How To: Set Up a Picture Book

For those of you looking to write a picture book, it helps to know how these books are set up for publication. From page count to layout, picture books are quite a bit different from your average story. Take a look at the guidelines below to start on the right foot.

Pagination

  • The average picture book is 32 pages. Some are 24, some are 48, and on occasion you can go as high as 64.
    • You’ll notice those numbers are all multiples of 8, and that’s because printers print in “signatures” of 8, 16, or 32 pages. Learn more about signatures here.
  • Having a 32-page book doesn’t mean you get the full 32 pages. At least two pages will likely be needed for the title page and the copyright, and you may also have to incorporate a half title page or a dedication.
  • Endsheets (the colored or printed pages at the beginning and end of a book) do not generally factor into your page count. They are added separately and are usually produced on slightly different paper than the rest of the book.
  • Most picture books are laid out in spreads, aka a left and right page. Spreads are used in order to create larger, more vivid artwork.
    • Fun fact: It also helps save time and money, since it is usually less expensive and time-consuming for an illustrator to do a spread than two separate pieces (one for the left page and one for the right).

Text

  • The general rule of thumb for picture book word count is under 1,000 words. This is so kids will stay entertained and parents won’t grow weary reading a bedtime story.
  • Language is important. Your text should be kid-friendly, utilizing words kids are familiar with for much of the story. Do feel free to introduce new terms, as long as parents will be able to define them!
  • If you are writing in a pattern (e.g. four-line stanzas), try to stick to that pattern throughout the book. Varying your structure can be great for moments of “twists” in the story, but don’t develop a pattern to end up breaking it.

Stages of Creation

  • Publishing houses generally accept manuscript submissions that are typed in Microsoft Word and formatted with paragraph breaks or page numbers to designate how the text would read from page to page.
  • Most picture books begin with the text, then art is added based on art notes from the writer or editor. If you are an author/illustrator, then you can add your artwork based on your imagination!
  • If you are an illustrator, you can put together what is called a book dummy. This isn’t essential for most publishers, but it can be helpful. A book dummy is a mockup of the book with the artwork and text laid out. Note that a publisher will likely reserve the right to lay a book out themselves, but it’s nice to have a visual to go with the story. A book dummy is usually in PDF form.
    • A caveat: It is better to submit only a text (or a text with brief art notes) than to use unprofessional or poorly drawn artwork.
  • Every page of a picture book is hand crafted, so these books can take a long time to produce! It generally takes between eighteen months and two years for a picture book to go from acquisition to shelf.
    • Part of this is because most pictures books are printed overseas in China. Time needs to be factored in for the books to ship back to the U.S.

Any other questions about how a picture book works? Ask in the comments below!

 

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