THIS ARTICLE APPLIES TO ALL CHILDREN’S BOOK MANUSCRIPTS – INCLUDING PICTURE BOOKS.
Here’s what I do in Microsoft Word. (If you need a visual, an example is included in the book version of my Crash Course.)
Font and Paragraphing
- 12 point font. Times New Roman. (Courier is another acceptable option – but that font hogs up the paper). Whatever you do, please don’t try to flag the attention of an editor by using splashy font.
If you’re like many people you’ll wonder where you’re going to get that illustrator for your book. STOP RIGHT THERE. Unless you are a professional illustrator, do not try this at home, folks! This is the great thing about a writing career. You don’t have to know how to draw! So remember: writers write. Illustrators illustrate. For once something makes sense. Whooopee! I bet I know what your next question might be..”
A: If you are both a writer and a professional illustrator, then what you will want to do is create a picture book dummy. I’m not an illustrator myself, but I can point you to a great article on how to make one.
If you’re only a writer, then follow the steps in my crash course to learn how to submit your picture book manuscript.
For more on rhyming picture books, you have to check out this transcript of an ICL chat with Shelly Becker on rhyming picture books. This is nitty-gritty stuff, man.
I decided to classify this post so it applies to both PBs and longer works. If you’ve been following my Revision 9-1-1 articles, you’ve read a lot about “big” issues which crop up in manuscripts I’ve reviewed. But what’s contained in here is MORE IMPORTANT. Why? If an agent or editor senses you haven’t mastered the basics, your wonderful plot, brilliant characters, and awesome setting won’t matter.
Dori Chaconas, author of picture books and easy readers, has just written a great article about rhythm and rhyme for picture book texts. [Read the article, icing the cake->http://www.dorichaconas.com/Icing%20the%20Cake%20page.htm].
Also visit a guest article by Kelly R. Fineman featured on this website. [Read post, how to critique rhyming children’s poems->http://cynthealiu.com/2006/06/06/81/how-to-crtitique-rhyming-childrens-poems/].
Here are the common things I notice when I evaluate picture book manuscripts.
Tuneless Picture Books
- In my opinion, a picture book’s structure and rhythm are much like a tune. If I can’t hear your song when I’m reading your manuscript, the result is a text which reads like “heavy metal”. Discordant and jumbled. A tuneless picture book may have a beginning that’s too long, a middle that’s too short, and an abrupt ending.
Here is where you get to benefit even more from the fruits of my labor. You know all those free-tiques I do? After a while, I notice tendencies among you writers. I’ve seen some of the “issues” enough I’ve given them special names.
Let me clear up a myth about talking animals. You might have heard it before. “You shouldn’t write about talking animals. That’s a big no-no.” Yet you see hundred of books come out, starring them. What gives?
According to some, talking animals are hard to do.
I credit the lovely Kelly R. Fineman for writing this article. I stink at talking about poetry so I leave the task to Kelly who is quite good at it.
1. Read it to yourself.
See if the words make sense and tell a story you can follow.
Look in particular for any words that seem like they were chosen specifically to fit (or force) the rhyme.
So things haven’t gone as you’d hoped. Your manuscript went off months ago, and your phone didn’t ring off the hook with five editors or agents vying for your awesome book.
You find yourself wondering – what are they doing with my manuscript?
Did it get lost in the mail?
Did my dog Rufus eat my rejection letter?
Did I even include my manuscript in the submission?!
Status queries are a touchy subject where people will have different opinions.
Knowing the typical word counts of different types of children’s books will help you understand what goal you need to hit. These are only guidelines. If your word count comes in too high or low, you could raise eyebrows with publishers. Some might not even consider your work.
- Picture books – You’ll hear many people say the shorter the better. A good goal is 500 words or less. Definitely strive for under 1000.