How to Layout a Picture Book

ALLISON GORNER

When writing a children’s picture book, it is important to understand layout. Knowing picture book layout and page count, even before you start writing, will save you a lot of hassle, rewrites and edits.

Page Count
Most picture books are 32 pages. While some clock in at 24, 40, or 48 pages, it’s beneficial to stick to the industry norm—readers are used to it, it’s cheaper and easier for printing (32-page count fits on 1 sheet of printing paper), it avoids blank pages, and agents and publishers may not accept differing page counts.
When self-publishing, you have the freedom to make your picture book as long or as short as you want, but pay attention to page requirements of your chosen printer. For example, KDP has a minimum of 24 pages, and the page count must be divisible by 2. Ingram Spark has a minimum of 16 pages, and the page count must be divisible by 4. Both companies insert a last page with the company’s printing information and barcode. This means that you should reduce your submitted page count by one (31 instead of 32 pages) to avoid blank pages.
Remember your audience when choosing page count. The longer a book is, the more attention span is needed from your child reader. And generally, the younger the child, the shorter the attention span. Also, more pages equals a thicker book, and little hands may have trouble holding a 40 or 50 page picture book.

Page Turns
Planning page turns to compel the reader to keep reading is essential in the pacing and structure of a picture book. Children need to be engaged in the story immediately, and continually engaged throughout. Physically pace the story using the included picture book layout for 32 pages.
Plan the pacing and page turns before sending the manuscript to the illustrator. Include suggested page turns with the illustration notes and text.

The following example is from the manuscript I sent the illustrator for my picture book This Book is Top Secret. It includes text, page turns, and illustration notes.

CONFIDENTIAL
DO NOT READ
(That means it’s classified. No looking. At all.)
__________________________________1

Hey! How did you get this book? This book is CONFIDENTIAL. Didn’t you see the stamp? You are not allowed to read this book. Do NOT turn the page.
(Illo. Note: Strange footprints run across the page and an arrow sign points the way)

_____________________________________2-3

You turned the page. Ok. I understand you are curious, but there is definitely nothing to see here. Do not keep reading.
(Illo. Note: Footprints continue. We see a glimpse of a strange alien tail.
As the book progresses, we keep seeing bigger glimpses of the alien. Scientists in full hazmat suits follow the alien trail. There are more arrow signs.)

_____________________________________4-5

Create A Dummy Book
After planning page breaks, print a dummy draft of the manuscript to test the flow and pace of the text. Read it out loud while physically turning the pages.

Some things to consider:
• Do the words flow?
• Is there tension in the right spot?
• Does the manuscript make sense?
• Are there any words that seem too difficult for the age group to understand?
• Do the illustration notes make sense? Can you “see” the story?

Revisions
Plan to revise and edit. No picture book text and layout will be perfect the first time. Move things around, change text, and consult with the illustrator to make the book better. Get feedback from kid and adult beta readers and take their comments into consideration.
Most of all, don’t give up. There will be bumps in the road when getting your book into little hands, but making decisions about your text and layout early on will make the process easier.

Tips
• Publishers and illustrators may talk about how many spreads instead of how many pages a picture book has. A spread is two pages viewed together as one complete illustration.
• Work with the illustrator to plan where the text appears on each page. Planning the text location beforehand will allow the illustrator to leave room for the text.
• Avoid blank pages, which make a picture book seem unplanned and sloppy.
• You can plan to have text and illustration on the copyright and dedication pages (as I did in the above example), but leave room for the required notices.
• Some printers may print on the inside of a paperback cover at an additional cost.

Download the Page Layout PDF

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