Getting a children’s book published: Demystifying the process

kellysonnack.jpgGetting a children’s book published can be a tricky task. Literary agent Kelly Sonnack says she hopes to “demystify” the process for her students. Her course, Getting Published: Navigating the Children’s Book Market, is a new one for UC San Diego Extension.

Sonnack knows of what she teaches as her clients include noted children’s book authors James Burks (the "Bird & Squirrel" series) and Bridget Heos ("Mustache Baby" and "Mustache Baby Meets His Match").

As part of the course, Sonnack, who works for the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, will offer a variety of practical tips on getting a book into print. She also hopes a basic message will resonate with her students: Becoming a published author takes not just talent but also drive and commitment.

“It is a lot of work to be a writer,” she says. “It can’t just be a whim.”

Advice on hiring an agent, negotiating a book contract and using social media to promote yourself, among other topics, will be part of the course. Sonnack will also give her students guidance on the sort of literary content that tends to succeed or fail. (One example: Almost without exception, the main character in a children’s book needs to be the same age as the target reader. If an animal is the main character, that animal should “reflect the emotional age of the reader,” Sonnack says.)

In addition, she will preach the importance of putting in the time and effort before the draft even gets to an agent. Aspiring authors should work to understand the market. (One tip: stay abreast of the New York Times Bestseller list.) And before shopping the book to anyone, a writer should put his or her work through a vigorous vetting process, which usually entails joining a writer’s critique group.

“As an agent, I don’t want to be the first person who has ever seen your work,” she says, noting that she generally expects her clients “to be doing 90 percent of the work before it even comes to me.”

Her course also will feature guest lecturers, including an editor and/or an art director from Simon & Schuster.

Sonnack has been working in the literary world since graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2002 with a degree in English literature. She had a sense early on in her career that children’s literature would be her specialty.

“When I was wandering around a book store, I always found myself in the teen section and the children’s section reading the new releases,” she said.

After working for the Elsevier publishing house, she joined the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, then left for Andrea Brown, which offered her an opportunity to specialize in children’s books.

Sonnack says her three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son continually provide new insights into what captures a child’s imagination. But it’s not just her kids that have inspired her. As the daughter of a kindergarten teacher and a businessman, Sonnack sees her current job as “a perfect combination of the two.”

Check the UC San Diego Extension website to find out when this course is offered. Prerequisites: Successful completion of all Children’s Book Illustration or Children’s Book Writing certificate coursework, or equivalent experience. Acceptance by instructor of writing sample or illustration portfolio is required. Please email the department at or call 858-534-5760 the quarter prior to your enrollment in this course.

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