Submitting to Publishers A Guide for Picture Book Authors

I occasionally get requests from children’s book authors wanting me to help with sketches or dummy book layouts of their manuscripts that they can then submit to traditional publishers and agents, trying to sell their picture book. As a general rule, this is a bad idea.

Unless you are an author/illustrator who is also trying to sell your art along with the writing, you really don’t need to submit any drawings or art. Simple descriptions written out in the manuscript will suffice, if they’re needed at all. Most of the time it’s a moot point, because:

  • Publishers like to choose their own illustrators. You are not selling them a book. You are selling them a story or perhaps a story idea. When they purchase it, it is theirs and they will assign their own artists and editors and turn it into a book. And yes, you will be credited, and receive payment, but they will own it.
  • Sending art can backfire. They may love your manuscript, but hate the art. They will assume that it is a package deal and turn it down, no questions asked. Some publishers will see art, and reject the package outright without even reviewing the manuscript. And you won’t really know, because standard rejection letters are just that ... standard, rarely an explanation.
  • Publishers and agents know how to interpret a manuscript. They see hundreds of manuscripts just like yours every week. Many new authors are overly concerned with simple submissions and can get carried away trying to explain “what they meant”. Keep it uncluttered, simple and professional.
  • Use these guidelines for any kind of chidren’s publishing ... maybe you don’t have a book, but would like to submit stories or articles to children’s or parents’ magazines. These same guidelines will apply.

A children’s picture book manuscript is a strange thing. If you were writing a novel, you might have 300 typed pages to send ... a nice substantial package to ship off to an editor! But a picture book manuscript, depending on the targeted age range, may only be a few pages long. Maybe just one page ... it kind of feels like you’re not sending enough! But, it’s just a feeling, and feelings aren’t facts! Resist that urge to pretty it all up, and keep it clean and simple.

Below is a sample of a one-page manuscript submission. Explanations will follow. If your manuscript is more than one page, simply continue the text flow to subsequent pages, making sure you’ve numbered your pages and have your name, contact info, story title and page numbers at the top of every page.

Sample Submission Page
  1. Name and Contact Information need to be at the top left of every page.
  2. Page Numbers and Story Title need to be at the top right of every page. Include current page number and total number of pages on every page. Even if it’s only 1 page.
  3. Story Title and Author Name centered above narrative text. While it won’t hurt anything, it’s not necessary to bold or italicize the title. The simpler and cleaner you can keep this, the better.
  4. Story Narrative Flush left, ragged right. Flow to additional pages if necessary.
  5. Illustration Description to explain what illustrations should depict. This is NOT NECESSARY on a story like this sample! But useful for manuscripts that are scant on text and heavy on pictures. If you need it, this is how to insert it. Unless you are a professional illustrator trying to peddle your art along with the manuscript, DO NOT attempt to sketch what you are trying to depict. Describe it with words.
  6. THE END centered at the end, under the narrative text. Confirms the manuscript is complete.

On All Manuscripts:

  • Use 12 point type, double spaced (24 point leading). Use a common, sans serif font like Arial or Helvetica. Do not double space between sentences. Letter-size paper, 8.5”x11”
  • For electronic submissions, send a PDF file (or whatever the publisher requests). Any system can open these files and it will eliminate potential conflicts over font or program issues. Word and text files will be fine later if your story is accepted and they need the copy. Then they will inform you of what formats to send.
  • If your manuscript has multiple pages, DO NOT STAPLE THE PAGES! This makes scanning/reading through multiple manuscripts more efficient for the editors. But not stapling is going to feel a bit counter-intuitive for some. Resist the urge to staple! And remember to add page numbers ... see Item 2 above.
  • Include a cover letter. Business letter format. Your cover letter should briefly introduce yourself to the editor and give them a short synopsis of your story, why you wrote it, and why readers will find it important, valuable or entertaining. This letter is also the place to let them know if you’re making multiple submissions ...
  • Multiple submissions – this is when you send the same manuscript to more than one publisher, editor or agent at the same time. This seems like a good idea to an anxious writer getting frustrated with the lengthy response time of many editors. But, while probably not taboo, I wouldn’t recommend it. What if you get responses from more than one editor, all wanting to buy your story? Awkward! And you will be the one looking unprofessional! I’m sure there are special circumstances where you might want to do this, but I recommend erring on the side of caution and not doing it at all. If you do decide to do this, make certain that every cover letter alerts every editor you submit to that you have done it.
  • If sending a manuscript snail-mail, include a SASESelf Addressed Stamped Envelope – for their response. This is most important if you would like your manuscript returned. Editors get stacks of manuscripts everyday, and you probably won’t get any response at all if you don’t supply this. Also, make certain that the return envelope and postage is adequate for whatever material you’d like returned.

Do Your Homework!

Know who you are sending to and what they require regarding submissions.

Today, this is easier than ever with the internet and Google. 95% of the publishers or agents you will be submitting to have a website that will have a page covering submission requirements from authors and illustrators. For the other 5%, you may need to send a letter of inquiry to pitch your story idea to find out if they are interested, and how to submit a manuscript to them.

For any publisher you submit to, go over their submission guidelines carefully. You are looking for:

- Names and addresses of people or departments where you’ll need to send your submission.

- If they accept submissions via email or snail mail.

- If they are even accepting submissions at the time.

- What format and guidelines they want regarding submissions.

Finally, go to a bookstore or library, or the online bookstore on their website. See what genres and styles that publisher produces. They will usually state plainly in their submission guidelines things like: no talking animals; no religious themes; illustrations need to depict a wide spectrum of ethnicities. If your genre and style don’t fit their guidelines, DO NOT SUBMIT to that publisher! You will be wasting their time and your time, and will mark yourself as an amateur. There are plenty of publishers, and many of those do publish your genre and style, so go find those publishers!

Be P-a-t-i--e---n----t

It’s like watching paint dry ... and grass grows much faster ... waiting for that response to come back!

Editors are busy people. They get dozens of submissions every day. They can only read so much in a day.

So you get busy, too! Start that next story. Go do some research and learn more about your craft. Find out how to market yourself. Take a writing class. Set up an account on social media. Write a blog. Plan a website. Go read to children at the local library.

Do anything but wonder constantly if today’s the day ... it will only make you nuts.

When the response comes – trust me, it will – if you’ve been accepted, Congratulations! There’s nothing else I can say! You’ve done it!

But if the dreaded rejection slip shows up, just know you’re in good company and don’t get discouraged. From Dr. Seuss to Stephen King, it’s happened to the best.

Get up, dust yourself off, find another publisher, and send it out again!

A few final thoughts for my fellow writers and artists, for what it’s worth:

  1. Believe in yourself and your work.
    If it’s good work, keep at it.
    If you need to improve, keep studying, keep learning, and keep trying!
  2. Validate yourself.
    There’ll be no shortage of critics. Listen to them. Evaluate their input.
    There’ll be no shortage of fans. Listen to them. Evaluate their input.
    If it’s valid, heed their critism/advice/praise. If it’s not valid, ignore it.
    You’re not the best. You’re not the worst. Just be YOU!
  3. Do your best today.
  4. Get up tomorrow and do it all again!

Now put that manuscript in the mail!

Then, while you’re waiting, go create something beautiful to share with the rest of us!