Welcome to the 5th and final installment of learning to write alphabet or ABC books. I hope that you’ve picked up at least a couple of helpful nuggets along this journey. On this post, I want to discuss how to format and package your alphabet book to send to publishers or agents.

Please take the time to carefully review all submission guidelines that the publisher or agent has put forth on the website. They will tell you exactly how your manuscript should look, and it’s in your best interest to not deviate from these rules. The following are some general guidelines that will typically apply to formatting an ABC book:

1. Manuscript should be double spaced with all margins set at 1″.

2. Use a simple, readable font at the equivalent of a Times New Roman 12 point size.

3. Add a header to each page (starting on page 2) that includes the book title (you may shorten this to the first 2 or 3 words if the title is lengthy), then your full name, then the page number. Some publishers may request that you add your phone number or email address to your header as well.

4. On the first page in the top left corner, add your full contact info, including physical address, email, and phone number (s). In the top right corner, write “Picture book,” then the age range for your book (e.g.: “Ages 4-7”), then your total word count. Place each piece of information on a separate line (see below). Then, type your title half way down the page, with your byline under the title; both lines should be centered.

Renee Gray-Wilburn                                                                                             Picture book   

123 Main Street                                                                                                                   Ages 4-7

Colorado Springs, CO 80919                                                                                      250 words



Both the right and left columns should be justified to the outside margins, and you can single space these lines (this wordpress program will not allow me to do that and keep my columns straight!)

5. Because ABC books are types of picture books, you need to think in terms of page spreads. Unless the publisher states otherwise, there will only be one alphabet letter per page.  Since standard picture books are 32 pages long, and there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, those extra pages will be devoted to front and back matter.

6. You won’t know exactly which page the publisher will start your book on, so it’s acceptable when  formatting the manuscript to begin with page 1. Your title page will most likely be page 3 or 5, with your first letter (“A is for…”) starting on the following even-numbered page.

7. Type:  Page 1, double space, then “A is for Apple.” Double space twice to separate the pages then continue in this manner throughout all 26 pages. It is also okay to omit numbering the pages as you go, and instead simply write the text for each page with 2 double-spaced lines in between the alphabet letters.

As always, there may be some deviations to these formatting guidelines, especially if the publisher has specific requests. But this is a very standard and professional way to format an ABC book.

Now, on to packaging…

There are a variety of pieces of information a publisher or agent may ask for in your submission package. These include:

Cover letter–a 3-5 paragraph letter (no more than one page!) explaining what your manuscript is (an alphabet book that takes the reader on a journey through the oceans to meet all sorts of interesting sea life), who your target market is (this book is appropriate for early readers, ages 4-7), why you believe your book will be a perfect fit for this particular publisher’s current line (An ABC Swim through the Seas will make a great addition to your “Wild Animal” alphabet book series), and finally why you are qualified to write this book (having taught science to kindergartners for five years, having authored two other animal picture books, etc.)

Like a query letter, the cover letter is all about selling your project to the publisher. They should finish reading your letter excited about diving into your manuscript.

Resume–a one-to-two page (depending on your amount of experience) account of your writing or otherwise relevant experience. If you do not have much writing experience, add other work or volunteer projects that may be relevant to your book’s subject matter. Also include any formal writing training you’ve had. For more information on developing a writer’s resume, please see my two previous posts on this subject: Part 1 and Part 2.

Clips–articles, book excerpts, online pieces, or any other published work that you have. If you have several pieces of published work, select those that are most relevant to the manuscript you’re submitting. If you do not yet have any published material, you may send a writing sample in its place. Make it clear that it is a sample and has not been published, and make it as relevant to your manuscript as possible. In the case of an ABC book, you would want to provide a sample geared to the same target age of your book.

The publisher or agent may ask for a hard copy, mailed submission or an electronic submission sent as an email attachment. If you do submit via regular mail, include a self-addressed stamped envelope with sufficient postage for your manuscript to be returned.

Finally, be sure to send the publishing house just what they ask for–no more and no less! And, as usual, proofread everything at least twice before sending it off, and make sure that everything you submit is as aesthetically pleasing and professional as possible.

