Sunday, October 5, 2008

Jelly Fingerprints

Most children's authors are not famous. I'll say it again; most children's authors are NOT famous. For every well-known children's book author, I'm guessing there are probably a thousand wonderful authors who will never make those big bucks or see a media frenzy with each new book release.

If you are an aspiring children's writer, or even a published one, does that information bother you? Come on. Be honest. Does it bother you even a teeny, tiny bit? It's OK if it does. After all, what children's writer wouldn't want to have beautiful books published that are loved by children around the world, and make tons of $$$$$ doing it? There's nothing wrong with that, but money should never be the motive for a children's author. If it is, I believe that author will lose his or her focus. What's our focus? Reaching children.

Those persistent, marvelously talented, yet unknown authors do have books published---books that often go out of print after the first print run, never to be seen in a bookstore again. "So why try?" you ask. "What's the point if my book is a flash in the pan?" For what it's worth, here's my answer---

Never forget that the end of a print run
doesn't mean the end of the story.
Those books can live on in the hearts and minds
of the children who cherish them.

Those are the children who may grow up to be avid readers. The internet, computer and video games have snatched books from the hands of kids. Perhaps your book will be one to help pull them into the love of reading.

Treasured books have sticky jelly fingerprints on the covers, and crayon marks on some of the pages. They're worn and torn, and the edges are frayed. Kids don't care who wrote their favorite book, they just know they love it. You don't have to be famous for them. I consider those authors (of which I believe I am one) to be fortunate. Not famous, but fortunate. Their words touch the lives of the audience they love. Isn't that the reason we write?

Some of our books will be handed down to children and grandchildren. They'll bring back sweet memories of childhood. Think back to just one of your favorite childhood books. How did it make you feel when you read it or when it was read to you? When you grew up did you pull it from a dusty cardboard box in the garage and gasp when you saw it? "Oh! I LOVED this book when I was little!" Has that ever happened to you? It's happened to me and I feel like that little girl again when I turn the pages.

I like what author Catherine Woolley (Jane Thayer) said in her fabulous book Writing for Children:

"Most children's authors are famous to no one but librarians and teachers and the children who write to you or hear you speak. Children often know the title of a book they love but not the name of the author. You will not be famous to the general public except sometimes in your hometown. Pay it no mind. Be amused."

So, if your book didn't make you a bundle of money, but has jelly fingerprints all over it, and is pulled off the bookshelf before being tucked in at night--- consider yourself fortunate. And be amused (o;

Copyright 2008 Sheryl Ann Crawford

Friday, October 3, 2008

Does Your Manuscript Stand Out in the Wrong Way?

Only good writing will make your manuscript stand out in the right way from the mountainous slush pile. Below is a list of things editors DO and DO NOT like to see. They've seen everything on this list and more!


Don't assume the manuscript submission information in your current Writers' Market Guide is current! By the time you're ready to send your query, proposal letter, or manuscript to the submissions editor, the information could be outdated. I know it's an exaggeration but I like to say that publishing houses have been known to change editors like we change our socks! It gets the point across.

Do go to publishers websites for the most recent guidelines and the name of the editor currently accepting submissions. Up-to-date guidelines and information on editorial changes can also be obtained from The Children's Writer, the SCBWI Bulletin, and The Children's Book Insider.


Don't send brightly colored (or even pastel) envelopes meant to draw attention to your manuscript. Decorated envelopes with stickers, drawings of smiley faces, or cute sayings are not acceptable.

Do use a plain white #10 envelope if your manuscript is four pages or less. Fold manuscript and cover letter into thirds. I like to use a 9 X 12 manila envelope for longer manuscripts. Include a SASE.


Don't send your manuscript Express Delivery. It will not get your manuscript to the top of the slush pile. A "better" and faster package does not mean a better manuscript. It will only frustrate an editor because the guidelines were not followed.

Do send your manuscript in a plain envelope with the correct postage.


Don't fax a manuscript unless guidelines tell you it's acceptable. That rarely happens. Faxed manuscripts are difficult to read.

Do follow the manuscript submission guidelines. Very few accept fax or e-mail submissions. Most require snail-mail.


Don't send art samples with your manuscript unless you are a true professional illustrator. This is a surprise to many new writers who think they must find an illustrator to go with their manuscript. The same goes for sending drawings from your sister-in-law, best friend, or anyone else who you think is a pretty good artist. Pretty good doesn't make it. Professional does. The standards for book illustrations are extremely high. Publishers have their own set of illustrator guidelines for professionals. Illustration decisions are up to the publisher.

Do write a manuscript that lends itself to visual pictures. Editors are pros at envisioning imaginative illustrations for a great story. Occasionally it may be necessary for you to describe a scene of it's not self-explanatory. Here's how you do it---describe the scene and put it in [brackets].


Don't staple your manuscript together. Do not bind your manuscript in any way to make it look like a book.

use a large paper clip.


Don't use fancy or an extra LARGE font.

Do use the generally accepted fonts in black: Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier. Don't try to squeeze in more words by using a 10 or 11 font! Font number 12 is easy to read and the accepted font size.


Don't try to squeeze as much as you can on each sheet of paper by leaving extra small margins. Nothing less than an inch will do. Don't use single spacing in your story. Use double.

Do leave good margins of an inch on each side and about an inch and a half on the bottom of your manuscript. Do use double spacing in your story. Follow complete manuscript format samples found in most how-to-write for children books.

I'll save info on writing cover letters and queries for another post (o:

Your manuscript needs to look professional. It will give you some credibility and perhaps a second look from an editor!

Copyright 2008 Sheryl Ann Crawford