Tuesday 25 February 2014

How to Write and Illustrate a Picture Book Part 3 (of 6)

Picture Book Writing Course Part 3
How to Get Your Book Published

In the first two sessions we learnt what makes a great picture book and how to write one. In this third session we’re going to learn how to get it out into the world in the form of a real live BOOK.

Before you even consider this step though spend as MUCH time as possible edit, edit and editing again your work! Then put it in a drawer for a week, do something else for that week (this could be writing your next book) then get it out of the drawer and edit again with fresh eyes. Read it aloud. Read it to kids. Get other people who you trust have some writing/story telling skills to read it. Then edit it again. And when and only  when’s it’s PERFECT, submit it to publishers!

Here’s what you include in your submission package;

1. Covering Letter

- No longer than half a page of A4
- Set it out formally with your address, phone number and email clearly written (maybe a logo if you have one, especially if you’re an illustrator as well), their address , date etc.
- Find the name of person to write to (phone the publisher) OR address it to the ‘Commissioning Editor’
- Be BRIEF and PROFESSIONAL and include;
- WHY you’re writing to THEM (if possible flatter them - why their current book list is great etc.!)
- A brief description of your book - why it will appeal to readers - just a sentence to entice them to read on.
- Possibly include your target audience age, possibly a word-count
- A brief statement about you (Truth is they don’t care if you’re a primary school teacher with 12 kids of your own, an a-level in English Lit and a desperation to see your name in print. They only want to know that you are professional and approachable and the work will then speak for itself.)
- Factual housekeeping stuff - ‘I enclose a stamped SAE...’ and if you’re sending it to more than 1 publisher at a time write ‘this is a simultaneous submission’ If including illustrations say whether or not you are happy for your writing/art  to be considered separately.
- Closing statement ‘Thank you for your time and consideration’,
- Sign-off - sincerely/faithfully etc.

Here's a quick made-up example of one for my book Naked Trevor (I actually already had an agent so never had to send Naked Trevor out myself but you get the idea. Btw, If you want an agent the submission proceedure is very similar to a publisher, send them your manuscript and a covering letter briefly saying why you want to be with them and why they should be with you. Think of it as literary speed dating. )

- EDIT your cover-letter!! Make sure there are NO mistakes - names, spelling etc.
- Don’t be gimmicky (it won’t help your proposal if it’s written on pink perfumed paper and delivered by a clown) - it can look amateurish. This is your business proposal, not some frivolous hobby you want validated.

2. Manuscript
- Cover page - Nothing fancy, no images, just book title, your name, contact details, word count
- The main text should be typed in a plain black font (Helvetica/Times etc. - nothing fancy or distracting) at 11/12 pts
- Double-spaced (covering letter as well)
- Split in to double - page spreads. They need to know you’ve thought about fitting it onto 12/13 spreads and this helps them visualise the flow of the story. You can number your text for each page but I prefer to just use a short dividing line between each spread.
- Do NOT include illustrations unless you intend to illustrate the book. Commissioning Editors are very good at imagining the illustrations to accompany the submissions they read and they will want to be the one to pick an illustrator from their books to accompany your text should they take it on. So PLEASE don’t include some illustrations done by your Uncle who likes to dabble in watercolours of a weekend.
- Describe illustrations ONLY if necessary, i.e. If the text and the illustrations are purposefully at odds with each other eg. “What a peaceful day! Thought duck ” - illustration shows elephant with two large symbols about to be clanged together above duck’s head.” Or a book like Pat Hutchin's 'Rosie's Walk' where most of the action is visual and out of the main character's knowledge.
Use a smaller font in italics to do the describing so that it is not confused with the text itself.

- Header/footer should have your name and phone number/email
- Some publishers hate staples/ paperclips - some ask for it! Check. You can often find their submission guidelines on their website, or phone up and ask for them.

3. STAMPED self-addressed envelope  - Look at submission guides first - some (eg. WALKER) do not send mss back so ask for a letter-sized SAE only, others will want an envelope BIG enough for your manuscript and with appropriate postage on it. - Check first.

And then send it all off....

