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Andre Damphousse

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Blogs by Andre Damphousse

Installment #3 – How to write a picture book
12/7/2010 6:00:13 AM

A "How To" on children book writing
(October 2010 entry)

Ins and Outs of Writing

“Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe, shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish” – John Jakes quote.

If nothing else, I hope this quote by John Jakes inspires you to write. Now let’s move on and begin this next installment that is the all-important matter of: writing.

At this juncture, I will assume you’re capable of writing a decent sentence without too many grammatical ‘faux-pas’ … right? As I mentioned before, writing is for everyone, writing well, ain’t (oops, I meant isn’t!) Whether your vocabulary is extensive or restricted, please deploy – and use – these following tools:

1) Dictionary
2) Thesaurus
3) UsingEnglish.com
4) The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White
5) Self-Editing For Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave Kink
6) Book of synonyms*

* When using synonyms, do have an inquiring mind before inserting one in your text, i.e. look it up in your dictionary or thesaurus. Though having a similar meaning, a synonym is not always a good fit in a given sentence, so do your homework first.

All righty then! You have your story line picked out, you diligently checked out some references and you neatly piled up your dictionaries and other paraphernalia … great! Here’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question (no harm intended Mr. Parr): how long will your book be? Do you know the rule of thumb? For those of you who answered ‘yes’, go grab a coffee, as for the rest of you, huddle up!

Length of a children’s book

As you well know, the length of a book will vary according to the type of book you intent to pore over; mind you this structure is not a Goliath that should instil fear. What I mean by length of a book is the number of words your story contains, and the closer you keep to this rule of thumb the more likely your manuscript won’t wind up in the publisher’s recycling bin!

 Emergent reader: typically 25 to 35 words, big bold lettering and illustrations that are easy on the senses.

 Picture book: while some might throw caution to the wind, keep in mind that anything above 1000 words will most likely be rejected right off the bat. Ideally, keep it at 500 words or less. It’s equally important you know what the publisher is looking for: does he want a wordier book or rather fewer words with a kaleidoscope of illustrations?

 Easy reader: this type of book has many levels, ergo the higher the level, the higher the word count. A good idea is to pick up a book matching the level you intend to develop and verify its word count. As a standard: a level 1 easy reader book can have anywhere between 190 to 220 words; levels 3 & 4 can have 800 to 1200 words. “I Can Read” books are a fantastic reference.

Even though other types of books exist, I purposely touch these three only. If you want to know more about chapter books, middle grade novels and teen novels, you can write me at wigglyword.hotmail.ca for more information.

A final word on the matter of word count: simply do your best to come to something “typical” however, if after a gazillion self-edits your story cannot be told otherwise, leave it as is! Keep in mind though that you will face an upward battle upon submitting your manuscript.

Let’s get technical!!
Formatting your manuscript

Now you say to yourself: “I have my story line and I know which book type will best suit my need … Euh! … now what do I do?”

In this section, I will cover:

 Font and paragraphing
 Header (page 1 of your masterpiece)
 Book title
 Chapter titles (if your book is chaptered)
 Body
 Slug* and page numbers (*not the slimy mollusc, rather a printing term)



 Font and paragraphing

Before I continue, my best advice is this: do not worry about presentation or typos, just write your heart out! Only once your manuscript is done and that multiple revisions have been made should you consider organizing how you present your texts. If you bother with all the little intricacies of spacing and tabs and font size, etc., you’ll lose precious time and your élan.

When it comes to choosing a font, don’t get artsy-fartsy, just go with the norm. Remember, if special fonts (sizes and/or shapes) are needed to tell your story, you will get the chance to explain your reasons then, but in your initial manuscript to a publisher, keep it simple and professional.

Nowadays, the ideal size for any given manuscript is in twelve point font. The font itself can either be Times New Roman or Courier – the latter taking up more space. As I said above, don’t go using Comic Sans MS or any other cute fonts, all you’ll succeed at is telling the recipient of your manuscript that you are an amateur – if it’s your first manuscript, you are an amateur, but don’t underscore and highlight this little factoid.

As for spacing (or paragraphing), here’s the best way to go about it:

1. To highlight your entire text, hit “ctrl + a”;
2. Look at your menu bar and find “paragraph” to change line spacing, and click it to open the operating window;
3. Under “Line spacing”, choose “exactly” from the drop down menu;
4. Under “At” (at the right of line spacing), type in “25”;
5. Click “OK”
6. Smile, this part is done!!

This little operation will make your line spaces approximately twice the font size. Why do this? To make it easier to read your manuscript and add in hand written notes.

