Mark Fearing on: Picture Book Submissions (plus a video!)

I’m thrilled to welcome guest blogger, author/illustrator Mark Fearing. Mark has a vast experience in publishing and he’s here to share. Don’t miss the amazing video he’s made for you at the end!

This is one of the latest books illustrated by Mark Fearing.

Submitting a picture book to an agent or editor can seem confusing. We all know what picture books look like in bookstores but how do you convey that in a submission? I don’t have a beautiful cover or amazing art on every page. Will an editor see what it could be?

The good news is, yes, editors can see what’s not there yet.

The truth is you won’t have submission that looks like a finished picture book in Barnes & Noble anymore than a film’s script looks like a 150 million dollar summer blockbuster.

There are two basic approaches and they differ in what you have to offer.

If you are an author, but not an illustrator, you’ll be submitting a manuscript. Just like submitting a novel. Just way shorter! I’ve seen at least a dozen different manuscript formats but the goal is, as always, to communicate clearly. Most questions I get from prospective picture book authors who don’t draw are how to convey the art. And the truth is you don’t have to. The degree you bring up the art in your manuscript depends on your style and the demands of the book. If having a character wearing a yellow vest is important to your story— include a note. If it’s important for a reader to know that the cat under the bed can’t be seen— let the reader know in a simple description. If there is a visual element that’s important to your story, by all means convey it.

But be selective and use art notes only when you must. Remember that most picture books are 600 words or less so you don’t want to add 3,000 words of descriptive prose to your manuscript. You want an editor reading the words that will be on the page when your book is published. Not paragraphs of descriptive and explanatory prose.

If you are an author/illustrator, you likely have more work to do. You will submit a book dummy with some rough art and maybe even a page or two of ‘final’ art. This art doesn’t have to be exactly what will be in a published book, but you want to give an editor, agent or art director an opportunity to see what your style will look like. This is especially important when you are just starting out.

The goal of all this is to submit a book that is spell checked, reviewed carefully and paced properly. It’s not that you are submitting THE final book, but you are submitting what you feel is as close to your vision as possible— while still being open to notes. 

This leads to the seemingly contradictory advice not to submit a book that appears to be 100% done. If every page has full color art and you’ve had it bound, that isn’t a submission, that’s a book. It may give the impression that you are not open to revisions working with an agent or editor to alter elements they think don’t work. 

I created several small books that had finished art on each page when I was starting out. (You can see some of these on the 5 minute video that accompanies this). These were portfolio samples that demonstrated my interest in the format. But they were not submissions to be acquired. They were examples that showcased my sensibility.

Take your time when working on a submission and make it as good as you can. When you feel you are finished with it, put it away for 5 days and come back to it with a fresh eye. Of course, you don’t want to overthink it. There has to be a point when you are done, when it goes off to get judged on it’s own. Shed a few tears as it zips off on its adventure while you sit in your favorite chair and remember the good ol’ days, when that book was just a fantastic glimmer of an idea with the potential to be the greatest thing you’ve ever done. You hope you gave it a great start in life, drink a toast to it, cross your fingers, say a prayer if you are the praying type. And once that book dummy is off to an editor— start working on your next book.

THE 5 MINUTE MARK: Submitting a picture book

A big thanks to Mark for this extremely informative post and video.

Find out more about Mark Fearing and his books, visit his website: markfearing.com

Mark has always loved writing stories and drawing pictures. He is now fortunate enough to have published many books for young readers. Many books with silly pictures. He doesn’t like to draw horses. He had a horse as a kid growing up on a farm in northern Minnesota. He should have learned to draw horses then. But he didn’t. He drew pictures of monsters. In his life, he has been an art director for Sony Online Entertainment, a creative director for Pearson Television, a manager of Current Production for Walt Disney Television Animation and has animated, designed and worked in just about every genre of media possible. He lives in Oregon and has allergies. This is not a coincidence.

One thought on “Mark Fearing on: Picture Book Submissions (plus a video!)

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  1. Very good advice all-round! I especially like the part of sitting in one’s favorite chair & recounting the good ol’ days while your “baby” is out on submission. I must do that next time! 🙂

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