Submitting Picture Books

Submitting picture book texts isn’t all that different to submitting other types of manuscripts. You have to do your homework first — ie identify which publishers do *your* kind of picture book. You can begin this process by looking up publishers in Literary Market Place (a huge tome available in the reference section of most public libraries and also available as an online subscription).

Please don’t think that you can just google it instead. What you’ll get by doing that are listings of vanity presses out to scam beginning writers. The thing to keep in mind is that money flows to the writer, not away from the writer, so any entity purporting to be a “publisher” or “agent” who wants payment upfront is not to be trusted.

Once you have a shortlist of potential publishers, check their websites and scan through their book catalogue, taking particular note of books they’ve published in the last year or two. You want to make sure they’re still active and you want to familiarize yourself further with the kinds of books that they do to ensure they’re the right fit for you.

On most publishers’ websites there’s a link called “submissions” but often you’ll have to look hard for it. Look on the contact page or the very bottom of the web page. Publishers will be explicit about their requirements. Some will only take submissions via email and some will only take by snail mail. Follow each publisher’s instructions carefully.

Now, what to send. Most large and medium sized publishers will not take unsolicited manuscripts, so the key is to become solicited. You’ll want to write a well crafted query letter that is no longer than one page. In the letter you’ll mention a one line synopsis of your story, who the targeted market is, the length, and why this particular publisher would be interested in it (ie say something like, “In the tradition of your previous picture books, YOUNG MOTHER and THE APPLE, my story ____, appeals to ___). If you’ve published before, mention what and when in your query too. If you’ve published lots, condense (ie hundreds of my children’s stories have appeared in ___ over the years). And of course, if it’s a snail mail query, you’ll send a SASE. Queries can be sent out in multiples — aim to send out about a dozen a week for awhile. Most of the publishers you query in this way will send you a form letter or email stating that they’re not looking at manuscripts for picture books at the present time. This is why you have to send out lots. Hopefully, a few publishers will be intrigued enough with your query to request the manuscript. Make sure that you refer to the fact that they have *requested* your manuscript when you reply. You also may wish to give an exclusive for a limited time on said manuscript (this gives you an excuse to contact the person when the time limit is up — not a bad thing). The actual manuscript that you send in at this time must be professionally done. DO NOT include pictures or photographs — it’s the mark of an amateur. One of the worst things to do is to go out and hire your sister-in-law to paint some lovely pictures to go with your book ….Your story *must* stand on its own sans pictures. Children’s book editors have good imaginations and will be able to visualize without you supplying anything extra.

The format is regular manuscript format.


Depending on the targeted market, a picture book is generally anywhere between 50 words to 1000 words. My picture book Adrift at Sea is 1000 words and is geared towards 5 to 8 year olds, while When Mama Goes to Work clocks in at 350 and is geared towards 3 to 6 year olds.


You want to use the simplest word possible that still conveys the proper meaning. The simplest picture books have a controlled vocabulary, but the longer ones have more flexibility. Interestingly, the picture books on the upper end of the age scale can use more difficult words than a chapter book — the rationale being that picture books are often read *to* a child whereas a chapter book is read independently. Also, the pictures themselves act as word cues.

Point of View?

There are no hard-fast rules as to point of view in picture books. It can be told from a child’s POV (and most are) but it’s not necessary. You can tell it from an animal’s POV or an adult’s POV — as long as the story appeals to your audience. My book, Silver Threads doesn’t even have a child as a character and the theme is serious (the internment of Ukrainian immigrants in WWI Canada) but it’s made appealing to a child by the blending in of a folktale of a spider and a Christmas tree.

Good luck with your submissions!