I’m excited to have a guest blogger today to share some tips on writing rhyme for kids. Tiffany Strelitz is a children’s writer and critiquer who has always had a passion for the art of rhyme.

Here’s Tiffany…

Rhyme is a beautiful thing. Except when it’s not.

Stringing together rhyming sentences is only the tip of the iceberg. Great rhyming picture books result from the seamless integration of story telling, perfect meter, bouncy rhythm, and last but not least, the rhyming words.

Below you will find a mix of tips, tricks, and tests that should help you not only gauge where you may stand as a rhyming picture book author, but also elevate your work to the next level. Here we go!

 1)   Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.

Aka:  THE most important rule of all

Like a figure skater gliding across the ice, executing leaps, spins, and perfect landings, the words of a rhyming PB should flow effortlessly from the reader’s mouth—never forcing him or her to stumble, reread, or create awkward pronunciations to fit the rhythm.

Test: Here’s a simple test you can run to check on the accuracy of your word stresses: Pick a line in your story. Any line. Put it alone on a page and read it out loud. What syllables do you stress? Capitalize them so you don’t forget. Now put the line back into the context of your story, and read it out loud again. Are you still stressing the same syllables? If so…awesome! If not, rewrite that line. Period.

Additional test: Read through your entire story out loud while tapping your toe like a metronome. You should be able to bounce right along through the whole thing with no stumbling. Is it working? Good! Not so much? Go back to the first test:

 MON-sters are a SPOO-ky bunch

 a SCAR-y, hairy GROUP.

They RUN in packs, leave GI-ant tracks

and DINE on eyeball SOUP.

Do you hear the consistency of the meter in the stanza above?  Can you tap your toe right through it?  Do you hear how every stress is completely natural?  Note that each couplet has the same number of stressed beats as well. If we mix up a few words, we can see the stanza completely fall out of rhythm (as well as the consistency of the number of stresses that occur):

Monsters are spooky as can be

A scary group.

They run in packs, leave tracks

and dine on bone soup.

Do you hear how many unnatural stresses the reader is forced to insert in order to get through the stanza?

MON-sters are SPOO-ky AS can BE

a SCAR-y group.

They RUN in packs,  LEAVE tracks

and dine on BONE soup.

That’s the way I would be forced to pronounce the words.  Unnatural stresses are everywhere:  AS, LEAVE,  BONE….  You wouldn’t naturally stress any of those if you were saying the same sentences one by one.  (Try it!)  And as a result of the awkward reading, it’s tough (I’d argue impossible) to get lost in the story.

Tip: These tests are even more helpful if you have an objective party read your manuscript FOR you while you listen and take notes on where they stumble, etc.

2) Step right up and pick a meter….any meter….

Did you choose the right meter in the first place?  Different meters definitely lend themselves better to different stories. Try starting your story with a few meters before you commit to one.

Tip:  The right rhythm will make your whole book fall together beautifully. Experiment and see the difference! (PS: I cannot lie. This is HARD.)

3) Syllables are your friends!

Scan through your manuscript. Does every rhyming word contain exactly one syllable? Play, day, say, hay, may? No way!

Trick:  Sprinkle some two- and three-syllable rhymes throughout your story to make for a more enjoyable read AND expose children to a broader vocabulary!

4) Story first. Rhyme second. Period.

This is critical. When you write a rhyming picture book, your number-one priority should not be to make it rhyme. Your number-one priority should be to write the most beautiful, humorous, silly, lovely, heartwarming (insert adjective of your choice here) story you can…that just so happens to rhyme.

In other words: rhyme shmime. Without a solid, well-paced storyline, believable character development, real conflict/resolution and a strong open and close, who really cares if it rhymes?

Test:  Be honest with yourself. Take any (or perhaps every) line in your manuscript. Would you have written those words if your story didn’t have to rhyme?  Would your main character have said that, done that, felt that if your story didn’t have to rhyme?  Make sure your answer is YES 100% of the time. If it’s not…scrap the line immediately and rewrite.

Little Molly took her dolly

out to drink some tea.

She tripped and fell and dropped her doll,

and then she said, “oh gee!”