But who to??
This is where your first and ongoing homework comes in to play - visiting those libraries and children’s book departments in bookshops as often as you can and pouring over their wares. By doing this and getting in the habit of turning a book over and seeing who published it you will start to know who publishes what kinds of texts - and when you see a book in a similar style to your own, make a note of who published it and send your manuscript to them. Count how many spreads that publisher uses and tailor your manuscript to that number. Check their website to see if their submission guidelines are on there or even if they’re currently accepting submissions. Phone them to find out who to address your submission to. Do your research! Part of this research, by the way, should involve purchasing or borrowing from the library The Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook - it has the relevant names and addresses of every publisher and agent, submission guides, articles with advice etc.

I say go for it. There used to be a no-no on multiple simultaneous submissions, but frankly if you send it out one at a time you will have to wait 3 - 6 months to hear back from a publisher and the chances are the first few won’t pick up your text so before you know it a year or two has flown by and you’ve only sent it to 5 publishers. I think publishers now appreciate this and it’s more widely accepted but check they don’t mind first and always let them know in the covering letter. Oh and if you get an offer from a publisher let the other publishers you’ve sent it to know immediately. I also wouldn’t send to more than 4 publishers at a time, it just starts to seem rude if you’re indiscriminately sending it out to all publishers everywhere rather than picking the ones you love and think might be interested in your book. Plus it gets confusing.

And then... wait......  and wait.....
Check their submission guidelines for waiting times - as I say, this can be up to 6 months. But usually it’s ok to write again 3 months later very briefly, asking if they’d had a chance to look at your manuscript sent to them on (date) and again saying you’re looking forward to their reply! Don’t get pushy - don’t phone after a week hysterically begging for some feedback - remain professional throughout. Hide the tears.

Keep a record - THIS IS IMPORTANT. The chances are you will be sending different manuscripts to different publishers over several months so you must keep records - include the dates sent, to which publisher, when a follow-up letter can be sent, the response received. Most authors worth their salt have a tray of rejection letters from their early days. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, just badges of honour!

So what do you do while you’re waiting for your replies?? WRITE the next one!! Keep the ideas coming, keep sending out the submissions, learn from publisher's comments and rejections. You’ll soon find that whilst you thought your first idea was the best you’d ever have your new ideas far exceed it and are just getting better and better the more you write. Write for the love of writing, not for the love of getting published. Enjoy.

Next week - How to ILLUSTRATE a picture book part 1. See you then.


  1. Thank you so much Rebecca!

  2. It was all going so well until I got to your advice about not sending illustrations and allowing the Commissioning Editor to source the best match. I understand why this would be the case in terms of artistic direction, sector and market knowledge, experience etc. However, I'm embarking upon a project in partnership with a friend who is a professional, established illustrator. She's very talented and experienced, just not in children's picture books. We planned to work together but I am concerned that this might not be energy well spent. I know that we could self publish and sell through her existing online and 'real life' shop on a small scale but wondered what your opinion would be of approaching publishers following a collaborative process between writer and illustrator. Thank you.

    1. Hi there,
      I see that this comment was written over a year ago so a reply might be obsolete, but just in case! My sister and I have just had our first picture book published by Penguin Random House, she writes and I illustrate. We starting working together from the off and submitted (to agents rather than publishers) as a two-person author-illustrator, submitting illustrations alongside the text.
      I think the above only applies if you like to 'dabble' in illustration- if your friend's illustrations are GREAT, and up to the same standard as the writing, there's no reason not to send illustrations with the manuscript. As a note, most agents and publishers want to see a fully roughed out dummy book (very rough/line drawings is fine) plus 1-3 full colour 'complete' illustrations BUT NO MORE- they want to be able to give feedback on the full colour images, (plus the manuscript etc that Rebecca has listed above)
      I hope that helps!

      And thanks for this really useful post Rebecca!

      Lauren O'Hara x

    2. Hi there, if you ever see this comment would you elaborate on how you discovered agents or agencies to work with.

      Same question for Rebecca. The course is very informative btw, and still helpful after all these years.


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  5. Hello! I am Charlotte. First of all, thank you so much for sharing this course...it is an amazing input. I have a question to this post: You advised to check many things with the publishers. Where can I check, if they are cool with simultanious submissions or if they like pins and stuff? Are they writing that on their website?
    Have a great evening,

  6. Great advice Rebecca, as always!


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