Tania McCartney, the agony aunt of children's literature, offers words of wisdom. She will be posting every fortnight. Send an email with your questions to Tania at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m a mum of two small kids and an aspiring children’s book writer. I have written two picture books but want to get them in really good shape before sending to a publisher. Can you give me some ideas on how to best prepare a manuscript?
Hi Karen – congratulations on finishing two picture books! That’s wonderful and I wish you luck submitting to publishers. Here are my top tips for getting a manuscript in shape before submitting.
Let the pictures do the talking – don’t say what the pictures can show. Less text is more.
Read your work out loud and listen to the rhythm and flow. ‘Hear’ the beat as you read, and adjust words as necessary.
Don’t rhyme unless you do it infallibly (few do it well). Rhythm and beat is just as important as word rhyme. Don’t use odd word placement just to make rhyme.
Is your ‘voice’ dynamic and interesting?
Never talk down to the reader. Use big words and NEVER hammer morals home. If you must use them, thread them through the story imperceptibly.
Informing children on physical and mental issues and conditions needs to be done cryptically and cleverly. Add humour, an unexpected storyline and most of all – subtlety.
Consider the plot. A story can either be cyclical or have a beginning, middle and ending. Showing someone going about their day is not a story, it’s an account. Write a story, not an account.
Think outside the square. Cover unusual topics, with untouched themes. Do something DIFFERENT.
Steer away from monsters, fairies, trucks, mud, grandma, rainbows, farmyard animals, dogs and other overdone topics.
Detailed or superfluous illustration notes absolutely do hamper your text. Only supply notes if the text is very cryptic and needs ‘explaining’, and even then – make notes extremely short.
Is your story clear and simple? Be wary of submitting something you’re so close to, it’s indecipherable by anyone else.
Have an ending. An ending needs to be shocking, surprising, funny, quirky or in some way resolving and/or related to the plot. Go out on a top note, not a head-scratching kerplunk.
Tania McCartney is an author of both adult and children’s books. She is the founder of Kids Book Review and is an ambassador for the National Year of Reading 2012. Her latest titles include Riley and the Grumpy Wombat and Beijing Tai Tai. Her first book with New Frontier will be out in 2013. You can follow Tania on Twitter.
Do you have a question for Tania? She will answer questions fortnightly on anything to do with children’s literature, from creating it to finding the perfect reads for your kids. Send your questions to email@example.com.
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