Children’s book looking for a home

November 8, 2022 • 9:00 am

Several years ago I wrote a children’s book, “Mr. Das and his 50 cats,” a fictional work that is actually based heavily on a real person: Birendra Das, one of India’s most famous sweetmakers (his business, K. C. Das and company, is famous in Kolkata).  I stayed with Mr. Das in Bangalore (now called “Bengaluru”) to do “field work” observing his life and his cats, and found that he indeed had around fifty cats, whose names I learned. Around these facts—and the knowlege that Mr. Das took all of those cats in as strays—I wove a fictional tale about the cats invading the factory in times of famine and eating all the milk, cream, and yogurt. (Indian sweets are heavily laden with sugar and dairy products.) The story of how that led to the closure of Mr. Das’s sweet business, and then how the cats fixed the situation in the end, is the subject of my book.

I quite liked the story, as did others, including parents of small children and school teachers to whom I vetted the book (the story is meant for kids from about first to four grades).  I got a lot of good suggestions before it arrived at its final incarnation.

With the help of my own agent, who doesn’t handle children’s books, I found an agent and a very well-known illustrator in the UK who were excited by the book and got started with illustrations and vetting the book to a publisher. (It’s customary in the children’s book market to first get an agent, who then sells the book to a prospective publisher, and it’s the publisher’s job to find an appropriate illustrator.)

Over the next several years, nothing happened and, despite repeated inquiries, I never got a satisfactory answer: the only replies that things were shut down by the pandemic, including children’s book publishing. The latest response from the prospective artist, received after a long delay, is that the agent “feels there’s very little hope in selling the book, and I think [she/he’s] unsure how to deal with it. Personally, I think if we had an editor/publisher interested in developing it, it would be worth putting in the time, but it’s a bit of a chicken/egg situation.”

This was of course very disheartening, especially in view of the initial enthusiasm the agent and illustrator had shown for the book and the labor I put into it.

The upshot is that I now need to try other avenues—and that means securing an agent or publisher for children’s books.  (My own agent does only non-fiction—most scientific—books.)  I’m putting up this post in the hopes that some reader will know an agent—or someone in children’s book publishing—who is willing to look at the manuscript.  It’s a picture book of 24 short pages, each to be accompanied by an illustration. There’s also back matter, including photos of Mr. Das and his cats and a small glossary of Indian words.  Mr. Das has also given permission for me to use his story in the book.  He’s now in his mid-eighties, and my hope was to have the book out while he was still alive.

As I said, this book is not a dog (it’s about CATS): I think it’s pretty good and many others seem to as well. If you can offer any help in getting the manuscript before an agent or publisher, I’d be most grateful. Simply email me. I’m willing to send the ms. to those who have serious connections.


Some pictures of the real Mr. Das and his cats (not illustrations for the book):

Every morning Mr. Das boils up a big fish and his assistant divide it into bowls, one for each cat. This is only one of several floors on which cats are fed.

Mr. Das has affixed netting around his peppermint striped house to catch any cats who fall. The cats use the nets as hammocks to lounge in:

Mr. Das also feeds the nighborhood’s stray dogs and, on his roof, he’s walled off a section with a bird feeder, allowing birds access to noms but keepind out the cats. (None of this is in the story.)

28 thoughts on “Children’s book looking for a home

  1. Jerry, look for your nearest SCBWI (society of children’s book writers and illustrators) and contact them. They have everything you’ve ever wanted to know about writing, illustrating, and publishing children’s books. If you must join to get all the goodies, it’s worth the price of admission. Attend one of their workshops if possible. Good luck. Sounds like a great book.

  2. Here’s a possible reason for inaction by the publisher. The UK’s publishing industry, and particularly the child book sector, been captured by the trans lobby. Your reputation as a respected biologist means you’re beyond the pale, as far as those people are concerned.
    Quite a few (mostly female) authors have suffered a similar fate. Rachel Rooney is one who comes to mind.

