How to Mock-up a Picture Book

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When you’re happy with the revisions of your picture book manuscript, it’s time to make a mock-up, or what is usually called a dummy.

Why Make a Dummy?

Picture books combine text and words in a short 32 page book. The structure is so unusual, that you need a mock-up or a dummy to refine and polish your text. It can tell you which section of text is too long, let you look at pacing of the story across the pages, help you spot needless repetitions and much more.

How to Make a Dummy

How to Mockup a Children's Picture Book by Darcy Pattison

  1. PRINT. Print your manuscript with wide margins and a 14-16pt font. I like to divide the text into proposed pages before I print and number each section. For example, one piece of text will be page 5, pages 6-7 and so on. Text usually begins on page 5. Pages 1-4 are for “front matter” that consists of title page, half-title-page, copyright page, and dedication. You have lots of flexibility, but I suggest you start your text on page 5. You’ll need at least 14 text divisions to meet the 32 page size. (Why are picture books 32 pages? See here and an update here.)If you have an author’s note or other back matter (glossary, sources, etc, such as for a non-fiction story), you’ll need to reserve a couple pages for that at the end.
  2. CUT. Take 8 sheets of typing paper and cut in half to 8.5″ x 6.5″ If you like, you can use 16-full size paper for a larger dummy. The late Sue Alexander recommended using brightly colored typing paper to simulate art and text better.
  3. STAPLE. NUMBER. Staple the pages in either a portrait or a landscape orientation, your choice. Number the pages in the bottom corners. It will begin with a single right-hand page as page 1, and end with a single left-hand page as page 32.
  4. TAPE IN TEXT. Cut and tape your text into the dummy, page by page. Put the title on page 1, but leave pages 2-3 blank, as these are usually front matter, such as copyright page, half title page, or dedication. Now, you have a choice: you can start your text on page 4, for a double page spread, or just on the right-hand page 5. After that, the text should lay out across the full spread. A full spread or full-page spread means that the book is opened displaying both a left-hand side and a right-hand side; together, they make up a full-page spread. Alternately, you can split the text across a full-page spread and have some text on the left and some on the right. Study current picture books to get an idea of how this looks.

EVALUATE: USE THE DUMMY TO REVISE

Here are some things you might notice:

  1. The story doesn’t fill up 32 pages; or, there’s too much text to fit. (Revise for length.)
  2. Read the dummy aloud and listen to it. The story sounds awkward when read aloud. (Smooth out the language.)
  3. Each page has enough text, but some spreads have a weak illustration possibility. (Strengthen your verbs.)
  4. The story doesn’t make me want to turn the page. (Add tension; or use one of the page turn ideas.)
  5. The story doesn’t change a bit if you skip reading a page. (Omit page; or add essential plot elements.)
  6. The story is unclear; no one can figure out what is happening. (Tighten the story; check transitions; write clearer.)

OVERALL REVISIONS YOU MIGHT NEED TO MAKE

  1. The story feels too wordy. (Cut in half!)
  2. The pacing feels jerky. (Consider where you want the reader to speed up and where you want them to slow down. Revise accordingly.)
  3. The story all takes place in one setting. (Consider moving the story around for better illustration possibilities.)
  4. The story has too many settings. (Reuse some settings, but with a different perspective, different actions, etc.)
  5. The story feels flat. (Work on the emotional impact of the story on the characters; work on language and voice.)
  6. The story’s narrative arc is weak. (Create more tension; put more at stake.)

Mocking up a picture book, making the dummy, can’t be under-estimated for its help in pointing toward weak spots that need revision in a picture book text. Get out the paper, stapler, scissors and mock up your book!

WHEN USING THE DUMMY, REMEMBER

  1. The picture book dummy is just for you. This mock-up is just for you to use as you revise to make sure you fit the format. You would never send it in to the editor.
  2. The published book may have different page divisions. The editor, art director and illustrator may decide that the story should be divided differently. That’s fine. Your job is to give them enough illustration possibilities that they can visualize this as a complete book. If you’ve done that, then your job is done and their job of actually making a book begins.
  3. Keep the Dummy Updated. As you go through the next few lessons and make changes to the text, cut and paste the current text into the dummy and go back through the questions again. Make sure all changes keep the story within the parameters of picture book structure.

ACTION POINTS

Make a dummy of your picture book manuscript and evaluate each section. Rewrite as needed.

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4 Comments
  • Vivian kirkfield
    July 9, 2012

    Thank you so very much! This post was clear and concise and it laid out the steps to construct a dummy picture book…a task I am just about to undertake. I’ll check out your other related posts…looks like your blog is one that every aspiring picture book writer needs to follow. :)

  • Susie
    November 4, 2013

    I once visited Remy Charlip and saw a new book he was working on, designed with hand mock ups scattered around his place. I thought this was an old style process so it is interesting and informative to see it is still the best way to design a book. Thanks for the nice post!

  • Lisa Laubach
    November 19, 2013

    Hello, I want to do book illustration, and I am wondering how I might go about creating a dummy book to have in my portfolio.
    Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks

  • Mary Douglas
    October 29, 2014

    Once all of this is done, from what I’ve read, you still have to get a literary agent to take on your book and try to sell it a publisher. Most publishers will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. They will only go through a literary agent representing you. It is very difficult to get an agent and requires many hours of research and sending query letterts just to get their attention. So now what? The book is written, revised and ready. You don’t just send it to a publisher. Where do we go?