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The Secret Door into the Big Publishing Houses
by Susan Denney

You’ve seen the notices: Agented submissions only. No unsolicited manuscripts. Taking no submissions. Due to backlog, we are not currently accepting manuscripts.

A writer could get very discouraged trying to break into one of the big publishing houses these days. No one seems to be reading manuscripts. Even the infamous slush piles are disappearing. It only feels worse when you realize that although there are many imprints, there are only a few major publishing houses. If you do manage to find an imprint that will take submissions and then get rejected by it, you cannot resubmit to another imprint of the same house.

So how in the world are new writers getting published these days? The current advice is to get an agent. If you write for adults, that’s probably the best plan. But finding someone to represent you can be as difficult as getting your manuscript read at a publishing house. If you write for children, the task of finding an agent is even harder. Few agents are interested in children’s chapter books these days and fewer still are interested in picture books.

While you might feel like giving up, don’t despair. There is a way to get your manuscript onto an agent’s or editor’s desk. There is a secret door and it is one of the best-kept secrets in the business.

By going to two conferences for children’s writers this year, I have gotten contact information for two agents and six editors. The six editors were all from major publishing houses. The agents were both interested in children’s literature. All of them agreed to look at submissions from the attendees providing the envelopes were marked with the name of the conference.

Not only did I get the contact information, I heard them speak. I learned what these editors and agents were looking for—what genres they liked and disliked and what kinds of stories they preferred. I learned about publishing trends.

At one of the conferences, the opening pages of my manuscript were read and critiqued by a panel of editors. What are the chances of that happening to a manuscript lying in a slush pile?

This may sound too good to be true, but the fact is that attending professional workshops, meetings, and conferences is a great way to approach agents and editors. While some conferences are affordable, there is a large fee for others and there may be an additional fee for joining the professional organizations that sponsor them. But if you are serious about getting an agent or a book contract, attending a conference is one of the most effective ways to do it.

Now you have a big decision to make. There are hundreds of conferences and workshops to choose from. In order to find the best opportunity and value, do your research. Read the articles in the Writing for DOLLARS! archives on conferences. You can look at general conferences held by state or regional writers’ groups. You might prefer specialized conferences sponsored by groups like Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Don’t think that you have to go to New York to find a good one. Remember that agents and editors are looking for talent and will travel to find it. Also, bigger is not necessarily better.

So go through the door. Go meet living, breathing editors and agents and sell them your manuscript.

© Copyright 2009, Susan Denney

Susan Denney is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania. She has published children’s fiction and nonfiction as well as adult articles on a variety of topics. Check out her website at www.susandenney.com.

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