I can’t tell you how many times I come across verses like this when I do critiques.  The verse is completely unnecessary to the story (or at the least the final two lines are), which causes the rhyme to feel forced.  I guarantee, it is nothing they would have ever written if they weren’t searching for a rhyme.

We can replace the last line with:  “beneath the chestnut tree.”

This adds purpose to the verse (description of where the doll landed), which saves the rhyme from sounding forced. Can you feel the difference?

Well, there you have it.  A light smattering of tips, tricks, and tests to help gauge the level of your rhyming manuscript.  I hope you’ve found these useful, and remember: Rhyme is a tricky but wonderful thing. When it’s bad, it’s a mess; when it’s right, it will sing. Happy writing!!

Tiffany’s obsession with rhyme began at the age of 3, when a nursery school admissions scout asked her, “What is a flower that rhymes with nose?” and she proudly shouted: “Rose!” Twenty-five years later (give or take), now married with two sons and coming off of a long career in finance, she has reconnected with her love of words and rhyme as a writer.

To learn more about Tiffany, visit her website at www.itsrhymetime.com or visit her on FaceBook at www.facebook.com/tshauthor. And, if you write rhyme and need that objective third party to review your work, contact her for a critique quote. She can help you fine tune and find your rhythm!

Welcome back to Part 2 of our discussion on how to market your book. Last time we talked about using interviews, book signings, magazine articles, postcards, and the power of partnerships to help market your book. Today, let’s continue the conversation with in-person visits, speaking engagements, and online marketing.

1. In-person visits: If you write for children, in-person visits to schools or libraries where you read parts or perhaps all (if you write picture books) of your book to your target age range can’t be beat. First, you have a captive audience, and second, kids get real excited when they get to meet a genuine author and have that author share his or her book with them. This is nothing but a good thing for the author who is then being talked up by the kids to their parents and grandparents–the ones who need to be influenced the most!

Take advantage of these opportunities by making your reading as fun and interactive as possible so the kids will not forget their experience. Leave them with a token gift that has the name of your latest release on it, and send them home with a marketing sheet of that latest release along with a mention of other books you’ve written. If done properly, these visits will almost always translate into sales and into helping you gain a reputation with your audience. The most important key to these visits is to really connect with the kids and don’t be a phony or condescending. Both are a big-time turnoff for children.

If you don’t write for kids, you still may have an opportunity to do in-person visits, depending on the nature of your book and who your audience is. Think of all the places your audience may congregate, and try to set up a time there where you can share your book in an informal and personal way. Some authors have had success going to coffee shops and doing readings, if their book is of the poetic or literary type. Others may schedule a time at an organizational event where they make themselves available to discuss and answer questions about their book.

Like the children’s writers, you can also do library visits. Design some marketing materials such as fliers and posters, and work with the library to promote your visit. Be sure to indicate the nature of the book you will be discussing so you get the right audience to come see you. You could incorporate a book signing as well, but make sure that you spend most of your time in Q & A, reading, or discussing your book. The idea behind the in-person visit is much like a campaigning politician: you want to appear personable and in-touch with your audience. People will be more excited about your book if you can get them excited about you.

2. Speaking engagements: These are different from in-person visits in that they’re not meant to be quite as informal and personable. Of course, you still need to be personable, by taking questions after you speak, meeting with your audience, and so forth, but the main idea is to more formally address your audience on a topic related to your book, or perhaps the book itself. If your target audience isn’t part of a group that would naturally congregate (as in a trade industry, people that share a hobby or sport, or a religious denomination), check around your community for places where you could speak then advertise to bring your target audience to you. Certain civic groups are often in need of speakers, and if you can find familiar ground between their needs and what your book is about, you should be able to capture an audience using their resource channels. If your audience is such that they do form established organizations, find out if they have national or state chapters, if they hold regular events, and how they book speakers.

The frequency, regularity, and group size you speak to is a huge part of any author’s platform, both before the book contract and after. Once your book is released, speaking is an excellent way to promote it and capture a following as an expert in your field (even if that field happens to be writing novels).

