How Should I
This month, we're going to answer the following question about formatting submissions:
I have had some conflicting advice on layout of picture book manuscripts. Some people have said that the manuscripts should be a continuous piece of writing. Other people have said that the manuscript should be broken up by spread numbers. I am trying to work out which is the right way.
It's important to research agent and publishers' submission guidelines carefully before submitting. Try to attend as many events as possible where you can make connections with agents and editors in person.
• It is in legible, 12pt type with large margins (KEEP IT SIMPLE - no fancy-pants type!)
• Double-spaced type
• Include your contact details in smaller type in a footer or header:
your name, contact email and phone number
• Number your pages
Research your format and target age range so that you pitch the word count and number of spreads in your picture book correctly.
Should you include spread breaks? It can be helpful to show an editor that you have worked out the spread breaks and page turns. These are not set in stone and will often change when you are fine-tuning the story with an editor and when an illustrator gets on board. It is definitely something you should try to do at home to work out whether the pacing of your story is as dynamic as you can make it.
TOP TIP: Make up a little dummy book and read your story aloud to see how the page turns are working. Is there enough tension? Is there a clear turning point? Do readers really care about the characters enough to go on a journey with them?
If you are confident about your page breaks, you can include them, numbered simply 1-12. If not, consider formatting your manuscript so that it looks like a picture book: break up the sentences into logical blocks, with shortish sentence line breaks, as if they were being placed in a picture book layout. Add extra spaces between blocks to indicate a pause. Sometimes, you can use bigger type to indicate a character shouting or a particularly dramatic turning point. Think of the editor/agent reading your manuscript for the first time and use clever page breaks in your manuscript. But avoid anything too fussy! Remember, you want people to be able to read your story unhindered.
Consider whether you really need to include illustration notes. If you absolutely must, you can include them in parenthesis, in smaller point type like this: (Illus: There was a whale in Billy's bucket!)
|From Billy's Bucket by Kes Gray/Garry Parsons|
one-line pitch hook for each of these to double-check that they are strong enough to stand out in the busy marketplace. You will need to include these in your cover letter. BREATHE! Put it all away for a while. Join a critique group, take a course, work with a literary consultant, get a 1-1 at the SCBWI conference, participate in PiBoldMo.
Consider QUERYing agents and editors to ask if you can submit your work. This is particularly important if, for example, you might have met them at an SCBWI event and you want to check if they will consider accepting unsolicited manuscripts from you. Send a short, professional letter pitching yourself and your work, asking if you might submit to them.
In the US, submission guidelines are different! For a start, the paper size is US Legal (instead of A4), plus American editors/agents do not like you to break up your manuscript into spreads. You need a cover sheet and your story should start 3/4 down the first page. So, if you're thinking of submitting to the US market, be sure to follow the formatting guidelines available from SCBWI in The Book.
Natascha Biebow is an experienced editor, mentor and coach, who loves working with authors and illustrators at all levels to help them to shape their stories. www.blueelephantstoryshaping.comCheck out the Cook Up a Picture Book Coaching Courses.