  3. Several years ago I wrote a children’s book, “Mr. Das and his 50 cats,” a fictional work

    I read that as “an imaginary book”, not “a book that contains fiction”. Not an issue, I just find the ambiguity amusing.

  4. Sounds wonderful. Get it done.
    You never know. A 100 years from now, Jerry Coyne might be remembered as the beloved children’s author.

  5. Jerry, both Lenora’s and William Barlow’s comments (1 & 2) above are accurate: 1) SCBWI is a great resource, and 2) the publishing industry has gone ultra-woke, especially children’s books. I’ve been that route with a middle-grade book and it’s a quagmire—and I had an agent. Even if you find an agent the odds are against your getting the book out before Mr. Das dies. If that’s your goal, you’re best bet is to join SCBW and use it to connect with an illustrator, then go the self-publishing route. The stigma that once attached to self-publishing no longer exists and there are a number of very good POT (print-on-demand) companies that could get the book done for a reasonable price in a reasonable amount of time. My children’s book, The Alphabeast Book (, was published by Luminare Press here in Oregon and it was a great experience all-around. I did the illustrations myself so that saved me some steps, but if you could find an aspiring illustrator through SCBWI he or she might be willing to split the cost. Another very reputable POT company is BookBaby; I know several writers who use and are happy with them. Of course, you could also use Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), which is virtually free, but that can be a headache since you don’t have the experienced designers to help at every turn. Below is a link that compares BookBaby and Amazon KDP. Hope this helps some. Gary

  6. I’m no help with the details here, but certainly hope you are successful in getting it printed, as I, too, would be at the head of the line to purchase a book. I remember your writing about Mr. Das and his cats some years ago and thought that he must be a wonderful man–and that your story about him would be equally wonderful. Good luck!

  7. I’ll most certainly buy it, if ever published. Stronger, there is no way I won’t. I do have young children, and a grandchild on its way (!). I’m really looking forward reading it.
    And I’ll certainly add it to the small, but eclectic*, library I have in my Airbnb (the Red Kettle) in Beaufort West.

    * I just realise it has FvsF, but not WEIT. A hiatus I’ll correct shortly.

  8. Talk to Krish. I once published with him, but that was before he got into publishing, so that is not the same as having been published by him, but there are obvious compatibilities here.

  9. It sounds like a great story for a children’s book. If you can’t find a North American publisher for it, you should find an Indian publisher! I’m sure they could handle the translation, too.

    Also, make sure your illustrator isn’t a medieval artist. 🙂

  10. This guy sounds like a total gentleman and genuinely very nice bloke.

    We need more books about such role models.

  11. My friend Karin Cates published two books for young children, but it was way back then and she didn’t find the process of getting in print very pleasing, and the two different agents she had are long since retired. But she recommends you look at Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators to see what you can find.

  12. Hi Jerry. A friend sent me this post and asked me to respond to you. I have had several children’s books published over the years so thought I would share my thoughts here. I’m in Canada but my books have sold mostly in the US. I have a Canadian publisher which started printing and selling my books back in the early 1990s. I don’t think most children’s authors have agents, especially when starting out. The royalties on a child’s book is I think about 10% – five for you and five for the illustrator. They are not money making ventures. You don’t want to be paying an agent unless you are super successful. To try to find a publisher, I went to the library, found a reference book that lists all the children’s publisher’s, found some publishers that seemed to be a fit and started sending out query letters. There were lots of no’s before I got some interest. Most publishers have a very clear idea of the type of books they are looking for and won’t consider your book unless it fits with their publishing plan. I think self-publishing could be a good idea. Best of luck with your book – it sounds delightful.

    1. Thanks for writing. Believe me, I’m in it for the fun of it all, and to acquaint others with Mr. Das’s story: I don’t care about profits.

      I think I’m in for what you experienced: finding publishers, submitting a lot, and getting rejected a lot. Thanks for the advice!

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