'Oh, it's easy,' I cheerfully replied, never having tried it myself. 'You just Google them and do a bit of research.'
Hmm. I felt a bit guilty afterwards. I've been telling people for YEARS that Google will reveal all, confident that it will. But maybe it doesn't. So, an experiment. I've had a go at writing a couple of children's picture books that were taken up by a publisher, but got no further than the editing process when I pulled out. I hadn't done anything else with them since, but I'd been vaguely thinking I ought to get them out there. My agent doesn't handle children's fiction, so I'd be on my own.
Armed with an out of date copy of the Children's Writers and Artists Yearbook I decided to see how easy it was to track down a named editor. Answer...not that easy, but perfectly possible. It took me about 3 hours max to track down an editor at every main children's publishing houses - fifteen in total - and get a title of a book they had edited that I could refer to in my covering letter.
How? I started by Googling names in my 4 year old CWAY, plus either publishing or picture books. That usually brought up something. I particularly looked for articles about them or their authors. Quite a few had been interviewed on writing sites, and a common question was "which book are you most proud to have been involved with?" Bingo! Several others had spoken at writing conferences.
I could always get a list of picture book authors from that publishing house, so the other thing I tried was googling their name plus blog. Some people helpfully wrote about how they'd just had lunch with their editor Ms X.
So there we have it. Fifteen covering letters to named editors, all with some personal reference to a book they have been involved with that I think might be a bit like one of my stories. The next hurdle is that most of them claim they don't read unsolicited manuscripts. I will report back...