Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Submissions, Query Letters and Voice–Working with US Agents, Editors and Publishers

SCBWI Japan Event Write-Up

Post by Mari Boyle, Tokyo, Japan

On 30th June, 2018, SCBWI Japan members and friends gathered together for an invaluable workshop on the specificities of submitting work to US agents, editors and publishers. Our talented SCBWI Japan Regional Team–co-Regional Advisors Mariko Nagai and Holly Thompson; Illustrator Coordinator Naomi Kojima; and Translator Coordinator Avery Fischer Udagawa–led the session, taking it in turns to, as Mariko said, help us “navigate this labyrinth called publishing.”

SCBWI Japan Regional Team: Naomi Kojima, Mariko Nagai, Holly Thompson, Avery Fischer Udagawa

We were also lucky, to have Ayanna Coleman in the audience, who recently arrived in Japan and has worked in publishing houses and literary agencies in America. She was incredibly generous with her knowledge of the business and wrote a fabulous blog post on the event.

The first part of the session covered a number of topics. Mariko and Holly gave advice on making the most of critiques, formatting specifics for submissions, writing query letters and synopses, and creating an online presence. Avery discussed issues related to translation work, advising writers to polish and revise their writing to fit the US market. “You don’t want aspects of your writing to scream foreign,” she cautioned. Naomi too had words of wisdom for illustrators, telling writer/illustrators that the quality of their writing needs to match the quality of their artwork. For Japanese artists hoping to break into the US market, Naomi pointed out the importance of having a good level of English, because all correspondence will be in English.

We then divided into two groups, illustrators and writers/translators.

Naomi led the illustrator group discussing specifics of art portfolios and picture book dummies. The illustrator group discussed art portfolios and picture book dummies, and examined the book structure and pagination specific to US picture books. Some of the illustrators shared their publishing experiences and others brought their own book dummies for critiques, which Naomi described as “inspiring and wonderful.”

Illustrators group led by Naomi Kojima

Equally inspiring and wonderful were the query letters shared by some of our published authors in the writers/translators group. A few of our members currently in the process of submitting, were also brave enough to share their query letters with us. Holly noted how important voice is in a query letter, and our members’ voices certainly shone through brightly. We also delved into further detail about social media, websites and ideas on marketing. Ayanna confirmed that US agents and editors are increasingly checking for an online presence and marketing awareness, as it indicates that “you’ve invested in your community and craft.” You can find some excellent tips about this on her blog.

Writers and translators group, with Mariko Nagai, Holly Thompson, and Ayanna Coleman – Photographer, Avery Fischer Udagawa

At the end of this lively session, we came back together as a full group. There were some final comments, and we were reminded by Mariko that the entire process can take years from submission to finding a publisher to print. What to do while you wait? You could invest some of your time into developing your online presence–it’s never too late, or too early, to start. But equally important is to keep writing, making art, and honing our craft.

The SCBWI Japan regional team is putting together a set handouts covering many of the topics mentioned in the sessions, and they will be available on the website soon.

Mari Boyle is a writer and teacher.