Pardon the cliche, but writing alphabet books is definitely not as simple as ABC. I do think it’s very rewarding, however, probably because of the sense of accomplishment it brings when you’re able to meet the challenge. I also think writing ABC books could be the most fun I’ve ever had writing.
For those children’s writers out there who want to try to tackle this niche, I’d like to lay out 5 important steps I’ve learned along the way as I’ve attempted to construct my own ABC books for publication (I currently have a few in the works, but haven’t polished any enough to market them yet). Because the first step is lengthy, but very important, I will only cover this one in today’s post.
1. Research publishers
It’s tempting to think that you could just dive into an ABC book without much regard for where you’ll send it when you’ve finished. But publishers nowadays are rather particular about their alphabet books.
Your first step needs to be scouring the market guides for children’s book publishers who buy ABC books, and then determine what style of book they prefer. Unfortunately, I’ve found that not all publishers list alphabet books in the list of books they acquire when they submit their information to a market guide. That means you’ll have to dig deeper.
You can either do an internet search with combined key words such as “alphabet books,” “publishers,” “writers guidelines,” or you can identify some specific publishers and go to their websites to see if there are any alphabet books listed. If you don’t see any alphabet books on a publisher’s site, don’t bother querying them. There’s a reason that the publisher has decided not to carry them.
Once you determine which publishers do have alphabet books, you want to look at the style of those books. Some publishers may carry several different types of ABC books, while others may have one distinct style that all their ABC books follow. Based on the style they use, you may decide that particular publisher is not a good fit for you.
I remember coming across one publisher who did all their alphabet books in a two-tiered format, where one page of the two-page spread is to be read at the child’s level, by the child, while the other page contains more detailed information that is to be read by the parent. I knew that I only wanted to write to the child, so I bypassed that publisher.
You may also discover that some publishers only carry rhyming ABC books, while others never buy rhyming ABC books. Others may have ABC book series–animals, weather, transportation, etc. that your book would have to somehow fit into. All this to say that researching potential alphabet book publishers is crucial unless you have extra time on your hands to waste in writing a book that you won’t have a publishing audience for.
Once you’ve compiled a list of publishers that (a) purchase alphabet books and (b) have a style of ABC book you want to write, you then need to check their submission guidelines. They may have specifics on what they are currently looking for in regards to alphabet books. For instance, if you learn that a publisher produces ABC books in series, you can find out if they are open to a new series of themes or if you must write a book within a current series.
This information isn’t always available on their website, so you may need to query the editor, or even shoot him or her a quick email asking if they’re open to new series ideas or if there’s any particular ABC book they’d like to see for their upcoming book list. You may or may not get a response, but what I’ve learned is that it never hurts to ask. If they don’t answer you, nothing lost; if they do answer you, you typically will gain some real nuggets of information.
Once you’ve done your publisher research, you’re ready for Step #2, which is choosing your topic.
I’ll take a look at that and Step #3 (picking specific words) next time.