As an editor, I have been asked to give talks about my job and the editorial process for a variety of organizations. I’ve spoken for critique groups, conferences, and classrooms of all types — from graduate seminars in publishing to first-grade Career Days. I love being asked to speak about my job to anyone who wants to listen. Making books is such a strange and satisfying process, and it’s fun giving folks a peek behind the scenes of their favorite titles.

I really enjoy giving one talk in particular: “Picture Book Dos and Don’ts: From talking pets to rhyming texts, learn what editors are really looking for — and really not looking for — in a picture book manuscript.” I know that there must be some aspiring authors out there in the Barefoot Books community, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorite picture book tips with you.

DO consider the illustration possibilities of your text.
There are plenty of manuscripts out there that work great as text alone, but don’t work well as picture books, because there’s nothing fun to illustrate. Think about what your book will look like when it’s finished. What kinds of pictures would be on each page? Is there enough action and variety in the text for the artist to illustrate? If not, your text might need to change.

DON’T forget to be inclusive in your depiction of races, genders, bodies and types of families.
Be sure to include characters of all races, genders, abilities and body sizes and shapes into your manuscript, along with families of all different kinds. The best way to be truly inclusive is to integrate all different types of characters into the story without calling attention to how they differ from one another.

DO include lots of specific sensory details.
Even the simplest manuscript needs vivid sensory details to pull the audience in. Make sure that all of the five senses — touch, taste, sight, smell, and sound — are represented in your manuscript with specific vocabulary. What sounds more delicious: a cup of tea, or a steaming mug of dark, spicy tea?

When you’re done with your draft, DO read your text out loud. Many times.
Picture books are generally meant to be read aloud, so it’s important to make sure that your text has the right rhythm and feel for a satisfying storytime. And there’s no better way to gauge the readability of your story than reading it out loud. A lot. Read it to your family. Read it to your friends. Read it to the people on your subway car. Pay attention to the parts that are tricky to say properly, or the parts that fail to captivate your audience, and fix them!

DO know who you’re submitting to and what they’re looking for.
When it comes time for you to submit your manuscript to an agent or an editor, do your research first. Find out what kinds of books your contact represents or publishes. If your manuscript doesn’t fit the bill, don’t bother! Be sure to read the submission guidelines carefully and follow them exactly. Don’t submit digitally if they want manuscripts via snail mail, or vice versa. If you can’t find submission guidelines for an organization, chances are that they are not accepting manuscripts right now. (Pro tip: the most up-to-date information about the submissions policy for Barefoot Books can be found on the Contact Us page on our site.)

And if you don’t know where to start…

DO read as many picture books as you can get your hands on.

DON’T forget to find time to write and read every day to keep your skills honed.

DO find other writers to share your work with.

DON’T give up! Children’s publishing is very competitive, but everyone has to start somewhere!

I hope these tips have been helpful for all of you aspiring authors out there!

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