AUTHOR MASTERCLASS: Standing out in the Picture Book Slushpile with Ellie Brough

Breaking into the world of children’s publishing is a daunting task as a newcomer, so I was really looking forward to hearing from expert editor Ellie Brough of Maverick Children’s books about the mysterious world that lies on the other side of submitting to publishers; do all manuscripts really plop into a pile of slush? We were about to learn the truth, along with a heap of tips to help our work stand out from the crowd.

Ellie had stepped in at the last minute with this Masterclass when the original advertised class had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. With the organizational help of SCBWI volunteers, Alison Smith and Cath Jones, it turned out to be a feast of information at the sunny Theodore Bullfrog pub near Charing Cross Station.

Ellie kicked off by introducing us to Maverick and their catalogue of humorous picture books and early readers. Ellie is responsible for reading all submissions that come in and her no-nonsense candor and enthusiasm ensured she was perfectly placed to provide an excellent insight into what is involved in dealing with the slushpile mountain. 

Ellie confirmed that Maverick’s “slush-pile” is not a swamp of forgotten dreams, but a tidy email list of everything they receive. They get up to a staggering 4,000 submissions a year and Ellie explained how the joy of finding that perfect gem makes all the reading worthwhile. Competition is intense, so how could we make sure our work stood out?

Ellie had some practical tips:
  • “Title is King” is Maverick founder’s Steve Bicknell’s mantra. A great title can help skip any queue.
  • An easy to read manuscript – an editor needs to quickly assess the work so use a clear font at around 12pt. 
  • A clear covering letter – your story will show you are creative so a covering letter just needs to be professional and to introduce the title of your story, how long it is and some key facts about yourself including why you are passionate about writing stories for children.
  • Understand who you are submitting to – don’t fail at the first hurdle; follow a publisher’s submission guidelines and match your work to the publisher.
Ellie explained the next steps; if selected, your story will then be taken to an editorial meeting. The Maverick team reviews around twenty works at a time by reading aloud the manuscripts, so your work needs to make them sit up and listen! If Maverick offers you a contract, the inevitable further rounds of editing begin and only after much collaboration between author, illustrator and publisher is the book finally ready for print.

After a quick lunch we got down to some exercises in storyboarding, working first with our own manuscripts and then with a Maverick title, Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip by Lou Treleaven, illustrated by Julia Hatton. Having worked as a storyboard artist, I am endlessly intrigued by what we discover about our stories when we translate them into images; are they the right length for a picture book? Is there enough action and changes in location to be interesting? How can the spreads and all important page breaks be used to heighten the story?

Ellie then took us through examples of what a good manuscript looked like at submission stage; spreads should be clearly numbered, the text broken up like the final picture book, illustration notes included in brackets at the bottom of each spread. Such touches demonstrate that the author clearly understands picture books.

At the end of the session, we had a chance to pick Ellie’s brains in the Q&A before she left us with an all-important checklist to help us prepare our future submissions. Being new to the industry but with a mission to find a publisher for my “Monster Park” books, this Masterclass was an invaluable tour of the inside workings of a publisher with practical advice on giving our submissions the best chance possible. Thank you Ellie!
From being a boy who endlessly made puppets, Rob Glenny went on to study film and work as a storyboard artist, director and character designer for music videos and children’s brands including Bafta nominated “Strange Hill High” for CBBC. 

A newcomer to the world of publishing, he is putting heart and soul into bringing his passion project “Monster Park” to life, a picture book series of eight heartfelt adventures inspired by his goddaughter. 

Rob lives with his partner in Bermondsey with a dining table that is now transformed into a haven of half finished puppets, paintings and all things monstery!


  1. Thanks for this fantastically helpful write up of the master class Rob. I've just recently finished my first children's picture book so this will provide lots of food for thought. It's already been suggested to me that my title of 'Buffaloes on the bed' may have to change.' I didn't realise how much work the writer had to put into choosing the illustrations as I'd heard that publishers often want to use their own illustrator, though I guess it helps if you share your own ideas first. Monster Park sounds great! My wife and I have recently become God parents to a brother and sister so I'm looking forward to how they may inspire me. Thanks again. Martin

  2. Thanks, Rob, very inspiring and Monster Park looks fantastic. Good luck, I hope you find a publisher very soon!


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