ask Tania: How should I lay out my manuscript?

Monday, 27 April 2015

Dear Tania,
My question is related to the layout of the manuscript [when submitting to publishers]. Do I present it with page breaks? Do I need to include a vision for the artwork? It is only 450 words long and anticipate that it will be approx 10 to 12 pages long. The story line is aimed at preschoolers.

Hi, Kristy,

Great question, and I do have some suggestions and guidelines.

The first is to carefully, meticulously research which publishers you wish to approach. It's vital that you do this, so you're not wasting their time--or yours! Publishers can take many, many months to get back to you, so ensuring you're hitting the right place, off the bat, is important.

The way to do this is to assess whether or not that publisher produces books along the same lines as your work. Once you've done this, check their website for their submissions process/requirements. If they are open to submissions, in the genre you've written in, submit it according to their guidelines. This is the best possible way to submit.

Having said that, there are general guidelines that are important for emerging authors.

The first is that you send manuscript ONLY. No images. An exception to this rule is if you have met a publisher at an event and have discussed the work, and they are happy to see both. Otherwise, only send the text.

You could send some kind of note on envisaged artwork but only if it's absolutely central to the story. Publishers generally like to appoint their own illustrators, and most don't like suggestions. If you are planning on illustrating the story yourself, you should absolutely mention this in your cover letter. Don't send any artwork, but simply state that you are an illustrator and are happy to show them your work if they would like to see it. You could also add a link to your work online, but that's it. Remember, succinct is best!

The standard way to send manuscripts is A4 paper (unless you're emailing), wide margins (3cm), double-line space, flowing text with natural paragraphs (no line breaks when not needed), left-hand justified, in a regular, readable font such as Courier, Times New Roman or Century Gothic. If your work is poetic/rhyming, you can send it in poetic stanzas.

Try to resist the urge to send your work in coloured text or exotic fonts, or with embellishments of any kind.

You can absolutely make notes on illustrations in the manuscript text but they should be really succinct, written under the accompanying text in italics or brackets. This should only be provided if the reader would not understand what's happening from the text alone. Too many illustration notes do impede your text. You need to trust the reader and rely on the fact that they will furnish their own interpretation from your words.

You can also do a very short informative intro if the manuscript requires any kind of explanation, but again, only if it's absolutely vital and central to the storyline, and if the reader won't understand it without the intro.

As for page breaks--short answer, no. Again, the reader wants to read a STORY. They don't want to be mucking around with page interruptions, unless, again, they're vital to the story in some way. As an emerging author, I would go with no page breaks, and once you're more established and understand how page breaks work, you could add some kind of division, as I do:

p1 verso: The first line of text in the story.

p2 recto: The second line of text in the story.


(Verso means left hand page. Recto means right hand page. I usually only do this if it's central to the story, though.)

Fundamentally, you want your story to be as easy to read as possible. You don't want the reader to be tripped up by anything much at all, other than the odd illustration note. When you trip up the reader, it does affect flow and enjoyment--and you want that editor to enjoy it!

450 words (or less!) for a picture book is perfect. Ideal, really, and it's actually a decent amount of text for a PB aimed at the very young. Ensure every word counts and earns its place. Be sure it doesn't just repeat what will be shown in illustration. Also ensure it inspires new and varied illustration on each double-page spread.

Book pages run by 8s. So a book can't be 10 pages (pages are counted by face not leaf--so a single leaf of paper is two pages). A book can only be 16 (which is too thin), 24 or 32, etc, the latter being standard. This is something you wouldn't need to worry about at submission stage, anyway.

I hope all this helps. Wishing you the best of luck with your submissions!

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