You’ve seen what a children’s book looks like as a real book, but what does it look like as a manuscript? This is an essential question to answer before you EVER submit your story to a publishing house, agent, or professional for critique. So how should you format your children’s book manuscript?
Like most new authors, I had my formatting ALL wrong and it definitely led to some early rejection letters. This is why I’m going to help you avoid making those same mistakes. Below, I’ve created an easy, step-by-step guide to help you format your children’s manuscript. All you have to provide is your amazing story!
How to Format Your Children’s Manuscript Like an Expert:
Depending how new you are to the writing world, you may not know what a children’s book manuscript looks like. (Let alone how to format it.) This is why I’ve created an easy-to-follow guide for you to set up your document.
In order to get started, you’ll need to open up a new Microsoft or Google Document. Here’s a snapshot of what we’re going to create together. 👇
When you set up your document, make sure you’re using a standard font like Times New Roman or Arial size 12, double-spaced. You’ll also want to have standard 1-inch margins, which should be the auto-setting for your document if you haven’t changed anything.
Once you have that, you’ll want to add the information needed in order to get your story set up like the one in the image.
Here is the Step-by-Step Guide to Format Your Children’s Manuscript:
1. Your Contact Information – Added in the Upper Lefthand Corner
The first step when you start a new manuscript is to put your contact information on it. That information includes:
- First and Last Name
- Phone Number
This information goes in the upper, left-hand corner of your Word document. I prefer to keep it single-spaced to save room for my story on the page.
**Note: For email submissions and first pages, this information won’t be included. Unless you’re submitting to an agent or editor with an attachment of your manuscript.
2. Your Target Reader & Word Count – Added in the Upper Righthand Corner
In the upper, right-hand corner you should include your target reader and word count when you format your children’s manuscript–If you don’t know who your book is for
To do this, simply tab over next to your name to type your category and age range. Then tab over on the next line (where you’ve listed your address) and include your word count. This way they’re on the same line as your contact information.
You can list an exact word count or an approximate, it’s completely up to you on which you prefer. But if you’re writing a chapter book, middle-grade, or YA novel, I would stick to approximate word counts since it will round out nicer. (And if you’re writing a picture book, don’t include your illustrator notes in your word count.)
**Note: This will also be left off when you copy and paste your manuscript in the body of an email for submissions. If you keep it in, it will mess up your formatting.
3. Your Title and Written By – Located About Halfway Down the Page
Halfway down the first page of your manuscript you will want to include your title and written by. (You can find halfway by hitting the enter key about 12 times with a single-spaced document.)
Your title should be written in all caps but your byline or subtitles should use standard capitalization rules when you’re formatting your manuscript.
I know choosing a title is always one of the hardest things for me, so if you struggle with this too, here are two things to help you find a title that catches a reader’s interest:
- What’s the story plot of your story? (Either your main character’s goal or problem.)
- How can you make it intriguing as a title that will grab someone’s attention?
This will hopefully help you get past the submission process. And if the editor wants to change your title later, then that’s ok!
4. Page Number with Title/Last Name – Double-Click to Add This to the Header
You will need to make sure to complete your header when you format your children’s manuscript. This should include your title slash last name and the page number aligned to the right. (To add page numbers, go to Insert -> Page Numbers.)
You want to make sure to add this to any submission you’re sending as an attachment or printing to give to someone. This way they’ll know the order the pages go together for reference or if they were to drop them after printing.
5A. Illustrator Notes (Picture Book Manuscripts Only)
Illustrator Notes are how a non-illustrating author adds images to the text. In order to insert them into the story though, you don’t want them to stand out. So you’ll align them to the right of your story. You can also italicize them or change the color so they really blend in.
In plotting your perfect picture book, I talked about Illustrator Notes for authors that are not creating the images for their books. But here are some tips for when you should use Illustrator Notes:
- When you’re writing an illustration-heavy manuscript (IE: little to no words). These notes will need to be well-thought-out, creative, and detailed in order to intrigue an agent/editor.
- When you use words or phrases that people can’t picture, like a charging herd of Crumblezars on planet Zod. (That might need some clarification…)
- Or when you have an obscure character or introduction to the story. For instance, if your main character is Frank but he’s a dog the whole time then you’ll want to insert an illustrator note at the beginning that says “Frank’s a dog.”
5B. Chapter Breaks (For Longer Manuscripts Only)
When you want to format your children’s manuscript but have a lot of chapters, you may think you should include a table of contents. Don’t.
You only have the first few seconds to intrigue an agent or editor and don’t want to lose them by listing all of your chapters. Especially, when they won’t have any reference to the story or characters. (Save your table of contents for a separate attachment you can include with your submission if they ask for it.)
Instead of a list of all your chapters upfront, simply list your chapter in your story when it appears. I like to spell mine out and make them bold to signal a page break, but you don’t have to — you can spell out your numbers, center your chapter breaks, or even add titles. There aren’t any hard and fast rules, but whatever you do, keep your formatting consistent.
Tie it all together.
Those are the main elements when you format your children’s books. Be sure to include contact info, target reader, word count, header information, and title. If you have references or an author’s note, those will be at the end of the manuscript.
And if you have any additional questions, sign-up for the Kidlit Formatting Mini-Course! This will walk you through additional information including advanced writing techniques for both picture book and chapter book writers. 😃
Also, be sure to check out these articles before you submit to make sure that your manuscript is ready to be sent:
- Target Your Perfect Reader
- Have Your Critique Group Review Your Manuscript
- How to Write a Query Letter
- How to Find the Right Agent
- How to Know the Publishing House for You
- Everything You need to Publish a Children’s Book