Picture Book Structure
Picture books are almost always 32 pages. The reasons for this are physical: when you fold paper, eight pages folds smoothly into what’s called a signature, while any more results in a group of pages too thick to bind nicely. In addition, the 32 pages can all be printed on a single sheet of paper, making it cost-effective. In extremely rare cases, picture books may be 16, 24, 40 or 48 pages, all multiples of eight (a signature); but 32 pages is industry standard.
Francoise Bui of Doubleday Books, said, “We’ll do a longer book if the story needs it. The most likely time is if it’s a holiday or seasonal book, that we plan to give a bigger marketing push, and it needs those extra pages to tell the story. If I’ve acquired a story I really like, and if it needs extra pages, I’ll do it.”
There are variations: in my picture book, The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman, the illustrator, Joe Cepeda, takes 48 pages to tell the story. The text is letters or postcards, written by someone who gives a lift to Oliver, a wooden man, then writes back to Uncle Ray to report on Oliver’s progress across the nation from South Carolina to California. There are fourteen letters for fourteen spreads. Cepeda is adding wordless spreads between each letter to show Oliver actually traveling.
So, you may see board books at 16 or 24 pages, and picture books at 32, 40 or 48 pages. But the gold standard for picture books is 32 pages.
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OPTIONS FOR LAYOUT
When talking about the page layout for a picture book story, there are two options. First, you can look at each page separately. Second, you can talk about double-page spreads; when a picture book is opened flat, the two facing pages are often illustrated as one. Thus, in a 32 page book, you would have a single page (the right hand side of the book), fifteen double-page spreads, and a single page (the left hand side of the book). Decorative end papers, which are glued to the boards, often enclose these.
In those 32 pages, there are usually “front matter” pages consisting of a title page, a half-title page, and a copyright page. In single pages, this may take 4-5 pages. In double-page spreads, it’s the first single page and one or two spreads. The text, then has 27-28 pages or 14 spreads, plus a last single page.
SHORT STORY OR PICTURE BOOK?
Concentrating on the skeleton of the picture book may seem boring or unnecessary, but it is one of the two main differences between short stories and picture books. One mistake made by beginners is to have too many or too few pages to fit into this format. Why can’t the publisher ignore the standard page limits and just print the size book needed for a particular story? Again, the reasons are physical: the way the paper folds and standard sizes of paper for printing. Literary agent Tracey Adams, literary agent, says, “It’s definitely easiest to market a picture book meant to be the standard 32 pages.”
QUESTION: 32 pages? Please Explain More
It isn’t clear to me the relationship between the pages of a picture book and the pages of typed text that the author writes. Does an author just write text and the publisher divides it into 32 pages? Or should the author divide the text and show the page breaks when submitting the manuscript.
Answer: 32 pages of finished book, 5 (or fewer) pages of manuscript text. The picture book has 32 pages, but a picture book text has five (or fewer) pages of manuscript text.
Book. There will be short segments of text on each page (or double-page spread).
Manuscript. If you translate that to standard manuscript pages, that’s 5 pages or less of text. When you send in the mss to a publisher, you send it in standard manuscript format (5 pages or so). When the text is laid out for the picture book, the editor, art director and illustrator will divide it into the segments that go on each page.
You will see me suggest that you divide your text into 14-28 segments, anticipating how it will be laid out in a picture book. That is strictly to help the author revise and polish the text. When you send in the mss, it should be in standard mss format.
Does ePub Change the 32-Page Illustrated Picture Book?
Yes and no. While the gold standard for printed books is still 32-pages, ebook length can and does vary. There are two ways to publish a children’s book as an ebook. First it can become an app which is downloaded onto the desktop or a tablet. The problem with this is that apps usually have more interactivity than a simple picture book. You can add interactivity by having the app read the story to the child, having hotspots in the illustrations, adding music, etc. But then, is it a children’s picture book or is it an app?
The second way is to create an ePub version. Because there are no printing presses, it’s possible to have a 100-page or a 4-page children’s picture book. The problem comes in keeping the image and text together. As ePub standards evolve and as more devices become compatible with ePub standards, the better it gets. Right now, one good option is to create an image for each page that contains both illustration and text. In other words, keep the images and text together by preformatted the book.
While it’s possible to go over or under the 32-pages, it is often best to keep to this standard. A 4-page picture book is too slim and not feasible; likewise a 100-page is too long. Customers are used to the 32 page length–even if they can’t tell you an exact count of pages–and it seems a good value. Also, if there’s any intention of creating an accompanying print version at any point, you should just stick with 32 pages. Otherwise, you’ll have to reformat to fit the print requirements. So, think ahead about the formats you’ll eventually use for the story.
Count pages. Visit a library or bookstore and go through 10 picture books counting pages. You’ll find some variety, which comes from whether or not the end papers are counted as pages or not. Count pages in some board books (the cardboard books for babies and toddlers). How often do you find a longer picture book like The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman
Type up a manuscript. Choose a favorite published children’s book and type it up as a manuscript in standard manuscript format. This helps you visualize the difference between a manuscript and a published book.