3. Online marketing: This segment of the marketing mix for has become the largest for many writers for several reasons, not the least of which is that it’s free. And with all the advances in technology, this segment is continuously growing and changing to the writer’s advantage. Here are a few ways to capitalize on this form of marketing:

• Schedule a virtual tour for your book–many authors swear by these tours for generating interest and a following for their books. The way they work is that you contact other writers in your genre, organizations related to the topic of your book, book review sites, and any online source where you believe you might find your audience. Then schedule specific dates or time frames when these various places will showcase your book and perhaps an interview with you on their site or blog. Announce this schedule on your own website, blog, and other social media you use to let your followers know where you and your book will be–virtually speaking–and when.

It’s helpful to hold book giveaways or contests throughout your tour to keep people interested and checking in with you. And be sure to have something a little different on each site (talk about something unique in each interview, for example, or focus your discussion on a different aspect of your book) so people will want to follow your tour. At each stop on the tour, make sure to lead them back to your website to purchase your book.

• Announce your events: Use the likes of Facebook and Twitter to let your audience know what events (speaking engagements, book signings, etc.) you have coming up, as well as any reviews that have been written about your book (the good ones, of course!), or any articles it was mentioned in. This may not translate into direct sales, but it’s just one more way to promote.

• Video trailers: More and more, we see authors turning to video trailers to promote themselves and their book. Whether it’s formatted like a movie trailer with a built-in teaser, or if it’s a short clip of you speaking on your topic (or both), this can be a very effective way to get people’s attention about your latest release. You can simply post such trailers on your own site, or incorporate them on your virtual tour. These work well with pre-buy situations before your book ever hits the shelves to start creating pull-through interest for your book.

• Hanging out in forums: Going onto others’ blog sites or forums where your target audience may be lurking is a great way to give yourself some exposure. If you have a book on kite flying, and you begin commenting on posts (based on the expert advice given in your book) where kite-flying enthusiasts hang out, you now have a built-in, captive audience to which you can promote your book. Be careful not to use your posts strictly for publicity, however, or you will turn people off in a hurry. Take some time to set yourself up as an expert, include your website address on your posts, and just happen to mention that you wrote a book on the subject!

Being on these forums and blogs can also help you find potential places to speak on your topic as well as find some hidden places where your audience might be.

There are a couple of downsides to online marketing. One is that it can be extremely time consuming. It’s important to see which forms of this marketing work for you and stick with those. And, you must be disciplined about the time you spend marketing online or you will no longer have any time to write! The internet has a way of sucking us into its abyss. Another downside is that sales from online marketing cannot always be directly tracked. Sometimes you may get feedback from your buyers telling you how they discovered your book, but often this is not the case. But whenever you’re getting the word out about your latest release and promoting it directly to your target market, some good will come of it.

If you have an experience with any of the above when it comes to book promotion, or if you’ve done some other creative forms of marketing that haven’t been discussed, I’d love to hear from you. Us writers are always looking for great marketing ideas that work.

For those of you who have kids, or even if you don’t, if you’ve spent much time around children, you know that it doesn’t take long to realize boys are different than girls–very different. So, when we write for them, why shouldn’t our writing be different as well? The truth is, it has to be.

You will find books that are targeted to both boys and girls, especially for pre-readers or early elementary levels. Once the child reaches a higher reading level, however, you’ll notice how books are typically geared to either boys or girls. You’ll find that some girls enjoy reading “boy” books, but the converse of this is hardly ever true.

As a writer, what this means to you is that you need to target your writing to either boys or girls. If you don’t feel comfortable writing strictly to girls, but also don’t want to eliminate girls from your target audience altogether, you can learn to write for boys in a way that also appeals to girls, which I’ll talk about in a minute.

First, I’d like to offer a few straightforward tips for writing for girls vs. boys:

1. Boys need to get into the action immediately. Don’t waste ANY time on background info or establishing characters within your first paragraph. They want to know from the start that your book will keep moving. Girls can handle some background information upfront. They’re more apt to stick with you as you talk about your characters’ families and explain why they act the way they do. But even with girls, you can’t wait too long to let them know the good stuff is coming!

