How to Format a Picture Book Manuscript: Go Easy On Your Publisher

After the disappointing rebuff of my first manuscript, I envisioned my queried publishing house to run the most intimidating, white-walled, hyper-efficient operation imaginable. Ruthlessly tidy women wearing their hair in tight, painful buns (pierced with pencils) hammering out scads of rejection letters....you get the idea. Now I believe otherwise - because I’m in a better place today.

I know what I’m about to suggest may sound completely wacky for most new authors preparing their first submission. I’ve come to this epiphany through deduction and personal experience: publishing staff members are people, too. Does that sound insane? It might to someone who has yet to receive positive word from a house. But I’ve been doing some research and am confident it is absolutely true.

The Slush Pile is Real

It’s taken 20+ years managing in a stressful production office environment to realize this. I’ve huffed the wisps of a falling ponytail from my eyes; sipped from a hardly-rinsed-and-rarely-washed coffee mug (you know that mug...the one with sardonic attitude about Mondays, lack of coffee, or both), suffered from stinging paper cuts (ah...those predigital days), and consumed tepid “heat-me-then-eat-me” microwavable fare several meals in succession. And I’ve heard tale about this “slush pile”, and know it’s not a myth.

So I must assume, they work in a stressful office environment too, yes? Absolutely.

Publishing staff are living, breathing human beings doing a job to support their families and drive profits for their company...and most pursued these careers because they love to see ideas manifested and shared. What’s wrong with that? Um...nothing. Nothing at all.

So let’s help them by not adding your work to the overflowing inbox of improperly-formatted manuscripts. Those are the ones earning a one-way ticket to the trash bin. And I don’t blame them one bit.

Take a stand. Do the right thing. Let your writing speak for itself; don’t muddy it up by trying to sell it with “creative” formatting and presentation. Get out of your own way and follow the rules.

Help your new publisher help you: learn how to format a picture book manuscript the right way.

First Things First

Assuming you’ve done your research on your targeted publishing company, you should know whether to prepare a cover letter, whether to submit via regular mail or email, and how to package your submission, where to send, and to whom. If you haven’t, make sure you do! Check out the yearly publication of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market for listings and submission guidelines. Do your homework!​

At Last, The Manuscript

Create a Microsoft Word or a Google document for the initial hard copy submission. If accepted by a publisher, .doc is a preferred file type for the final stages of formatting...because they will need to polish the native document for production. If submitting electronically, follow the publisher’s email submission guidelines.

Set up the file with the following format specifications:

  1. 12 - point serif font, easy to read. Suggestion: Times New Roman

  2. 1” margins

Title Page

  • Full name and address in upper left corner

  • Word count (rounded figure is fine) in upper right corner

  • Title centered middle of page

Manuscript Body Pages

  • Name and page number in header upper right

  • Page numbers and name in upper right (header), beginning with page 1 (Title page is not numbered)

  • Single-sided printing

  • Indents using ruler, not tabs

  • Left-justified

  • Double-spaced lines

  • Single space after sentence periods; this used to be two spaces, now it’s one.

  • Poetry in stanzas, with same spacing/formatting as above

  • Type the entire picture book text as a complete story...do not format using page breaks, or attempt to drive their opinion about how the story should flow in picture book format.

Packaging and Sending Your Manuscript

Your name and page number are at the top of every page and can be reassembled if separated. Resist the urge to bind the manuscript, and step away from the stapler. A paper clip is fine.

Once printed, most picture book texts aren’t too terribly long, so folding and sending in a #10 standard envelope is acceptable, unless a manila envelope is preferable.

Wrapping it all Up

So in conclusion, let’s review in plain and logical format “what publishers love” and “what publishers despise”. And think about it...you may not land a spot on their Christmas list by simply following the rules...but at least it’ll keep your manuscript out of File 13. That is definitely a plus!

What Publishers Despise:

  • Attempts to influence their opinion with anything but good writing

  • Lost or out-of-order pages with no name/page numbers

  • Font addicts submitting in their favorite new snazzy, tiny, giant or impossible-to-read font

  • Wrenching out staples with their fingernails

  • Submissions in hot pink envelopes with unicorn stickers

  • Emailed submissions unless requested

  • Over-emboldened and colored print, clip art or two-sided print bleed-through

  • Manuscript bound in construction paper, 3-hole punched, tied with fuzzy yarn for kindergarten appeal

  • Tabs for indents

  • Signed photographs of the author

  • Money bribes or gift cards

  • Formatting one sentence per page (as the author envisions the story to break)

  • Requests to text author personally when manuscript approved

  • When someone eats the food with their name on it in the office fridge

  • Watching everyone else in the office leaving at 5PM

What Publishers Love:

  • Snacks (But don’t send them any)

  • Hard-working interns and colleagues

  • Coffee in their favorite cup, like all civilized humans

  • Manila envelopes

  • Paper clips instead of staples. Or no fasteners at all.

  • One space after a sentence period.

  • 12 point Times New Roman, or any serif fonts that are modest and easy to read

  • Printing on one side page, double spaced, ½ “ paragraph indents. Double space even for poetry. Plain Jane. (Think: Vanilla. Not Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Peanut Buttery Swirl)

  • Ruler for indents

  • Email submission using proper guidelines: header, attachment, attachment file format

  • A really good story!

See...it’s not that difficult, following manuscript formatting rules, that is. The hard parts are writing, researching, waiting for a response...and taking rejection, because you’ll probably experience quite a bit of that. Rejection is normal in this business. Just don’t give up!

Do you have a great (or not so great) story about a manuscript submission? Please comment below!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

#slushpile #publishing #manuscript #picturebooks #childrensbooks

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