On Submissions and What I'm Looking For

Please note:  Due to a deeply unfortunate backlog, as of May 1, 2010, I am closed to unsolicited submissions until further notice, except in the cases of conference attendees submitting under the terms established at that conference, and writers with whom I've previously corresponded and invited to send future manuscripts. (Agented submissions are also welcome, of course.) When I reopen to submissions, the news will be posted on my blog as well as here.

Arthur, at Arthur A. Levine Books, is still very much open to submissions, and you can visit his submissions page here for further discussion of queries and what our imprint is all about.

What is your submission policy?
After long thought and much perplexity over this very subject, I'd like to see the following in a submission:
Picture books: Query letter + full text
Novels: Query letter + two chapters + synopsis (in that order)
Other: Query letter + five-page sample of writing (five poems, five pages of nonfiction, etc.)
Any formatting guidelines?
Letters and synopses can be single-spaced, but manuscripts should be double-spaced. Please include a self-addressed stamped envelope for my reply (of a size, and with postage, sufficient to contain your manuscript if you'd like it returned; otherwise the manuscript will be recycled). Please note:  A submission without an SASE will not receive a reply.
Someone once told me that she'd heard all submissions should be set in Courier Text, as Courier is a fixed-width font and that allowed editors to see how long the final book would be. This is not true and will likely result in a considerable waste of paper, as well as your manuscript looking huge. Any nice readable font with a serif is fine.
Why do I have to send a query letter as well as the full text of my picture-book manuscript/synopsis of my novel?
Because the query letter lets me get a sense of how you talk and think about your book, while the manuscript lets me see the book for myself.
What are you looking for?
I answer this question at length in "Finding a Publisher and Falling in Love," so I encourage you to read that if you haven't already. You should also look at the Arthur A. Levine Books website and the list of books I've edited to see if your book might suit my overall list. After that . . .
Arthur A. Levine Books publishes a wide range of hardcover books for children and young adults, including picture books, middle-grade and YA novels, and select nonfiction. We do not do a lot of easy readers, because those tend to be more successful as paperbacks; nor do we publish many novelty books or books for the very young, because those usually belong in Scholastic's Cartwheel imprint. But we have published in all of those formats with authors or illustrators who wanted to explore new territory, so we aren't averse to them -- they're just not the usual Arthur A. Levine Book. 
In "Finding a Publisher" I say I'm looking for three things:
  1. Emotional truth
  2. Good writing
  3. Originality
To that list I'm going to add "Really great characters," because I will follow a character I love just about anywhere -- into deep space, across the Gobi desert, inside the boys' locker room -- just for the pleasure of hanging out with him or her. Millicent Min, Cedar B. Hartley, Calwyn, Thomas (from The Book of Everything), Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Stanford Wong, Charlotte Miller, Marcelo Sandoval . . . Their creators are my heroes.
Genre-wise, I like fantasies, I like mysteries, I like romance, I like thrillers -- but they have to be literary fantasies/mysteries/romance/thrillers, and really driven by their characters rather than the familiar conventions of the genre. I love genre books with a twist:  the fantasy that begins as a romance, the mystery told entirely through letters. Jaclyn Moriarty's The Year of Secret Assignments is a great example of genre-twisting, character-driven chick lit.

I like books about characters who do things, who take action in their own lives, who love and lie and take risks and fight to get what they want, who are faced with and make difficult choices. 

I'm very interested in projects from writers and illustrators of color, the better to reflect our whole range of human experience. If you'd like to read more about this, click here.

I also like historical fiction, especially about times, places, and people not often covered in historical fiction:  the Dark Ages, for example, or non-Western settings (China, Brazil, the Congo), or medieval female protagonists who aren't averse to doing embroidery and getting married (because when was the last time you saw a historical-fiction heroine who wasn't preternaturally spunky?). But I'm happy with a traditional Civil War/Renaissance England/whatever novel with a peppy heroine too.
I'd love to see more school stories and sports books. I'm the child of two former teachers, so my life from the age of four to twenty-one pretty much revolved around school, and I played soccer, t-ball, volleyball, and basketball growing up (all badly, I cheerfully admit), but oddly I don't see a lot of submissions on these common childhood/teenage experiences.
I'm interested in books that involve religion and religious questions (and including both Eastern and Western religions), although I'm not interested in books that exist solely to espouse a particular religious viewpoint. In other words, the religious aspect ought to be driven by the character's journey, not the other way around.
I'd like to work on more nonfiction, of a narrative or descriptive stripe rather than a reference or prescriptive type. I'm not at all a science person, but I love the science articles in "The New Yorker" because they teach me how rich and strange our world is, and that's what I think all good nonfiction should do, whether it's science or economics or history or biography.
And anyone who can identify the exact source of "After long thought and much perplexity" above without Googling it should definitely send me their work.
What does "literary" mean?
It means that the manuscript explores a situation in some depth, whether it's emotional depth (you're going deep into this character's pain) or philosophical depth (your book is really about the meaning of life) or factual depth (by the end of your book I will be absolutely fascinated by sea slugs). Literary fiction delves rather than skimming or describing the surface. But it does have to be written well too:  showing, not telling, all that.

Some people think that literary fiction doesn't have action to it -- that literary fiction is people sitting around and feeling and talking at each other. This is not true. But in literary fiction, the writer is as interested in the characters' emotional development as he or she is in the action the novel portrays, and particularly in the relationship between the two, even if that relationship isn't spelled out in so many words.

What about illustration samples or portfolios?
Illustration samples are always welcome. If I like your style and it seems like a good fit for our list, I will keep the sample on file; if your style doesn't seem right for me, I'm going to recycle the sample. (Sorry.) I am happy to do portfolio reviews as time and taste permit, and I've written a little bit about what I like to see in an illustrator's portfolio here.
Can I submit more than one manuscript at a time?
No. Nor should you submit the same manuscript to me and to Arthur, either simultaneously or consecutively. (Nor should you submit different manuscripts to us simultaneously. . . . In general, it's probably wise to pick one or the other of us to submit to, and stick with that.) 
Can I submit to you more than once?
Yes, although I must say that if you've queried me three times or more and never yet received even a handwritten note, then you might want to try another editor.
What do you not like?
Scatological humor -- it just makes me feel ill. Also, if you've written a book, especially a picture book, for the sole purpose of teaching a practical or moral lesson to children, like "Be kind to everyone" or "Don't play doctor with the pit bull": Your manuscript will probably not be right for me. Everything else that fits the criteria above, I'm happy to take a look.