2. Keep the action moving when writing to boys. You’ll need to set up lots of conflict, dangerous situations, “man” moments of ego-defending, and what not. Be sure you are always showing and not telling. Boys do not want to read through a lot of narrative. They just want to go from action scene to action scene. They want to be caught up in danger and suspense. This means you’ll have to develop your characters through conflict situations or other forms of action, as opposed to describing them. Obviously, you’ll need to have some action breaks; just make sure they’re not too long.

Although girls also enjoy action, it’s not as paramount to them. You’re not expected to keep them on the edge of their seat the entire time. You can use more description when writing for girls and go into more detail regarding your characters. They tend to use their imaginations more when it comes to the people in your story–their personalities, what they sound like, how they look, etc. Boys will use their imaginations more to picture the action!

3. When writing for boys, use dialogue to move your scenes along and to help develop your characters. Don’t use dialogue just for the purposes of having two characters communicate. Boys will get bored. With girls, you can typically get away with this. Girls like to talk, and they like for their characters to talk. Sharing information is how girls get to know others, so they expect that for the characters they read about as well. Of course, you don’t want to drown your “girl” books in dialogue, but you can certainly use it more freely than you can with boys.

4. When you develop a character you want your boy readers to look up to, this character should be like an average boy. Don’t make him the best-looking kid at school, or the one who gets straight A’s. Your “hero” should be a character boys can attain to.  Show that your hero has faults; he doesn’t have to be perfect to be a hero to your boy reader.

With girls, you can make your heroine a little more unrealistic. Again, she shouldn’t be perfect, but girls like to have a true princess they can look up to–someone who embodies what they really want to be like. You shouldn’t stress physical appearances in your heroine, because girls are more apt than boys to do whatever it takes to look like someone they think they should be. But you can give them qualities that they will have to reach for. Also, incorporate a sense of romanticism that helps them escape into your heroine’s life.

5. With boys, try to keep details to a minimum and use strong verbs instead to keep your story moving along. They really don’t care what the inside of Joey’s tree house looks like and how his dad helped him decorate it. All they want to know is how it serves as the perfect spot to fire water bombs on their little sisters.

Girls are more into the details, and you can afford to spend some time painting a vivid picture to help put them into your scene. They almost need to have a complete description of where they are and who is there with them before they can really engage in your action. Boys just don’t care.

Of course, these tips assume some generalizations of boys and girls. But for the most part, this is how your boy and girl readers are. With boys it’s all about the action! If you watch boys play together–or even by themselves–you will notice this as well. Girls, on the other hand, are more relational and verbal, so you need to appeal to this part of them to get and keep their attention.

There is a way to write for boys that will also capture a girl’s interest, but it’s definitely a balancing act. You absolutely need to have action, but at the same time, make sure you have strong relationships form between your characters. These can be relationships of conflict or they can be friendships, but without the relational elements, you will lose your girl readers. And boys can handle the relationship moments as well, just don’t draw them out too long. Make sure to hint of action on the horizon and use fast-paced dialogue to keep your boys hanging in there.

An additional way to appeal to girl readers in “boy” books is to sprinkle the story with description. You must do this very carefully and with a light touch or your boys will start yawning. Best thing to do is to write a scene a couple of different ways then test it on girls and boys. See what they liked and what they didn’t. Keep rewriting and testing until you get both sides saying, “This is awesome!”

Next time, I’ll focus on writing for the teen market—a whole different set of issues here!

Just wanted to announce that I will be teaching a teleclass this Friday, December 18 at 12:00 Central Time on writing for children. My workshop is entitled “Writing for Magazines: Selecting and Submitting to a Target Market.” For more information or to join the class, log on to:


In my last post, I talked about five things that are definite to-dos when writing for children. As promised, this time we’ll learn five things that you should never do.

1. Don’t spell out the lesson to be learned. A good children’s story should include some sort of moral or lesson. The trick is not to spell it out but let your reader figure it out for himself. The point you want to get across needs to be woven through the fabric of your story, so your reader can experience it throughout. Don’t just tack a one-liner onto the end, telling the children what they were supposed to have learned.

2. Don’t be preachy. Along those same lines, don’t preach to your child reader or dictate your message to him. Often, writers like to use their story’s authority figures to “lay down the rules” and tell the children in the story what’s expected of them. Instead, allow your message to come through during the normal course of your story’s events, and force your reader to “read between the lines” to discover that message for themselves. They’ll be much more receptive to whatever point you’re trying to make if they stumble upon it instead of being told about it.

