Behind the Cover: Publishing children’s books with Briana Melideo
We love publishing children’s books… but writing, creating and promoting them is anything but child’s play! The role of a children’s books publisher can often be romanticised, and the work required to publish an excellent children’s book is certainly not simple.
So who better to ask about why children’s books are important, and what it takes to make a good one, than Briana Melideo – the Book Publisher that initiated our children’s publishing program.
Why did CSIRO Publishing start a children’s list?
We were keen to expand our list, and children’s books seemed a natural fit, especially as we already published Double Helix (external link), a children’s science magazine.
We were also aware of the importance and benefits of younger readers enjoying science. Science is filled with wonder, discovery and adventure, and we wanted to showcase those stories to children, to spark their interest and curiosity, and create an engagement with science that will last well into their adult life.
How did your first children’s book come about?
The first children’s book we published was Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect by Rohan Cleave and illustrated by Coral Tulloch. The manuscript met all of our criteria – endangered species recovery, collaborative efforts, Australian science – except that it was a children’s book, and we didn’t publish children’s titles. Receiving this manuscript definitely played an important role in developing a children’s publishing strategy – there was a lot more thought to the plan than just that, but fundamentally there was huge support to develop a children’s book list. The strategy was implemented in 2014, and Phasmid was published on 7 September 2015 – fittingly, this was National Threatened Species Day.
What sort of books do you look for?
Our focus is on non-fiction titles for primary school readers. These can be narrative non-fiction picture books, or more comprehensive chapter and reference titles for older readers, but every book has to be fun, engaging and accurate.
Non-fiction is on the rise for both for adults and children. For adults, it has been seen as a push for facts and accuracy in a post-truth world. Children’s books in general are stable and non-fiction is a strong growth area. Science non-fiction is our core area across our entire list – so we’re sticking to our strengths.
Some themes could be viewed as challenging, such as extinction, climate and our environmental impact, but we embrace these, as these are issues that children are facing, and children are a critical part of the solution.
What does a children’s publisher do?
The role of a children’s publisher is often romanticised. People think we either read books all day or attend fancy launches. Those can be perks, but we do much more than that! We read manuscripts rather than books, and we get to see the development of a book from twinkling idea all the way through to a published work.
Commissioning is also a big part of our publishing strategy. We look for trends in the market, explore different concepts, or new ways to present ideas. We then might match an idea to an author and illustrator, and work with them to explore, shape and develop that idea into a fully-fledged book. We also assess unsolicited manuscripts (those that we haven’t requested), and, if we see potential, we work with the author to develop these further.
We spend a lot of time talking to people, listening and waiting.
Interested in writing a children’s book? Here are some tips from Briana
How to write a proposal
Publishers often receive a lot of proposals, so a well-developed proposal will get their attention much quicker. We’ve included some things to consider when writing your proposal.
- Why are you writing your story?
Be specific with what you want to achieve. Tell us what your motivation is for writing the story, but also why you feel that readers need to hear your voice.
- What experience can you bring to the work?
While we do accept unpublished authors, it’s helpful for us to know what related experience you have. Do you have experience in communicating with children, through school visits, libraries, magazine articles or short pieces? Are you particularly knowledgeable about the science in the story, or have you consulted a scientist?
- Who is your reader?
How have you determined the reading age for your book? Have you shown your work to anyone of that age? Ensuring that your writing is suitable for the reader is critical to the success of your work.
- What type of book are you considering?
Are you planning a picture book, or a longer chapter or reference work? Please note that we don’t expect authors to include illustrations for picture book submissions, but if you have already worked with an illustrator, or have access to images for older reader texts, then please let us know.
- What will your reader get out of the story?
What will amaze them, inspire them or make them laugh? What will they learn (and impress their friends with), or what skills will the book give them?
Submitting the proposal
- Do you have a sample of your manuscript?
We don’t need a whole manuscript but a sample is essential. If you are planning to submit a whole manuscript, we would recommend that you have sought feedback prior to submission (see below) and be open to changes.
- Have you tested the content?
If it’s a picture book, read it out loud. Test the narrator, chapters, headings and tone with your target audience. Check the science to ensure it’s accurate or seek advice on anything outside of your area of expertise (or let us know if an expert needs to be brought in to the review process).
- Is there anything already in the market similar to your book?
Research what’s available in bookshops, libraries, and online bookstores to find out.
- Who are you submitting to?
Recognise whether your manuscript will be a good fit with your intended publisher’s list. Check the submission requirements for the publisher, as these do vary.
- Finally, read!
It helps to know that you understand children’s books, and it will help your manuscript too.