If you are working with Word 2010, here’s what you do:

1. To highlight your entire text, hit “ctrl + a”;
2. In the “Home” tab, under “Paragraph” click the icon containing 4 lines and two blue arrows, one pointing up, the other down – this will open a drop down menu;
3. From that menu, select “Line Spacing Options …”
4. Under “Line spacing”, choose “exactly” from the drop down menu;
5. Under “At” (at the right of line spacing), type in “25”;
6. Click “OK”
7. Smile, this part is done!!

 Header (page 1 only)

What is called header is actually your contact information. Your header should only appear on page 1 of your manuscript, the following pages will have what are called: slugs (we’ll get to it later).

To create a header, here’s what you do:

1. Ideally set your cursor to page 1 of your manuscript;
2. In the menu bar, go to “Insert” (some systems will have it under “View”), then click “header-footer” (a header will open on this page);
3. On the left side, first line, enter your first then last name then hit enter;
4. Type in your street address … hit enter;
5. Type in your city, state / province, zip / postal code … hit enter;
6. Add in your telephone number with area code … hit enter;
7. A must! Your email address … hit enter.

You’re doing great so far, but we have a bit more to do to finish your header.

Next you need to add in your word count. To do this, follow my lead!

1. Set the cursor at the end of line one in your header;
2. Go to the top menu and select “Format”, then “Tab”;
3. In the new window, go to “Tab stop position” and select “6” ”;
4. Under “Alignment”, choose “Right”;
5. Click “Set”;
6. On your keyboard, click the Tab button twice … your cursor is now to the right … right?
7. Type in: Word count ~500 (this is but an example);
8. Bring your cursor out of the header box and double click: your header will appear paler, that’s normal.

If you are working with Word 2010, here’s what you do:

1. Ideally set your cursor to page 1 of your manuscript;
2. In the menu bar, go to “Insert”, then simply click “Header” under “Header & Footer”;
3. From the drop down menu, select the first one entitled: “Blank”, you will see a dotted blue line with a blue tab reading “Header”;
4. Under the “Design” tab (atop is “Header & Footer Tools” highlighted in green), click the “Different First Page” box – the blue tab will now read “First Page Header” … that’s what you want;
5. On the left side, first line, enter your first then last name then hit enter;
6. Type in your street address … hit enter;
7. Type in your city, state / province, zip / postal code … hit enter;
8. Add in your telephone number with area code … hit enter;
9. A must! Your email address … hit enter.

Now let’s move on to the word count portion:

1. From the same “Header & Footer Tools” tab (highlighted in green), under “Position”, simply click “Insert Alignment Tab”;
2. Under “Alignment”, select “Right”, then click OK – your cursor will jump to the right of the header;
3. Type in: Word count ~500 (this is but an example);
4. Bring your cursor out of the header box and double click: your header will appear paler, that’s normal.

There you have it folks! Your header is now complete. Now let’s move on to our next order of business: the title.

 Book title

From your header, go down to the middle of your page (about 10 hits on your Enter key should about do it, if not, give it a few more!). From your control panel, click on the icon to bring your cursor to the middle of the line to center your text. Write your title in upper case, do not bold, underline or add shimmer or marching ants … remember the KISS principle.

The best way to let a potential publisher know you know very little about book publishing is by adding a copyright symbol on your manuscript. By law, your work is automatically protected.

 Chapter titles (if your book contains chapters, otherwise move on to the next point: body).

In a chaptered book, each chapter has a name to it, though this is not an obligation. If your chapters don’t have titles, simply write “CHAPTER ONE”. If, however, you do have titles, write: “CHAPTER ONE – CHAPTER TITLE”

If your book has chapters, know that each new chapter must open on a new page. To do so, follow these simple rules for page breaks:

1. On the top menu, click “Insert”;
2. From the drop menu, select “Break”;
3. In the new window, under “Break types”, click “Page break”;
4. Now click OK;
5. TADA!!! Magic;
6. Now hit Enter about eight to ten times: here write your chapter information as shown above;
7. Now tap Enter twice – this is where your text should begin.

If you are working with Word 2010, here’s what you do:

1. In the top menu, click the “Insert” tab;
2. Under “Pages” (at left), simply click “Page Break”
3. TADA!!! Magic;
4. Now hit Enter about eight to ten times: here write your chapter information as shown above;
5. Now tap Enter twice – this is where your text should begin.

 Body

By body, I’m referring to your story text, or the body of your story.

The first lines of each paragraph will need to have an indent. To accomplish this, it’s as simple as setting your cursor to the left of the very first letters of the very first words of each paragraph then hit “Tab” once … please don’t do it the old fashion way by hitting the space bar, unless you’re using a typewriter … a what? A typewriter!!

