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Is it a Story? Knowing when a Manuscript is Ready

By The editors of LEE & LOW BOOKS

As with any creative endeavor, there is no exact science when it comes to determining if a manuscript is ready for submission. in our Interviews section, author William Miller comments that he sends manuscripts out only when he feels he's written the very best, most poetic story possible.

Still, how does one know? There isn't an easy answer (sorry!), but perhaps the following suggestions will be helpful for those of you working on picture book manuscripts.

Read your story aloud. You must do this! We guarantee it's the best way to detect glitches in the rhythm, flow, and vocabulary of your narrative. Keep track of the places you stumble, or the dialogue that somehow doesn't ring true when read aloud, and then go back and revise. If it sounds funky to you, it certainly will to an audience of young listeners!

Determine beginning, middle, and end. Yes, even 32-page picture books that average 1,000 words have beginnings, middles, and endings. If you can't pinpoint these, perhaps you need to further revise your story.

Share your story with a critical reader. If you don't belong to a critique group, find someone who works with children and books – that is, a teacher, bookseller, librarian, day care staffer – and share your story. Keep in mind that it takes a lot of work to critique a manuscript, and offer a service or favor in return to your reader (to find out about local critique groups, contact the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Read, read, read. The more you explore published work in your local bookstore or library, the better your sense will be of what it takes to complete a story.

Finally, there are many books on writing for children available in the bookstore and the library. For an all-around brilliant book on writing in general, we recommend Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird – her advice is realistic and inspiring. For an affecting and unforgettable journey into the heart of a renowned children's book editor, try Leonard Marcus's terrific Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.

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