Sunday, August 17, 2014

Writing a Picture Book? Don’t Do These Things

A while back I posted Querying a Picture Book? Don't Do These Things because I get a lot of picture books submissions from people who *gasp* apparently don't do their research. (As most of you reading know, I am not an agent or a publisher.) Many times these people submitting their work to me send their manuscripts as well. I see a lot of common mistakes in those too. 

You have got to have a strong manuscript to compete in today's market! And good format? It's a must in my opinion. Here are some things to think about along with some big no no's when it comes to picture book manuscripts:
  • Don’t write in rhyme--unless you have worked extremely hard at it and are very good at it. No, I don’t mean that you just think you are good at it. You have studied the rules of rhyme. You have gotten critiques. You are all Corey Rosen Schwartz and YOU KNOW RHYME like a boss! (Check out The Meter Maids for some great rhyming advice.)
  • Do not over describe things. You need to leave room for the illustrations. Pictures are at least half of the story in picture books.
  • Don't overuse adverbs and adjectives. 
  • Do not number what you see as the pages of your book within your manuscript.That's great while you're figuring out your page turns. (You can dummy like this. Or like this.) Editors and agents who work in picture books can see where the page turns will be if you have done a good job. Use standard manuscript format.
  • Do not use colored ink! No, not even to show where there are different speakers. Again, if you have done your job well, those you are querying will be able to follow the story perfectly fine in black and white.
  • Don’t be didactic. If you don’t know what that word means, no, you are not ready to query.
  • Do not write “to be continued” and list other manuscripts at the bottom of your manuscript. That’s just silly. You want the reader to focus on the manuscript they have right there, right now in front of them. You sell that one and you’ll have the opportunity to talk about more.
  • Don't write THE END at the end of the story. It is obviously the end as the story has, um, ended.
  • Don’t put a copyright on the manuscript. Once you write something down it is automatically copyrighted. Doing so just makes you look like an amateur.
And for heaven’s sake, proofread your manuscript. Revise. Edit. It makes your writing better. Really. It does.

Any questions? Or other things you've seen in manuscripts that are no no's? I'm sure there are more things we could add to the list!


  1. Hi! Great post of things to keep in mind before submitting!

  2. Some great, great advice. And I can say the market has changed a whole lot over the years. There are books that I wrote some time ago that would have worked back then...but now? Not so much!

  3. Thanks Crystal!

    So true Deb. I know that sometimes when I'm reading older picture books I think "this would never be published today" but, they're still good! That's why it's so important to read current picture books. Gotta keep up on the market!