The Story in the Pictures: a word on presenting manuscripts.

Words and pictures together make the story in a picture book.

As a writer who doesn’t illustrate, submitting picture book manuscripts to agents and publishers is daunting. Not only do we PB writers need our story to shine, but we bite our nails to the quick over its physical presentation. Is it double spaced?  Are the page numbers required? What about a pitch at the top?  Or should that be a synopsis?  Of course agents and publishers all vary.  So here is a topic that – along with rhyme and word count – is a workshop fave. I’m talking illustration notes.

I write picture books because I love the magic of word and image interplay, and I come up with story ideas that intend to work that magic.  I pare down words and let the pictures do the talking (that word count? Lowers monthly!). When I start working on a story idea, I think conceptually, and there’s often an element of counter-narrative in my stories – elements that let the child put word and image together and do their own thinking. Rosie’s Walk is the classic example – although it’d be a very daring writer who’d present a text skinny without any pictures.

The problem?  We non-drawing authors aren’t supposed to be directional in writing illustration notes. Sometimes we’re not supposed to write them at all. I’ve heard of one agent who won’t read scripts that contain them, and I recently had a review from a publisher who didn’t read my illo notes at all.  

How about we use the term ‘picture story’ instead? A ‘picture story’ note wouldn’t involve hair colour or other stylistic details, just simple story facts that help tell the word and image story that we have intended.  Right now, the illo notes issue is just one more mythical barrier barring outsiders from of the realm of publication. Perhaps some linguistic clarity might help us through.

What are your favourite examples of books where the pictures help tell the story? If you are a writer, illustrator, agent or publisher, what are your views on writers thinking pictorially?

2 thoughts on “The Story in the Pictures: a word on presenting manuscripts.

  1. I think if it’s a good suggestion, then it’s welcomed, but if not, it can feel weird. Like if an illustrator was making suggestions on your copy/text, you’d welcome it if it was good, but if not, you’d think they were overstepping their bounds, wouldn’t you?


    1. Exactly, it is the illustrator’s job. But if there’s part of the actually story (the writer’s job) that is to be told in the pictures, a general indication (nothing super detailed) should be permitted, I think.


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