3. Don’t underestimate your child reader. Kids are smart! Don’t worry about using terminology that may be a bit challenging or concepts that might be outside their area of current discovery. Just be careful not to go overboard with it. There’s a fine balance between challenge and frustration. Allow children to connect their own dots as they read, and don’t feel you have to hand over all the information to them. Let them dig a little and use their brains!

4. Don’t write the same for girls and boys. Generally speaking, your girl reader will gravitate toward different material than your boy reader.  Girls are typically more interested in relationships, dialogue, and emotions, where boys need to have action, intrigue, and facts. This is not to say that you can’t write about similar topics for girls and boys, but you should approach your story quite differently depending on your target audience.

So, if you’re writing about an alien invasion for boys, sprinkle in lots of scientific facts about the aliens and their planet, include plenty of chase scenes, and keep dialogue to a minimum (maybe just grunting sounds). If you’re doing the same story for girls, have the aliens befriend some humans so you can have dialogue and emotion. If you need to capture the attention of both genders, be sure to include enough elements from each side of the spectrum to keep everyone happy!

5. Don’t give pat answers. A good children’s story, whether for a preschooler or a teen, will include a strong conflict and resolution. Be sure your resolution isn’t cliche or something trite just to get you out of the story. Even a three-year-old will see through that. The problems kids face today are complex,  seldom with easy answers. Help them think through solutions, and to even be okay with problems that may not have a definite answer. You’ll be doing them a great service in the long run if you do.

If you have a desire to write for children but don’t know where to start, I highly recommend the correspondence course through the Institute of Children’s Literature. It is very thorough with individualized instruction provided by exceptional children’s authors and editors.

Writing for children is certainly multi-faceted. There’s probably almost as much to remember not to do as there is to do! Today we’ll look at some of the top things you need to remember whenever you write for children. On my next post, I’ll tackle 5 things you should never do when writing for children.

First, the must-dos:

1. Clearly identify the market and age you are writing for. There are  board books, picture books, activities books, chapter books, young adult novels, graphic novels, and more. It’s critical to keep a clear focus of what exactly you are writing, and therefore, the age you are targeting. Learn the typical word count or page count for what you want to write once you select your market.

2. Read everything you can for the age and market you have selected. Find out what current children’s authors are writing. Learn the style, tone, wording, and topics of what publishers are looking for. Additionally, ask children what they are reading. What works for them and what doesn’t. I guarantee they will not be shy in telling you! Reading what you want to write will help you enormously in the long run.

3. Carefully choose the ages of your characters. It’s best to have your main characters a couple years older than the age of your reader. Children like to read about other kids a little older than they are. Of course, your main characters can have younger siblings, and it’s OK if your main characters are sometimes the same age of your readers. But, never make your main characters younger than your readers. They will lose interest in a hurry!

4. Let your child characters solve their own problems. It’s tempting to have adult characters come to the rescue when your children get into a dilemma in your story, but resist that urge. Kids want to feel empowered when they read your book–whether it’s a picture  book or a graphic novel. They don’t want to feel like an adult always needs to save them. Allow your child characters to be the heroes.

5. Field test your work on appropriately-aged children. Aside from having your writers’ critique group review your work (and you always should; see my blog post on critique groups to learn why), it’s equally as important to have children the same age as your target market read your work. They will find things in your story, characters, and dialogue that you would probably never see. Even if you’re writing a board book or picture book, sit down with a few children at different times and read your story to them. Note their reactions to different parts (Did they laugh when they were supposed to? Did they laugh when they weren’t supposed to? Did a certain part maybe scare them too much?), then ask what they liked and didn’t like. This is the best way to see if you are on track with your writing.

By the way, if picture books is an area of writing for children that you are either currently pursuing or would like to learn more about, I would highly recommend checking out Nancy I. Sanders website. She is an award-winning children’s author who has many picture books under her belt. She’s great at walking authors through the publishing process.

Remember, next post we’ll discuss what you definitely do NOT want to do when writing for children. Some things may surprise you!