send a manuscript, dummy, and prints (Xerox or photocopy) of one or two pieces of finished art.  Do not send original art until they ask to see it.

A writer need send only a manuscript.

Also include a short cover letter introducing yourself and your work. Don't say too much. The work must really speak for itself.  You may want to indicate the age of the intended audience, say briefly what inspired you to write it, and if there are any other books of the sort on the market.  It does not help to say that your children loved it, or your students, or your grandchildren. If you have any background that makes you particularly suited to writing on this subject or genre, if you are a librarian or teacher, for example, or a forester writing on conservation, it may be helpful to say so.  It may also be helpful to say why you chose this particular publisher.  No need to do it all however.  Keep it short. You want the editor to spend the time with your manuscript, not your letter.

Should you ever pay a publishing company to publish your book?

Self-publishing or publishing with a "vanity" press--one that asks you to pay part of the costs--is NOT recommended.  However, if you have a book of limited or regional interest and are willing to do all of the marketing and distributing yourself, you may want to consider it. There are a few success stories. Check it out carefully. There are many pitfalls.  I believe the SCBWI now has a guide to self-publishing. (This is all I know about this subject.)

Revised answer: Things have changed a great deal since I wrote the answer above, and with the introduction of e-books, self-publishing is rapidly growing and becoming more and more a strong possibility. It's a whole new game and one I've not yet fully explored.  One thing I might say though, is that if you want readers, creating a quality book is still important...a good story well-crafted!  Not having a whole team (editor, designer, art director, etc.) means you may have to be even tougher on yourself.

Do you ever worry that when you send in a story the publishing company might steal your idea?

No, I don't. If a publisher ever did that, the word would get around among other writers and none of them would send that publisher any more stories.  Even though they don't publish very many of the stories that are sent to them, a publisher would be in big trouble if no one sent them new stories.  Besides, getting the idea is the easy part--making it into a story that works is what's hard.

PS: Sometimes it seems like ideas are floating in the air and everyone catches them at once. For example about the same time my book about a grandfather's death came out, several other books about dying grandparents were published by other companies. In fact, one company turned down my book because they had just bought one from another author. None of us were copying each other. It just happened that way.

Can an agent help?

See my answer on the Q & A About My Work page.

Can you recommend a publishing company or help me get my book published?

No, I'm sorry, I can't, nor do I read manuscripts or critique art except as scheduled at conferences.  Even with 55 books published I can't be sure of not getting rejections on my own work and things are changing fast, particularly with the growth of e-books and self-publishing. .There is no easy way, but if it's what you want, go for it!  I wish you all the success in the world.

More questions? Please send them to me by e-mail.
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