The Big Picture
Before you begin researching the specifics of the children's publishing industry, you should take a look at the big picture. By understanding the various markets available to children's books, you will be able to make choices concerning your own writing and take steps to zero in on specific areas. Keep in mind that the following markets are quite broad and allow room for a wide variety of subject matters and styles.
Trade books are most often defined as books that are sold in book-stores. These books are usually higher-priced, higher-quality books that can be either fiction or nonfiction. While most think of trade books as hardcover books, trade publishers also produce paperbacks. The trade market is what most people think of when they think of bookselling. Unless you want to write for a small, specialized audience or use technical language, you will most likely be writing for the trade market.
Mass-market books are paperbacks that are lower-priced, lower-quality books sold in supermarkets, discount department stores, newsstands, drug-stores, and so on. Mass-market books normally have a smaller trim size and are designed to appeal to a different audience from the one that buys trade books.
Mass-market children's books are often tied in to a popular show or character. The publishers often come up with the concept and then search out authors to follow their guidelines. In addition to seeking this market for your own work, you may want to look into working for publishers on established series. It is possible to be hired as a writer for a preconceived line of mass-market titles.
One of the biggest publishing niches is the religious market. There are some publishers who produce only religious materials to sell to religious bookstores and organizations. Religious books can be fiction or nonfiction, but always convey a message specific to a particular belief.
The institutional market covers schools and libraries. Someone has to write and publish the textbooks that kids use in school, right? Often text-books are curriculum-based and developed by the publisher. However, schools are beginning to add more and more single-title books to their curricula. Therefore, you can find publishers who produce high-quality fiction and nonfiction books that can be sold to bookstores, libraries, and schools.
Titles in the institutional market span a wide range of subjects. While there is certainly a need for those books in academic subjects such as science, health, and math, there is also a need for books covering psychological and sociological topics such as death, aging, suicide, divorce, disability, and special needs.