I'm frequently asked about how to get into the children's book business. Here is some advice, resources, and organizations that can help you along on your path to publication.
How I became an illustrator: http://joannamarple.com/2013/09/illustrator-interview-joyce-wan/
How I got You Are My Cupcake published: http://wanart.com/blogs/blog/16409717-it-039-s-here
My book creation process: http://wanart.com/blogs/blog/16409929-my-writing-process-a-blog-tour
It's VERY important to familiarize yourself with what’s already out there in the marketplace which you can find out by spending time at the bookstore or children’s section of the library and just reading a lot in the genre you are interested in pursuing. Pay close attention to which publishing houses publish what, length of books, word count, and themes. Look at how the illustrations and the text work with each other. Study the rhythm, the page turns, the characters, and emotions.
If you are a writer, DO NOT have your manuscripts illustrated (unless you are illustrating it yourself). Editors at publishing companies prefer to match illustrators with manuscripts that they acquire. Sending your manuscript with illustrations can hurt your chances of being published. It won’t help, and it’s a waste of your and your illustrator’s time, which can be particularly awkward if the illustrator is someone you know. Most publishing companies these days do not accept unsolicited manuscripts so your next step after completing a manuscript is to look for a literary agent. Agents can help you polish a manuscript before sending it out, they can offer career advice, negotiate contracts to get you the best offer possible, and just help you navigate the complex world of publishing. Publishing houses also usually give agent submissions priority.
If you are an illustrator, work on creating a portfolio of work that look like they belong in children’s books so there should be some sequential images, animal characters, children characters etc. Tailor your portfolio for children’s books. You do not need to necessarily have your own stories to get published as an illustrator. Publishing companies often receive manuscripts that need to be matched with an illustrator. Many well-known author/illustrators started out only illustrating books before they published their own story. If you both write and illustrate, create a book dummy (scroll to the bottom of this page for web resources on creating a book dummy) entirely of sketches with 2-3 finished art pieces which you can show to editors or agents. Some ways to get your work out there is participating in portfolio showcases offered at SCBWI conferences where portfolios are put on display and judged by a panel of top professionals, sending out postcards regularly to editors and art directors, and maintaining active social media accounts such as Instagram and Twitter where you regularly post your work. Finding a literary agent to help you is also another option and if you do get an offer to illustrate a book, I would recommend that you go into it with an agent.
ORGANIZATIONS / WORKSHOPS / CONFERENCES:
Join SCBWI which is the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Attend as many of their events and conferences as you can. Look up your regional chapter and find out what events are coming up. You will learn a lot about publishing, meet guest editors, agents, and art directors and learn more about the craft of writing/illustrating. Some conferences even offer one-on-one manuscript and portfolio critiques with a guest editor, agent or art director for an additional fee. I've been attending SCBWI conferences and workshops since 2010 and not only have I learned so much about the industry but I have made many great friends along the way. I have never been part of a critique group but I have many author friends who felt like being part of a critique group was an integral part of their path to publication. SCBWI can help you find a critique group in your area. The website also has an excellent resource library as well as discussion boards.
The Highlights Foundation in Milanville, Pennsylvania offers more than 40 workshops/retreats a year covering a wide range of topics and offering encouragement for both beginning and published authors and illustrators. Workshops are led by editors, authors, art directors, publishers, agents, academics, and others who are there to help you realize your creative goals. I've never personally been to a workshop there but have heard nothing but good things from people who have. I also heard the food is AMAZING. :)
The Rutgers University Council On Children's Literature holds an annual conference called the One-On-One Plus Conference where attendees are paired with experienced authors, illustrators, editors, art directors or agents. Every attendee is guaranteed a forty-five minute personalized critique of their submitted work in progress. There is an application process to attend and acceptance is based on the strength and quality of the applicant's work. I've never personally attended this conference but have also heard nothing but good things about it.
The Book: Essential Guide to Publishing for Children
SCBWI publishes a guide for members, free as a downloadable PDF or printed for a small fee. Contains lots of information about writing and illustrating for the children’s book market. Includes the latest market reports, articles on social media, discussions of emerging publishing options, and up-to-the-minute directories of everything from agents to book reviewers to relevant blog sites.
The Children's Writers & illustrator's Market
The definitive publishing guide for anyone who wants to write or illustrate for kids and young adults. Inside you'll find more than 500 listings for children's book markets (US, Canadian and international publishers; literary agents; magazines; conferences; and contests) including contact names, how to properly submit your work, and what categories each market accepts. Also includes interviews with authors and illustrators and informative articles.
The Purple Crayon
Created by children's book editor Harold Underdown, this website provides lots of general information for those new to children's book writing, illustrating, marketing, and publishing.
Picture Book Dummy, Picture Book Construction: Know Your Layout
Author Tara Lazar provides detailed information with diagrams on picture book layouts. Her website is also full of information about the industry and the craft of writing/illustrating.
Picture Book Creation
Author/Illustrator Debbie Ohi provides an in-depth guide, free templates, and resources on creating picture books. Her website in general is also full of information and resources.
How To Write a Picture Book
Author Mac Barnett offers a step-by-step guide to writers on how to get a children's book published.
Created by author Elaine Kiely Kearns, this website provides articles, resources, author/illustrator spotlights, and manuscript/portfolio swap opportunities.
The Children's Book Podcast
A weekly podcast, created and hosted by elementary school librarian and author Matthew Winner, featuring interviews with authors, illustrators, and everyone involved in taking a book from drawing board to bookshelf.
Due to my demanding scheduling on projects under contract, I choose not to provide manuscript critiques. However, the following are published authors and freelance editors, who I know personally or have come recommended to me, who do (no particular order):
Marcie Colleen: http://www.thisismarciecolleen.com/critique-services.html
Catherine Frank: http://editedbycatherine.com/
Alli Brydon: https://www.allibrydon.com/
Jen Bonnell: http://www.jenbonnell.com/
Emma Dryden: http://www.drydenbks.com
Harold Underdown: http://www.underdown.org/pced.htm
I have never self-published a book so I do not have any personal insight to offer in that regard but here is an article written by Harold Underdown on that subject: http://www.underdown.org/self-publish.htm