Grinstead, Susan. Rosebush. Illustrated by Joan Thomas. Manuscript Critique.


When critiquing picture book manuscripts, I discuss only three issues, even if there are more that should be addressed. This author wanted to know why publishers were not responding positively to her submission.

Rosebush is a 14 page manuscript. Seven pages are illustration and seven pages are text. It is the story of a rosebush that suffers from bullying and low self-esteem. Her thorns harm others and she doesn’t produce blossoms the first year. This is resolved the second year, when she blooms however the issue of thorns is not really addressed.

Issue One

Beginning writers have to follow the rules. If you become a best-selling author, then you can write a 14 page picture book or a 37 page picture book and no one will care. But when you’re starting out, you have to carefully study the expectations of publishers. There are standard formats that must be followed. This site gives an example – A picture book writer needs to begin with a storyboard. Here, she plans what information will be revealed by the text and what will be revealed by the accompanying picture. The normal structure is 32 pages. Word count should be between 500 and 600 words. Anything close to 1000, and editors are quick to dismiss the manuscript. After reading the text, the story would be much improved if the word count for this 990 word book was reduced to 350 to 400 words. Each page of this book had over 100 words. The author said this book was written for children 5 to 8 years old. A single sentence to a single paragraph on each page is appropriate for that age level. While your book may be enjoyed by readers of many ages, it is well advised to write with a specific group in mind. If you are going to submit to a traditional publishing house, they want to have a clear target market. A strong edit is needed.

Issue Two

Picture books have a certain rhythm. The story is not structured the same way as a story in a magazine. A picture book is a lot like poetry. Every word must be powerful and essential. The stories generally follow a certain pattern that children find comfortable. The main character should have a problem to solve. Although the rosebush does grow the second year and produce flowers, the resolution seems passive and incomplete. There is too much narration and not enough dialogue, there is too much telling and not enough showing, and there are too many sentences where nothing is really happening. This site gives ideas on how to improve this.

Issue Three

As a rule, publishers prefer to receive manuscripts that are not illustrated unless you are a professional illustrator. They often prefer to match a beginning writer with a well-established illustrator in order to give sales a boost. When you submit a fully illustrated book, you are doubling the chances of being rejected. Although the illustrations are quite lovely in Rosebush, they do little to expand the story. Illustrating a children’s book is much more than drawing a picture of what the words say.

In this book, we never see the humans. The prospective on each page is exactly the same. All the flowers are presented in isolated illustration. It has the feeling of a plant identification book. The pictures, and the words, need to be more dramatic. This site would be helpful to the illustrator.

This story has potential but I would advise the writer and illustrator both to study the structure and presentation of dozens of successful picture books, read blogs and sites on picture book writing, purchase a few books on the subject, and perhaps take an online course. The most comprehensive and clearest book is Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books by Uri Shulevitz.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

One thought on “Grinstead, Susan. Rosebush. Illustrated by Joan Thomas. Manuscript Critique.

  1. Bonnie, though I’m sure it was difficult for the author and illustrator to hear this constructive criticism, you were right on with your assessment and advice. Unfortunately, many people who desire to write and/or illustrate picture books don’t look at the format as something that has definitive structure or requires skill and knowledge most people don’t just “know.”

    I hope what you’ve said here helps them, though realizing that pairing an author and illustrator prior to submission is basically an automatic rejection in traditional publishing, you can do whatever you want when you self-publish. So if it’s not an option to re-think this book, (in other words, completely revising the text and images AND submitting only the text to traditional publishers) that would be the only viable route.


Comments are closed.