Sunday, June 29, 2014

Formatting Picture Books

When you're ready to send your picture book out on submission, using the correct format is important. There are standards you need to follow, although things can vary a bit. Here's how I format mine:
  • Standard 8 1/2 x 11" paper size
  • Set margins to 1 to 1 1/2 inches
  • Times New Roman 12 point font
  • Black ink only
Single Space for:
  • Header - 1st page, left:
Street Address
City, State, Zip Code
Phone number
Email address
  •  Header - 1st page, right
Word count: (enter number)
  • Drop down 14 spaces (you  generally want do be about halfway down the page)
  • Enter Title
  • Drop down two spaces and put by (so there is one space between Title and by)
  • Drop down another two spaces and put your name
  • Drop down four spaces
Switch to double spacing
  • Begin manuscript
You want your manuscript in paragraph form. Don't break it up into published book pages as you see them. Agents and Editors who know picture books have a keen eye for page turns and illustratable images.

Header for the rest of the manuscript pages (use the option for different first page when formatting your header)
  • Left - In Italics Last Name/Manuscript Title 
  • Right - Page Number (also in italics, use the option for page numbering and it will automatically put the correct number on your page)
That's it! Pretty simple once you get the hang of it. You could even get all fancy and make yourself a template if you wanted to.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Monster List of Picture Book Agents - John Cusick of The Greenhouse Literary Agency

Update 7/1/2015 - John has moved to Folio Literary Management and is only seeking picture book author-illustrators.

John Cusick is an agent at The Greenhouse Literary Agency where he joined in 2013. Before that, he was an agent at Scott Treimel NY. He's also the author of GIRL PARTS and CHERRY MONEY BABY.

John's current agency is a great one. Headed up by veteran agent Sarah Davies, the transatlantic agency has a fantastic approach to agenting. They also host the yearly Greenhouse Funny Prize. You can read what Greenhouse Literary strives to offer their clients: here.

John has kindly put a list of his interviews on his blog.

Update: 7/24/2014 - John was kind enough to do a picture book centered interview with me! He gives loads of great details on what he's looking for and how he works. And I have to tell you that he is a super nice guy! Go read our interview. You'll learn lots.

Some of the best picture book-centric info I could find was in this interview at SCBWI Squam Lake Writing Retreat where John said, "I’ve also just opened to picture book submissions, so the right pithy, character-driven story is high on my wish-list." 

He said he sees too many queries about "the power of imagination" in this super informative Query. Sign. Submit. interview at I Write for Apples.

And he has some great advice in his interview at Kathy Teaman's blog.

John is pretty active on Twitter @johnmcusick

You can read some of John's response times on Querytracker.

John Cusick represents:
Chana Stiefel, her picture book DADDY DEPOT will be published by Feiwel & Friends in 2016.
Vin Vogel whose debut picture book THE THING ABOUT YETIS is scheduled to be published by Dial BFYR in 2015.

Please see the submission guidelines at Greenhouse Literary if you are interested in submitting. At the time of this posting John's submission guidelines at Publisher's Marketplace look like they need to be updated (I always go with the agency page's guidelines!) but his #1 submission requirement is always true: "Make sure your work is absolutely as good as you can make it. Revise, critique (repeat, repeat) before sending. Don’t waste your opportunity!"

This post is part of the Monster List of Picture Book Agents. If you have any changes that you think should be made to this listing, please contact me or leave them in the comments. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Querying a Picture Book? Don’t Do These Things

It may come as a shock to you, but I get a lot of queries for picture books. It certainly comes as a shock to me! I’m not an agent or an editor and I think that is pretty clear on my blogs and all of the social media I do. I like to think that people work on their writing ad nauseam to make it the very best they can before submitting. I also like to think that people do their research and make the very best decisions they can when deciding who to send to, then work hard to put together a great query letter. I have learned firsthand that this is unfortunately not the case.

When you get a lot of query letters you start to see some common mistakes. Oh I have seen some doosies! For some of you these types of things in a query may be hard to believe, but they definitely happen. A lot. For those of you learning how to make you query the best it can be, here are some things you want to avoid:
  • Do not send queries out to random addresses. Study the people you want to query. Make sure they are an agent or editor who works with books in the genre you have written. Also make sure they are accepting queries. Check their submission guidelines and follow them! They are there to help you.
  • Do not address your query Dear Agent. It is pretty easy to learn about agents online (my Monster List of Picture Book Agents is a good place for picture book writers to start). Use the standard Dear Mr./Ms. greeting along with the person's last name. This goes for when querying editors at publishing houses as well although I will say that every once in a while it can be difficult to find out who any of the editors are at a publishing house. But, this is few and far between. In the rare case that you have exhausted all of the research outlets and have found nothing, it is okay to use Dear Editor. Or when a publishing house specifies to use that, which I have seen as well.
  • Do not talk about what your illustrations or character will look like. Once you sell a manuscript, if you are not the illustrator, you generally have no say in this matter. The publishing company will pair the manuscript with an illustrator they believe will best bring the story to light. The illustrator is a partner in your book. They get to have their own creative input into the story. In your query, showing what your story is about with a good hook and description of your book is the way to make readers see the story in their mind.
  • Do not talk about how many books in the series you have written, or plan to write, and make yourself sound like a starry-eyed dreamer who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. The first book needs to be published…first. Focusing on the one story is very often the best way to go. Of course, mentioning that there is series potential is okay, if you feel strongly about it. Some non-fiction books are published in series so there are definitely exceptions to this rule. Do your homework, learn about the different types of children’s books that are published, by who, and how. It will go a long way when figuring out how to query something when you think it has series potential. But keep in mind, many picture books that have gone on to become series came from that one great first book.
  • Do not talk about having stuffed animals and accessories to go along with the book, or films or television series that will stem from it. When you sell a manuscript to a publishing house they want the book, first and foremost. Agents know that too. Other things will come later, in the rare case that they come at all.
  • Do not tell the person you are querying that this is the first book you have written. You don’t want them to roll their eyes and think “obviously!”
  • Don’t talk about other things you have written that have not gotten published. The mere fact that you have written them doesn’t make them good. If you have had something published give the title, publisher, and date of publication. Hiding your credentials in a wishy-washy statement like I have had a piece published in a magazine isn’t working in your favor.
  • Do not tell the person you are querying that you want the book to be well done or professional. They are professionals. If you are querying them they can only assume that you have researched the sort of product they put out and like what they do. Trust in that, otherwise you are just being insulting.

Of course, there is a time you can ask questions and go over things like whether or not your book will be published as a hardcover or softcover(for editors), or what the submission strategy will be for the book(for agents) and you can decide whether or not to sign the contract based on the responses. But don’t ask these things before you have an offer. You aren’t going to get an answer.

Most picture book submissions come along with the manuscript as well. I will post about some of the common mistakes I see in picture book manuscript submissions soon!