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How to Fix Your Picture Book Manuscript

Five quick ways to make your picture book shine!

Writing picture book fiction is quite possibly the hardest type of writing there is, and yet editors receive more picture book manuscripts than any other genre. To make your work stand out from the crowd, you need to do more than study how to devise a winning plot and create believable, unique characters. You need to polish your prose until it sparkles. Here’s a checklist to help with the editing process:

  • Check the pacing. Picture books are generally 32 pages long, which means you’ll have about 28 pages of text and illustration. So break your text into 28 chunks and place each on a separate piece of paper. Staple the pages together to look like a book and read your story as you turn the pages. Notice the pacing and how the action unfolds. Does the story flow evenly, or are there several pages where nothing special happens? Does something occur on the righthand page or each two-page spread–a rise in action, a recurring phrase, a funny moment– that makes the reader want to turn the page and see what happens next?
  • Note the illustration potential. Since you’ve made your manuscript into a “book,” think about what the illustrations might look like. Are there enough changing scenes to inspire a different illustration on each page, or at least every two-page spread? Is the story told with a lot of visual elements (actions and events the reader can see)? Are there long scenes of dialogue that go on for more than one book page? (Note: Making your manuscript into a dummy book and thinking about the illustrations are for your benefit only. When you submit the manuscript to a publisher, you’d type it doublespaced without identifying where the page breaks would go. You’d also refrain from discussing any illustration ideas until the editor asks for your thoughts.)
  • Cut words.  If you use two words to describe a character, try to find one more exact word to do the trick. Eliminate verbal clutter– words like “big,” “little,” “very,” “almost”– that don’t add any real meaning to the sentence, and instead choose strong, active nouns and verbs. Strike any sentences or scenes that don’t directly advance the plot.
  • Use concrete images. Be sure to convey the story through concrete visual images the reader can see and the illustrator can draw. Describe abstract concepts such as feelings with sensory details the character (and the reader) can smell, hear, touch, see and taste.
  • Craft a satisfying ending. Does your plot have an identifiable yet surprising climax in which all the action comes together and the main character solves his or her problem? Is this climax contained within one book page? After the climax, is the story resolved (wrapped up) quickly? The resolution must feel complete and satisfying for the reader, but shouldn’t be drawn out. Make it a book page or less, and your readers won’t hesitate to revisit your story many times over.

Laura Backes

Laura is the founder and publisher of Children's Book Insider, and co-founder of Her work has appeared in Writer's Digest and The Writer magazines, as well as on numerous writing blogs. She's the technical editor of "Writing Children's Books for Dummies", and her book "Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read" is published by Random House. Through webinars, workshops, and online courses, Laura has taught thousands of children's book writers how to improve their craft .

11 Responses to “How to Fix Your Picture Book Manuscript”

  1. dmvictor

    Excellent suggestions. Great idea about making up a dummy book!

  2. Laura Backes

    Thanks! I think dummy books are very useful for authors. We don’t always think visually, and that’s so important when crafting a picture book text.

  3. Jeffery Doherty

    Great article. Very good (strike that) wonderful advice.


  4. Jennifer Reynolds

    ‘Craft a satisfying ending’, was really helpful for me. Endings (my weakness) , are always a struggle and the hints have made me focus. Thank you.

  5. Maria Norris

    The part about dummying a book was the clearest I’ve ever read on the subject. Thanks.

  6. Maria Norris

    I’m not sure I can leave a comment…

  7. Amanda Steele

    Wonderful advice…ditto to all comments above. Thanks for the direction and clarity Laura!

  8. Diana Guiles

    Thanks for giving me direction. I wrote a story and came to a stand still. This was the next step that I needed to keep going.


    Thanks the information you provided was helpful. After writing my book I did a dummy book and I like what I see. I’ve had friends with children read the book and they think it can work. Where do I go from here? Elizabeth

  10. Laura Backes


    Start researching publishers who might be receptive to your book. Start with “Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market” from Writer’s Digest Books. The 2011 edition is just out.

  11. Alicia Minor

    I did a dummy for one of my manuscripts and it does help to see your book comes into life and makes you imagine and ask- when this can be a reality? It’s all up to me!

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