In regards to spacing between lines, one space is the rule. Do not make the mistake of making two spaces: this will only take up more paper. Keep in mind that, once your text is done, you’ll highlight it and set the spacing as explained above (see Font and spacing).

Last but not least, only insert one space between paragraphs.

 Slug and page numbers

In the printing world as it may, a slug is essentially your last name, followed by a few key words from your title then the page number.

As you look at the header on page 2 and all subsequent pages, you’ll notice that the same header as on page one appears; now you don’t want that. To create a slug and insert page numbers, follow my lead.

To create your slug, you’ll need to start by making a section break, but wait until you’re good and ready to send out your manuscript because, if you make changes to page 1, your page count will change. Additionally, and equally important, if you make last minute changes to your manuscript, don’t forget to correct your word count in your header.

A section break should be logically chosen, i.e. don’t make a section break in the middle of a sentence or paragraph. This might require having to bring up, or down, the title of your story in order to accommodate your section break. Ideally, the title should be no more than at the half way mark of your first page.

Let the sluggin’ begin!

1. Go to your first page and find where a page break would work in your text;
2. From the top menu, click “Insert”;
3. From the drop menu, click “Break”;
4. Under “Section break types”, click “Next page”;
5. Now click “OK”

You’ll notice here that your cursor jumped to the next page … let’s continue!

1. Double click on the header of page 2 – the header will be highlighted and you’ll read atop it: Header – Section – 2 (left side); Same as previous (right side) … this is what we want to shut off;
2. To turn this option off, click on the icon “Same as previous” in the “Header/Footer” tool bar (it’s two pages side-by-side and might read, as you float over it, “Link to previous”);
3. The “Same as previous” atop the header should be gone now;
4. Back inside the header, highlight and delete the information from header page 1 and replace it with your slug. As mentioned above, your slug is your last name and part of the title (or all of it if it’s short), all in upper case. Such as … DAMPHOUSSE / HOW TO WRITE;
5. Your next step is to insert page numbers:
a. Set a right tab as previously explained;
b. From the “Header and Footer” menu, click the icon with an # (as you hover over it, it should read something like: Insert Page Number;
c. The number 2 should appear and all subsequent pages will have this slug along with its appropriate page number.

Now give yourself a tap on the shoulder for a job well done!

If you are working with Word 2010, here’s what you do:

1. In the top menu, click the “Insert” tab;
2. Under “Pages” (at left), simply click “Page Break”
3. Double click on the header of page 2 – the header text will be highlighted and you’ll see underneath a dotted blue line with the word “Header” in a blue tab (left side);
4. Go back to the “Insert” tab and click “Page Number” under “Header & Footer”;
5. In the menu, click on “Top of Page” then select the third one from the top: “Plain Number 3”;
6. You will notice number 2 on the right side, now go to the “Home” tab and click on “Align Text Left” (the page number will merge left, don’t delete it, simply write your slug);
7. Back inside the header, this is where you will write your slug. As mentioned above, your slug is your last name and part of the title (or all of it if it’s short), all in upper case. Such as … DAMPHOUSSE / HOW TO WRITE;
8. Once your slug is written, hit the tab button twice to send the page number back to the left potion of your document and you are done! All subsequent pages will have your slug, and page numbers will generate automatically.

Now! With the boring techno-mumbo-jumbo out of the way, you feel compelled to write … and well you should. You have your cup o’ java on your desk (trust me, it’ll get cold before you finish it!), where are strewed about countless reference books such as: The Elements of Style, a dictionary, a thesaurus, etc.

As you see your masterpiece taking form right before your eyes, you cry at the thought that you are soon done writing … and then, it happens! You type in the last period.

You print out your manuscript and hold it up like a trophy you’ve been longing for, and declare your story a masterpiece, a unique piece of art, a triumph for the literary world … hold your horses Nellie! Are you sure about your grammar? Did you avoid all those nasty traps that almost all authors fell in at one point in their literary lives? Did you verify for typos, punctuation, etc.

Come back October 27 for my fourth installment on the very important matter that is: REVISION!!!!

Thank you for your time, and should you have a question or comment, please feel free to post a comment directly on my blog or direct your question to wigglyword.hotmail.com

Happy writing!




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More Blogs by Andre Damphousse
• Installment #4 – REVISION - Tuesday, December 07, 2010
•  Installment #3 – How to write a picture book - Tuesday, December 07, 2010  

• Installment #2 - Mechanics of the book market - Tuesday, December 07, 2010
• Installment #1 – More than just a great idea - Tuesday, December 07, 2010


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