How To Format Your Manuscript


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.

To Draw or Not To Draw?

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..”

Best Writing Advice Ever!

Recently, I was invited to do a live workshop on WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS: A CRASH COURSE. As I was putting together my presentation, I thought I’d leave my students with a few fabulous quotes before I let them march off into the sunset to write their first book.

To find my quotes, I put out a call to writer friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Verla Kay’s message board. I asked them to tell me the best writing advice they’ve ever heard.

Q: What does high-concept fiction mean?

A: When I think of high-concept fiction, I think of blockbuster-movie-kind-of-fiction. If you’ve got a “coming of age” story, where everyone is a regular human being that goes to a normal school, the girl breaks up with a bad boyfriend, but then realizes she was worthy without him, then that’s probably not high-concept.

Q: Many publishers have multiple editors in charge of acquisition. Which one do I contact?

Q: I’ve written a picture book and I’m perusing the CWIM. Many publishers have multiple editors or
people in charge of Acquisition. How do I know whom to contact?

A: Great question. Read my article on submitting to editors here. It details in length how to find which editor to pick.

Q: Should I email my submissions?

Q: A book I’ve reads says so many times that it is inadvisable to email publishers as they simply won’t respond. But some publishers say they are open to email submissions. Is it still ok to do so?

A: If the publisher’s guidelines say it is okay to email them, then yes, follow the publisher’s guidelines. The book may simply be advising writers not to blindly email publishers as a way to break in.

Q: Italics or underlines in a manuscript?

Q: A writer asks: When writing a manuscript, does one indicate that words are italicized by
underlining the intended words or simply italicizing them? I read online that
one should underline any phrase meant to be italicized because that makes it
easier for the typesetter to find. What is your experience?

A: It’s a matter of personal taste. Personally, for all of my manuscripts, I do NOT underline. I italicize.

Q: How do I make a picture book dummy?

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.

how to avoid children’s book scams

I have run into countless writers who have spent hundreds of dollars on literary agents, vanity publishers, and book doctors, in the hopes of making it big in children’s publishing. It really breaks my heart to hear this because the truth is, there are people out there feasting on hopeful newbie writers, turning a very legitimate business into something reeked with fraudulence. THIS ANGERS ME.

Revision 9-1-1: Writing Mechanics

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.

Should I Self-publish My Children’s Book?

Let me give you the C Liu take on self-publishing. Self-publishing carries a certain stigma in the children’s writing world. However, that is not to say it’s not the right way to get your book published. It depends. The general rule of thumb is NOT to do this on your own. Why? It can be an expensive proposition. The final product often looks unprofessional. And your book won’t be carried by retail stores unless you sell a jillion copies on your own.

Get a Second Opinion – Critique Partners, Book Doctors, Editors, and More

Critique Partners

The children’s writing community is extremely supportive. There are people out there who will read your work for absolutely nothing (see Free-tiques, I am one such crazy person). And there are many more who’ll read your work if you read theirs. This is a very common practice in our children’s writing world. I strongly advocate finding a critique partner or group who can serve as your sounding board as you work on your books.

How Long Does a Book Have To Be?

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.