You’ve always wanted to do it, and now you finally have. It’s an exhilarating, wonderful feeling, and you have every reason to feel proud. You’ve written that children’s picture book-and you’re fired up and ready to publish.
Before you slip your manuscript into an envelope or upload it to a self-publishing service, please pause to ask yourself these important questions:
- Do I understand the market, including what is acceptable and what is not for children’s picture books?
- Do I know what’s likely to result in an instant rejection letter?
- Have I formatted my manuscript in the style expected for submission?
- Do I have a clear understanding of narrative and character arc? Is mine as strong as it needs to be?
- Do I know what an acceptable word count is for a children’s picture book? Is my word count within limits?
- Am I familiar with the devices commonly used by picture book authors to make the language sing and speak to young audiences?
- If my text is written in rhyming verse, am I sure I haven’t made any of the typical errors made by writers of verse, those guaranteed to turn off an editor?
- Do I have a firm grasp of POV, showing-not-telling, tense, and voice?
- Is my manuscript free of grammatical errors and typos?
- Have I allowed enough time for revision?
- Do I know how many pages there are in a children’s picture book? Have I considered the standard picture book structure?
- Do I understand the relationship between illustrations, text, and page design? Do I know how to think like an illustrator and use a storyboard, and do I know why that’s important?
- Should I be submitting illustrations with my text?
- Do I really need these illustration/art notes?
- If I’m illustrating the project myself, do I know how to go about it and what is expected of a professional illustrator’s submission? Do I know what to include in my portfolio?
- Do I know the dos and don’ts of writing a knock-out cover letter?
- Do I know how to approach children’s book publishers and target my submission to publishers or agents right for me?
If your answer to any of these questions is no, then your project or cover letter may well need revision. Editors’ to-read piles are overflowing with manuscripts by writers who haven’t taken these aspects into account. Publishers—and some literary agents—are closing their doors against the swelling tide of unsolicited submissions. Those still accepting unsolicited submissions are unlikely to read far into a poorly formatted manuscript, let alone a story that starts in the wrong place on the narrative arc. Writers who haven’t taken these aspects into account will almost invariably receive a quick rejection. And if you plan on self-publishing, then high-quality traditionally published books are your competition in the marketplace. Is your project ready to compete?
Picture books are a unique sector of the broad children’s book market, and picture book editing is a highly specialized skill. Picture books require an editor with a keen understanding of:
- the market
- the relationship between image and word
- picture book structure and requirements
- picture book specific styles, language, and voice
- as well as more technical aspects such as narrative structure and POV
The right editor—a picture book specialist—will give your picture book manuscript the very best chances of acceptance by an agent or publisher or increase your self-published project’s chances of success.
MARLO GARNER writes, illustrates, and edits children’s books and teaches writing and revision workshops.