Summer is officially here, which means the Lee & Low Books award season is upon us! The New Voices Award submissions window opened on May 1st and the contest is now in its eighteenth year! If you’re an unpublished children’s book writer interested in having your picture book manuscript considered for publication, you may be wondering how to make your submission standout from the competition. Whether it’s your first time submitting or your fourteenth, this blog post will help you craft a strong cover letter and manuscript that will help your submission rise to the top of the sea of entries.
Introducing your submission with a professional and thorough cover letter is a great way to make your submission stand out. The best cover letters provide the writer’s contact information (including email address and phone number), and answer all of the criteria listed in the New Voices Award submission guidelines. At Lee & Low we are very interested in the writers who participate in our contest. We use the information provided in their cover letters to learn more about who is interested in our company, where they are from, and what communities they represent. This information helps us determine how our contest has grown over the years and highlights which demographics we need to improve our outreach toward. When writers provide these details and discuss the inspirations behind their stories in their cover letter, it helps our judging committee get a better sense of who each writer is and connect them with their manuscript.
A strong cover letter creates a positive first impression, but it’s the quality of the manuscript that determines the overall strength of the entry. Firstly, manuscripts should coincide with the Lee & Low Books mission; meaning they should be fiction, poetry, or non-fiction for children ages 5-12 and address the needs of children of color or native children by providing stories they can identify with. Stories with themes relating to gender identity, disabilities, and non-traditional family structures are also welcome. With regards to non-fiction and historical fiction, our judging committee is especially interested in lesser-known historical subjects. Some of our past New Voices Award-winning titles, including Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! and Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story, are biographies of groundbreaking figures that have not been represented in children’s literature. If history doesn’t appeal to your writing interests, don’t worry; we are just as happy to read poetry and fiction. No matter the genre, a standout manuscript will feature an interesting character and conflict at the center of a well-written story.
A cover letter and manuscript are components for every contest entry but no two entries will be the same just as no two writers are. The key is to use what makes you different (your background and story) to distinguish your entry from others, and present these to the judging committee using strong writing and creativity. Well-written stories and cover letters are those that have been through the revision process and have been improved based on feedback. By sharing your connection and passion for your story in your cover letter and letting that shine through the manuscript, your New Voices submission will be a true contender!