Please note that my own commitments won't allow me to take on any mentoring or manuscript assessments during 2013, but here are some links and suggestions:
Please note: these are my opinions only. I am not a lawyer or copyright expert - please check the copyright council of the country you are submitting to for more specific and up to date advice.
Generally, you automatically have copyright of what you have written and do not need a lawyer when you submit your work to a publisher. This will be strengthened by adding 'unpublished work © your name, date' at the end of the piece. I think you can be very confident that your ideas won't be stolen.
Manuscript Assessment and Development.
Cathie Tasker was the children's book editor for HarperCollins (she published my first 7 books, including Ark in the Park, which won the Australian Children's Book Council book of the year). She later moved to Koala Books, but is now doing manuscript assessment.
The successful children's author Sally Odgers also does manuscript assessments. affordablemanuscriptassessments.com
Virginia Lowe runs courses on writing for children http://www.createakidsbook.com.au
http://cbiclubhouse.com has a lot of good tips on writing in general and writing for children in particular.
Jackie Hoskings has a weekly online newsletter on writing for children, Pass it On jackiehosking(at) bigpond.com
Twitter: put in hashtags such as #childrensbooks #agents etc to find useful groups and like-minded people. Many authors (including me) post snippets about writing as well as links to their blog posts/
Also keep your eyes open for competitions, which are often a good way in - my first book was published by winning a Scholastic picture book text competition.
Publishing: Submissions and Opportunities
There should not be any cost involved in publishing with a publishing house. They pay you! There is certainly cost involved in self-publishing, though it's an area I know very little of.
It's helpful to have an agent but not essential; there's often a catch 22 that agents may not accept you unless you have a contract ready to sign.
Check the Golvan Arts Management site for thorough advice on submitting to a publisher or agent. To choose which publisher you will submit to, find the one whose work you like and where you can see your work fitting – eg if you're writing humour, send it to a publisher who publishes humour.
At the moment many of the big publishing houses have set days on which they accept unsolicited manuscripts. Check their websites.
Brian Grove at My Perfect Pitch has general publishing advice for unpublished authors, and a list of publishers accepting submissions.
The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators has lots of information for members on their website and in their magazines, and of course at their meetings. http://www.scbwiaustralia.org
For general information on writing and contracts in Australia, consider joining the Australian Society of Authors. asauthors.org You can join as an associate member before you're published. There's also a Fellowship of Australian Writers.
The relevant association in Canada is The Writers Union of Canada.