Ask a Picture Book Editor

How Should I
                                              My Picture Book Submission?

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.

As a rule of thumb, when reviewing picture books in the UK, agents, editors and publishers will want to see the whole manuscript.

Make sure:

• 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
Agents and Publishers are also looking to see that you're not a 'one-trick pony' so they will want to know that you have a body of work. So, TAKE YOUR TIME!

Instead of rushing to submit, write and polish several picture book ideas and work up a 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.

Good luck!

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.
Check out the Cook Up a Picture Book Coaching Courses.


  1. Less of a pithy reaction and more of a thumbs-up for a great post - all of the above can't be re-stated often enough - many thanks!

  2. thanks for an interesting post. I didn't know about the paper size differences between USA and UK. Useful tips!

  3. The Interim Management Assignment Lifecycle acts as a guide for interim managers and employers, setting out clear stages of progression for an upcoming contract. This article goes through each stage and what it entails. See more apa annotated bibliography title page

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.