Written by A Guest Author August 11th, 2022

Lessons from Almost Thirty Years in the Publishing Industry

By Sheri Amsel

Things are always changing. Publishing is no exception. When I published my first picture book, the publishing house handled everything. They took my manuscript and illustrations and 18 months later a hard cover book came in the mail. It was stunning – beautifully designed and printed, my story displayed in its best possible light. Then, like magic, the book showed up in bookstores, school libraries, airport gift shops, and children’s museum book collections. When my first royalty check came, I bought a new car.  After three years the book went out of print and the rights converted back to me. During that period, I published six books with three different publishers. I did author visits and signed a lot of books. I thought about new book ideas. I assumed this was what my life would look like from then on, but things are always changing.

Amazon rocked the publishing world like a planet killing meteorite. Small bookstores closed. Then big bookstores closed. Publishing houses consolidated and bought each other out. Publishing lists contracted. Unsolicited submissions were no longer accepted without an agent. Agents were not selling as many books. I changed agents twice and could no longer sell my book ideas. I gave up my agent. I moved to small local presses and published field guides and picture books about the area. I learned how to use Indesign and self-published several workbooks and coloring books. I used a local book distributor and kept doing school visits.

I also kept submitting to the big publishers – the ones who were still accepting unsolicited submissions. I thank Authors Publish for sending out regular nudges about which publishers would take them. At first, I collected a stack of rejection letters big enough to wallpaper my entire living room. Then the publishers stopped sending rejection letters. Then the submissions went digital. I kept submitting. I had a few acceptances that fizzled when their children’s divisions were down-sized or editors fired. It was a minefield out there. I wearied of the process. I took all my writing and illustrations and started a science education website (Exploringnature.org). I sold subscription to schools and districts. But the siren song of book publishing would not let me go. I repeated the mantra – You will never publish if you don’t submit, submit, submit. So, I kept submitting – for another 10 years.

Then Covid came and changed everything – again. All my school visits were cancelled. Bookstores and gift shops closed – some to never reopen. The small press that had been publishing and distributing my books for years went bankrupt and closed. I suddenly had a lot of time at home (as did we all). I wrote and illustrated curriculum for the website, as schools were hungry for digital resources. I finished the art for a book about exploring at night with kids that I had been working on for several years with my daughter-in-law. I fleshed out another book idea that I’d had more than 20 years ago about rainforest animals helping to pollinate and spread the seeds of plants in a mutualistic partnership. I wasn’t sure what I would do with them, but the call to create books was still a powerful pull.

Then, one day, I got an issue of Authors Publish with several small presses that were new to me. I thought, what the heck… I submitted the two books I had been working on, one to each of the new publishers. Then something rather miraculous happened. Within 24 hours, one of the presses emailed back and offered me a contract. I was reeling from that when the second publisher emailed and wanted the other book. I was stunned. I still had lots of work to do on the rainforest book, but they were willing to wait. I signed a contract to sell A Night Walk with AM Ink Publishing in the fall of 2021. Then, when the art was complete, I signed a contract with Eifrig Publishing for The Rodent, the Bee, and the Brazil Nut Tree .

Times have changed. I did the layout for the books myself. I prepared bookmarks, posters, and downloadable curriculum guides for each book. I posted about the books on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. I emailed educators and bloggers asking for reviews (and will be doing that for a while yet). I will try to keep up with the changing world of book publishing as best I can, but to be honest, I have no idea what changes are coming next. Yet, the mantra endures. You will never publish if you don’t submit, submit, submit.

Bio: Sheri Amsel has combined a love of the outdoors with graduate degrees in science and biomedical illustration to create a body of work that includes writing and illustrating booksschool programs, and illustrated interpretive signage for museums and nature centers across North America. She has more than 30 picture books, field guides, activity and coloring books in print.

In 2005, she created Exploringnature.org, an illustrated science education website, that is used by schools, educators, and families worldwide.

In 2009, she received the prestigious Elizabeth Abernathy Hull Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Environmental Education of Youths, by the Garden Club of America.


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