Tips & Tricks for Authors and Illustrators

The professional association of publishers of German-language children’s and young adult literature Arbeitsgemeinschaft von Jugendbuchverlagen e.V. (avj) cannot, of course, guarantee that your work will be published. Nor can it take on the task of personally contacting the publisher for you, but the avj can give you tips that will improve the chances of your work standing out from the flood of submissions that publishers receive, or advise you on how to impress an editor in a personal interview. The avj cannot review your manuscript and does not forward the manuscript to our members.

From Manuscript to Book

1 The first and most important step is to be well informed about the publishing landscape and to gain a knowledge of various publishing houses’ publication programs. You can do this with the help of this catalogue, for example, or by researching online. Taking a look round a book shop or the publishers’ stands at a book fair is also a good way of gaining an overview of the publishers’ different program categories and the genres they cover.
Remember: Only a publisher whose program includes the genre that fits your project will be interested in it. Just as you would not expect to find a selection of fruit when you go to a cobbler’s.

2 Your manuscript needs to stand out from the flood of submissions. To achieve this, you should prepare an exposé of your concept (roughly one A4 page). The important thing here is to set out briefly and clearly what the project is all about and which genre it belongs to (fiction or non-fiction, fantasy, horse book, problem-oriented etc.) and for which target readership it is intended (girls and/or boys, aged up to 4, 4 to 6, 6 to 8 etc.). This can be crucial in making publishers take notice of you – as an author or illustrator – and of your project.
Remember: You will not achieve anything if you do not classify your project in this way, since your goal must be to present your project as clearly as possible. Quite the contrary, in fact, the editor will be much more likely to reject it if it is immediately identifiable which category it falls into.

3 Your exposé should contain text samples and/or illustrations to give the editor an impression of your style of writing/illustration. You may, of course, also send the entire manuscript if you are unable to decide which part of your project to submit.
Note: Brevity is usually the soul of wit. An editor who is genuinely interested will contact you to find out more.

4 Don’t send your project by email, send it by post. There is always the danger of emails getting lost in the daily flood of incoming mails, or of not being opened because of the risks presented by SPAM email. Not only that, we all know how annoying it is to receive mails with attachments that cannot be opened.
Remember: Publishing people are generally friends of the printed word as far as manuscripts are concerned. Printed material is easier to read and saves the editor the trouble of first having to print it out.

5 It is advisable to make several copies of your project, as manuscripts are not always sent back. In addition, if a publisher is interested you can react more quickly by sending them your manuscript immediately.
Remember: It’s good to be trusting, but having copies in your drawer is better. If you want to be sure of having your material returned to you, it is best to send the return postage, too.

6 By all means send your manuscript to different publishers if you think they might be interested. It would be false modesty to always wait until a publisher returns your manuscript before offering it to another one.
Remember: No one will mind your not sticking with only one publisher. However, there are just a few publishers who on principle do not accept any manuscripts they have not requested; you will find this information on the relevant homepage.

7 Nevertheless, it makes sense to limit the number of publishers to whom you send your manuscript, even if you think that all German-speaking publishers would be interested.
Remember: Don’t send your manuscript to all and sundry. You would probably not want to find that your manuscript had been accepted simply by chance. So it wouldn’t harm to make a reference to the publication program of the publisher you are applying to!

8 When submitting your project, make sure you know the relevant contacts to address it to at the publishing houses. If you are dealing with a publishing group with different publishing companies or imprints under their roof, contact the editors of that particular publisher or imprint. This will indicate that you have already given some thought to where to place your project.
Remember: The contact for manuscripts and/or illustrations is always the editorial office. Avoid writing to the publisher or the managing director of the house unless you are personally acquainted: your manuscript will be forwarded to the editorial office anyway, so it will take that much longer to get to the right place.

9 Please be patient. As a general rule, every unsolicited manuscript a publisher receives really is given careful consideration. But as we are talking about more than 2,500 submissions per year and publishing house – in the case of large publishers – it can take between six and twelve months before a manuscript has been reviewed.
Remember: It is not a question of delaying tactics on the part of the publishers or a lack of interest in your project if you do not receive an answer immediately. By all means follow the matter up with a phone call, but it is a good idea to wait at least six months before doing so.

10 Don’t get bogged down in details if you are pitching your project to an editor over the phone or in person. Instead, try to make your presentation as clearly structured as possible.
Remember: Editors have a good eye for topics that will fit into their program – and have a chance on the market.

11 It is not advisable to offer publishers your manuscript at a book fair. In Leipzig, and even more so in Frankfurt, editors usually have so many appointments that you will have little chance of meeting them at their stands. The stands are usually run by the sales staff of the publishing house, who will not necessarily be able to help you. And many publishers do not accept manuscripts at book fairs on principle.
Remember: You are more likely to come away with a stoop than an accepted manuscript if you take it along to a book fair instead of making an appointment for a quiet talk with the right person. Even if you manage to hand in your manuscript at one or other of the stands, there is a real risk that it will take a very long time for it to land on the right desk once the fair is over.

12 If a publisher accepts your project, a contract has to be signed, setting out the rights and obligations of the contract partners. Most publishers have their own standard contracts. However, authors and illustrators are responsible for negotiating everything else themselves, including their remuneration. You can also hire a literary agent to represent you (addresses and information can be found on the Internet), but you will then have to pay them a portion of your fee.
Remember: Reputable publishers share the success of a book with their authors, i.e. the author receives a certain percentage of the net retail price or the publisher’s price received. Under no circumstances should you pay for the production, promotion or marketing costs of your book!

From Portfolio to Picture Book

In addition to the above, the following applies to illustrators:

1 The degree of attention your portfolio receives depends largely on how visually compelling the material is.

2 When considering your material, the publisher wants to be able to see at a glance whether the illustrations capture the drama of the written text and can express in pictures more than is described in the text.

3 Your portfolio should include text-based illustrations and storyboards. Brief explanatory notes should indicate the target group for which your work is intended. The illustrations should show the extent of your technical and artistic skills.

4 For a 'classic' portfolio, copies are usually still acceptable (for color prints, 4c; but also black and white drawings). You can then show the original works later on a personal visit.

5 It is a good idea to send the publisher your portfolio for its retention and to point this out in your covering letter. The portfolio can then be placed in the publisher’s archives for consultation when demand arises, so your pictures should be suitable for archiving.

6 In contrast to manuscripts, which should not be offered to publishers at the book fairs in Leipzig and Frankfurt, but should be sent by post, illustrations are gladly viewed personally by editors, particularly at the children’s book fair in Bologna, Italy.

7 Make sure that your portfolio is well organised so that you do not waste time trying to find the ›right‹ illustration. The better you know your way around your portfolio, the better the impression of easy confidence and purpose you will make on the editors.

8 Briefly introduce your main points: the illustrators’ queues at the publishers’ stands in Bologna are long and the time allowed for each presentation relatively short. However, it would showing mistaken consideration to refrain from giving any explanations: this is usually the first time the editor will see your work and will therefore welcome a little more – to-the-point – background information.