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First Impressions Count

How to Format Your Picture Book Text

by Marlo Garner

Imagine you are an editor at a publishing house that still accepts unsolicited submissions. Beside you is a teetering tower of manuscripts awaiting your response. Several more piles choke the floor around your desk, and they'll only be larger by tomorrow. After a long, tiring day of acquisitions meetings, liaising with marketing, editing manuscripts already acquired, and various other duties, you find yourself on the crowded commute home, with half an hour in which to wade through a few of these submissions.

You pick up Manuscript A and breathe a sigh of relief. It is properly formatted as per industry standards, and its font is easy on your exhausted eyes. It has been carefully proofread. This writer has done their research, which implies that they have taken time and effort to learn what they can. They have probably been working hard to become a better writer. You look forward to reading this one.

Manuscript B is formatted in 18 pt. Comic Sans, single spaced, and you can already see two sloppy proofreading errors. You sigh and set that one aside. An improperly formatted manuscript screams, "This writer's work just isn't ready yet!"

It's easy to give an editor or agent a good first impression by presenting your manuscript correctly.

Picture Book Formatting Checklist:

  • Make sure your page layout is set to Word's default, with one inch margins all round.
  • Font: Use 12pt Times New Roman, black, regular. (Some similar serif fonts, such as Garamond, are acceptable. I know very few editors who appreciate a manuscript in Courier because it's just not easy to read en masse for most of us. Never use sans serif fronts, and avoid Comic Sans at all costs. You can't go wrong with TNR.)
  • Put your name and contact details in the upper left of first page: address, phone number, email address, and website or blog address, if you have one.
  • Include the word count on the upper right.
  • Leave a few lines. If she desires, the editor will make notes in this space.
  • Center the title, and place your byline below it.
  • No cover page for picture books. Simply start the story below the byline.
  • Double-space the story text.
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 (except for verse). This is Word's default setting.
  • Left align paragraphs, ragged right.
  • No lines between paragraphs (except for verse), and no extra space between paragraphs.
  • One space after a period, not two. (Two was standard years ago, before the digital age.)
  • Place a header on any subsequent pages with your last name/title (title italicized) on upper left, and page number on upper right. 
  • Follow any other submission guidelines of the publisher you're targeting.
  • Do not include a copyright: a registered copyright is a headache for publishers/agents. A copyright symbol is considered amateurish and unnecessary by publishers and literary agents (unless self-publishing, of course).

 

This screenshot shows what your paragraph setting should look like for the story text:

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