Presentation by Larrikin House publishers at Somerset Storyfest, March 2022.
If you have the opportunity to attend a presentation by Larrikin House, Australian publishers of children’s books, do it! It was highly entertaining and educational. James and Dani are approachable, knowledgeable so much fun. Here are my takeaways.
There is so much to consider before submitting to a publisher, but you do yourself a massive favour if you research your target, or as James from Larrikin House puts it, indulge in a little ‘publisher stalking.’
Here are some things to consider before submitting to the Larrikins.
Is your story entertaining? Write an entertaining story. If you want to include a theme/lesson in your story, ensure it is fun and entertaining for the readers.
Your books are competing with digital devices and the internet – you have to grab those reluctant readers and you do this by making the story fun. (Preaching from your soapbox simply isn’t for Larrikin House.)
50% of all picture books sold in Australia are bought by schools. Would your story find a place in Australian schools? Even some of the most raucously entertaining books can benefit from Teacher’s Notes.
Some Australian publishers won’t consider a manuscript unless it qualifies for one of the categories in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards.
- CBCA Book of the Year: Older Readers.
- CBCA Book of the Year: Younger Readers.
- CBCA Book of the Year: Early Childhood.
- CBCA Picture Book of the Year.
- Eve Pownall Award.
- CBCA Award for New Illustrator.
A children’s picture book costs approximately $15k to publish – this includes the author advance, illustration, formatting, printing. Each book makes the publisher around $1.50 so that’s a lot of books that need to be sold to make any money.
Authors can no longer rely on bricks-and-mortar books shops. Your books must have a wide appeal and you will need to be creative with your marketing. Even if you ‘get a publishing deal’ in the traditional sense, you will be required to get out there and ‘sell’ your book. “Much of publishing is publicity.” Consider how you can help your publisher. What can you bring to the table? It’s never too soon to develop your email list/social media presence.
When submitting, be very specific with your queries. Don’t apply a scattergun approach. Larrikin House suggests you don’t target the ‘big guys’ if you’re a new author looking for your first ‘deal.’ Scholastic and PRH are unlikely to take a new author but will often snap up an author who has success with their first book. Research the books you love and the ‘comparison’ titles for your book. Who publishes them? Focus on the details and find the right fit for your book.
Get as much feedback as you can before submitting. Ask friends, family, children you know, find a critique circle, a writers’ group, submit to competitions, pay for a manuscript appraisal from a reputable publisher or agent. Act on the feedback. Authors need to develop a thick skin if they want to get anywhere.
Now look at your story…
Can you adapt/alter it to fit the zeitgeist? Has your story ‘aged’ since you wrote it? Is it gendered? Real talk: Is it going to get you cancelled?
Take something that is a social norm and turn it on its head.
Is your main character likeable? The reader will go on a journey with this character so they must be worthy of that trust.
Can you up the ante? Can you ‘Larrikin Up’ your story? Is it funny enough? Consider where the humour is in the story? For kids, funny books need humour on every page.
Dani Vee, Larrikin House author and podcaster uses a Traffic Light system when assessing her own stories and those pitched to Larrikin House.
Green = Narrative, Yellow = Quirky/Build Up, Red = The Punchline.
Make sure you have a lot of Red and Yellow and keep the Green to the essentials. Most children’s picture books have 250-500 words of text so every word matters!
The HOOK is everything and Concept is King. Readers will look at the cover – get your hook on the cover! Something that raises a question to make your readers want the answer.
Parents will look at the back – your blurb is your elevator pitch. You have to appeal to the parents/teachers because they’re the ones with the money!
Your story must get to the hook before the end of the second page – so CONSIDER STARTING IN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR STORY. What dead wood can you cut to get to the hook sooner. Kill Your Darlings – develop the ability to self-edit.
Does your book lend itself to international rights licensing and translation?
When pitching, be someone the publisher will want to work with. Don’t be a pain.
If you want to write the story and do the illustrations, pitch your story first and if they want to work with you, then offer to do the illustrations.
Your story must stand on its own merits. Don’t add notes, recommendations or additional text.
Follow the formatting guidelines on the publisher’s submission page. If they don’t have any, use the industry standard Double Line spacing, 12pt font, Times New Roman. For a rhyming story, use 4-line stanzas.
Know the format that suits your story. Picture books for the under 8s, chapter books and graphic novels for the older primary school children, up to 5000 words.
Deal Breakers for Larrikin House
Cliches that have been done a million times. Be original.
Not knowing the brand. Don’t pitch unless you’ve done your research.
Stereotypical portrayal of characters.
Don’t try to teach your readers a lesson. Be funny. Entertain. Larrikin House is never looking for didactic stories. Know your market. Larrikin House focuses on the primary school market.
https://www.writermag.com/ – search for the section on writing for children