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Submitting Your Manuscript

This is part of the online guide The Basics of Writing for Children, by Aaron Shepard, found on Aaron Shepard's Kidwriter Page. Excerpted and adapted from the booklet The Business of Writing for Children, Second Edition, by Aaron Shepard, Shepard Publications, 1997. Copyright (c) 1991-1997 by Aaron Shepard. May be freely copied and shared for any educational, noncommercial purpose.

Aaron Shepard

Submission Format
Submission Procedures

Submission Format

bulletSample Picture Book Manuscript Pages
Figure A. First page
Figure B. Second page
Submissions must be neat and legible. Use normal 20-lb. bond paper such as sold for photocopying. Print or type on one side only. Do not use colored paper. Do not staple or bind.

Use a simple 12-point type. (On typewriters and older word processing systems, this is called "pica" and prints at ten characters per inch.) Double-space your text and set margins all around of at least 1 inch. Full pages should average about 250 words. Do not "justify" your text; the right edge should be "ragged," or uneven.

First manuscript page: At top left, place your name, address, phone, fax, and email. At top right, place any important notations. For magazine pieces, this would include word count and rights being sold (usually First Serial Rights or Reprint Rights). One-third to halfway down the page, put your title, any subtitle, and your "byline" -- your name as you want it to appear on publication. These lines can be either centered or flush left. For a picture book or magazine piece, skip a line and start your story on the same page.

Other manuscript pages: At top left goes your last name and a key word or two from the title. At top right goes the page number. Do not place a copyright notice on your manuscript.

In a cover letter, you can tell the following: your story title, your qualifications (previous publications, work with children, SCBWI membership), intriguing background to the story, why it is being submitted to this editor/publisher, a reminder of previous contact. Be brief and do not retell the story. A resumé can replace much of this. A Post-It can often replace a cover letter.

If you are not an illustrator yourself, leave all illustration and design to the publisher. Do not find an illustrator on your own. Do not send sketches or a "dummy" (mock-up of the book) or indicate page turns. Do not write notes describing illustrations -- unless an essential element cannot be described in your text.

Send submissions in a full-size or half-size envelope. You must include an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) for return. Do not send a disk unless requested. Do not use gimmicks like perfume, balloons, recordings, etc.

Guard against loss. Never send your one and only manuscript copy.

Before submitting a manuscript, you may want to send a "query" -- a letter asking whether an editor is interested. Queries are most useful for nonfiction, less useful for fiction, and least useful for picture books. The query can include your qualifications, the manuscript's approach, its intended readership, and how it stands out from the competition. For a longer book, it can also include an outline/synopsis and one or two sample chapters. Querying may get you permission to submit to publishers that don't read "unsolicited" manuscripts. It can also be used to offer a choice of manuscripts. Include an SASE.


Submission Procedures

Don't send out anything before getting it critiqued by professionals or peers.

Study the markets by reading current children's books and noting the publishers; by writing to publishers for their catalogs; and by studying market guides.

You can get editor names from market guides or by calling the publisher. (For best luck, try the marketing department rather than editorial.) Addressing your submission to a specific editor raises your chances of a speedy and/or personal response. On the other hand, your manuscript might otherwise be routed to a more suitable editor.

For picture books, you might combine two manuscripts in one submission. This saves time and postage, and shows you are not a single-book writer.

Keep a careful record of each submission. Include publisher, editor addressed (if any), submission date, editor replying (if any), and response.

Publisher bans of "unsolicited" (unrequested) manuscripts are often meant only to discourage amateur writers. A professional-level submission addressed to a specific editor will normally get at least a glance -- even if the reply denies this.

"Multiple submissions" -- manuscripts sent to a number of publishers for simultaneous consideration -- are now accepted by most publishers without stigma. For beginning writers, I recommend submitting a manuscript to at least three publishers at once. A beginning writer can safely submit to more than one imprint at a publishing house.

Most publishers ask to be informed when a submission is multiple. This is really up to you, but it is considered common courtesy, and in most cases there is no reason to avoid it. Notice can be given in a cover letter, on a Post-It, or at top right on the first manuscript page. Use a tactful phrase like, "This is one of several circulating copies." If one publisher accepts your manuscript, be sure to inform the other publishers promptly.

Even a great story can be rejected for reasons outside your control. But consider carefully whether the problem might be in your manuscript. If so, you can revise and resubmit.

Since most rejections are form letters, a signed, personal rejection note from an editor should be taken as encouragement. You will probably want to submit to that editor again. But if you don't like what the editor said, you can submit instead to a different editor at that house or imprint.

If you get no reply in three or four months, you might write or call to check the status of your manuscript. (When writing, it helps to include a self-addressed, stamped postcard.) If you are submitting multiply, there is little point in withdrawing a manuscript, though a threat do so shortly may get it read. Remember, editors are no more efficient or responsible than anyone else!

After sending off one manuscript, work on another. Submit often to the same publishers/editors to build recognition and credibility. Think in terms of career, not single books.

In all things, be professional. Writing is art, but marketing is business!

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