24 Sep

STOP! Cut Picture Book Mss by 1/3

Stop! Before you send out that picture book manuscript, cut it by at least one-third. Really. Make that revision.

Biggest Mistake in Picture Book Manuscripts

I recently read a picture book manuscript from a novice writer and it had the usual problem: too long.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/maskedmalayan/4435907030/In a picture book manuscript, every word counts, so you must test each and every word to see if it belongs there. Here are four places to cut:

  • Repetitive words. Never, never repeat a word unless you absolutely must, or unless it adds to the story. Sure, when you write a first draft, you often repeat something by accident. But you should go through a picture book manuscript with a fine-toothed comb to make sure you’ve cut out any extras.
  • Adjectives, Adverbs. Picture books need action; leave adjectives to the illustrator. Because it includes illustrations, you should only include the adjectives that make a difference. Grass is green. Duh. Only use adjective if, for example, your grass is purple.

    For adverbs, please replace them with a stronger verb.

    • The boy walked slowly.
    • The boy limped.
  • Clauses, Prepositional Phrases. Leave out the extra commentary (unless it’s part of the mss’ voice).
    • Well, in the end, it was a day that pleased me greatly.
    • I enjoyed the day.

    Try rephrasing prepositional phrases by moving a word to an adjective position:

    • It was a day of joy.
    • It was a joyful day.
  • Dialogue. Dialogue is unlike real speech; it’s compressed speech. Leave out the pleasantries and get to the heart of the conversation.
  • Hello.
    Hello.
    Why are you so late? I was waiting and waiting, just sitting on this bench, waiting for you. Why are you so late?
    Well, I had a flat tire and I couldn’t get the lug nuts loose. So I had to wait until a policeman stopped. He was really nice, a big tall policeman and he was strong enough to loosen the bolts and finally I got the tire changed.
    Oh.
    Yes, well, I’m sorry I was so late.

  • Hey, what’s up? Why so late?
    Sorry. I had a flat and couldn’t change it by myself. A cop stopped and helped and now, I’m here.

STOP! Cut Your Mss by 1/3. At Least!

Before you send out your mss, try to cut it by 1/3 without changing the story. Then try to cut another 50-100 words. Compare the before and after. If the story has changed (for the worse), you can add back a few words; but I’ll wager that the story will be much stronger with the revision.

While there are no hard and fast rules, picture books that run 500 words or less tend to sell better. For pre-school stories it’s a stricter limit than for school age (K-3).

Need more on how to write a children’s picture book? See our eBook, How to Write a Picture Book. Immediate download. $10.

2 thoughts on “STOP! Cut Picture Book Mss by 1/3

  1. This post was very helpful. I have heard before about editing out unnecessary words, using very descriptive adjectives, etc., but I do need to be reminded. I am in the process of signing a co-publishing contract with Creations House for a Teen_YA novel, but have not written for children. For years, I have kept an idea for children’s books locked in my mind, and hope to set it free sometime soon. In the mean time, I follow all types of authors and publishers, and have found I can never learn too much.

    Chuck

    P.S. If you’d like to check out my web page for my new book, I would appreciate any comments at all.

  2. I submitted a Childrens story wit 1200 words, I was asked to submit a longer story so I have just submitted 7000 words, Now I’m worried… Thanks for all your great advice it really is quite helpful.

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