“Don’t use art notes,” is what you may hear as a new writer.

It’s not that editors don’t like art notes. It’s just that many new writers want to dictate illustrations that do not require direction.

For instance, you shouldn’t pick what your character looks like. Red hair, blue shirt, green sneakers, pigtails, etc. are not for you to decide. The editor of Mary Ann Hoberman’s THE SEVEN SILLY EATERS thought the characters should be animals, like crocodiles. Marla Frazee, the illustrator, thought they should be people, and she was right. She even made the mother a cello player, which was not in the text, but it added a delightful layer to the mother’s personality. The options were wide open—the author never described the characters’ appearance.

The exception to this rule is when your character’s appearance is crucial to the story, like FRECKLEFACE STRAWBERRY. Although the title pretty much says it all, right?

You must trust that your editor and illustrator have ideas for what your scenes should look like. Better ideas than you. Leave the art direction to them (and the art director). Writing that the house has a front porch, or that the cat is calico, or that the car is yellow is all unnecessary.  Again, unless that car needs to be yellow for your story to work.

But you will no doubt read picture books with subversive text—where the character is doing completely opposite what the words say. Or books with text so spare, the action comes thru only in illustration. These are times when your text requires art notes. SCREAMS for them.

But if you have an art-heavy manuscript, where much of the story relies upon the illustrations, how do you submit it? Putting the art notes in [brackets and italics] is typically the way to go. However, too many art notes can interrupt the flow of the story. It gets difficult to read and comprehend.

So what do you do?

Maybe…submit your manuscript in grid format.

What?! But Tara, I’ve NEVER heard of this before.

I know, me neither. But my agent just submitted a manuscript like this. I was skeptical at first, but then I realized the grid was the best no-nonsense way to present the text with the illustrative mayhem. Yes, this book has MAYHEM. And FRACAS and PANDEMONIUM, too.

Here’s what the grid looks like in manuscript format:

The header includes your name, contact details and a word count.

Then the title (in caps) and your byline.

There is a general art note at top which introduces the story idea. Moreover, it states the art notes are “intended as a guideline.” Again, as an author, you cannot rule over all that is picture in picture books.

Next comes the grid. On the left is the story text, on the right appears “rough art direction.” Notice we said “rough” because they are only suggestions for the editor to understand the story. Remember that the illustrator may create something even better, funnier, more poignant. Remember the CELLO.

The grid continues for as long as it takes to tell your story. Typically one or two more manuscript pages.

Please note this isn’t a standard way to submit, it only serves as an example of what one author and her agent did. It’s like the photos on the front of frozen food boxes that say “serving suggestion”.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly became very hungry.