02 Aug

Picture book standards: 32 pages

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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  1. What is the biggest mistake you can make in submitting?
  2. Who is the audience of a children’s picture book? Hint: It’s not just kids.
  3. Are there restrictions on the vocabulary you use in a picture book?
  4. Do I have to write in rhyme? Do manuscripts written in rhyme sell better?
  5. Do EPUB books have to the same length as printed books?

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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.

ACTION POINTS


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.

Need specific help? See the Table of Contents below

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Picture Book Basics

Picture Books standards: 32 pages
Putting the Picture in Picture Books
Write the First Draft of a Picture Book
The Dual Audience for Picture Books
Did you Write a Picture Book or Something Else?
Check Your Picture Book’s Story Arc
Shakespeare Helps You Write a Better Picture Book
Picture Book Settings
Options for Picture Book Characters
Playing With Words for Picture Books
Page 32
How to Mock Up a Picture Book
5 Ways to Make The Reader Turn the Page
Revise the Picture Book Text

Specific Types of Picture Books

The Biggest Mistake in Submitting a Picture Book
What Kids Think Is Funny
10 Suggestions for Picture Book Titles
12 Picture Book Topics to Avoid
The Illustrator Doesn’t Tell YOU What to Do
Picture Books: Folk Tales or Modern Stories?
How To Write a Rhyming Picture book
How to Write a Picture Book Mystery
How to Write a Picture Book Biography
How to Write an ABC Book
How to Write a Creative Non-Fiction Picture Book
How to Write a Poetry Collection Picture Book
How to Create a Read Aloud Friendly Picture Book
Voice for Picture Books
Messages, Morals and Lessons in Picture Books
Effective Picture Book Subtitles

This book gives you CONFIDENCE.

  • Confidence that you have met publishing standards.
  • Confidence that you can write in any picture book genre, from ABC books to rhymed books to picture book biographies.
  • Confidence that you’ve written the strongest story possible.
  • Confidence that your story will receive strong consideration at the publisher of your choice.

19 thoughts on “Picture book standards: 32 pages

  1. Hi

    Thank you for your posts. They have been very helpful.

    It isnt clear to me from your posting of a 32 page book being standard, how many pages of text that translates into for the author. Or does it just mean that an author should aim for a book that she tells the publisher is going to be 32 pages, and they break it up. Or does she break it up herself.
    Thank you
    looking forward to your response
    Tamar

  2. Thanks for the question!

    The picture book has 32 pages.
    For the author, though, that means there will be short segments of text on each page (or double-page spread). So, the text will be short, perhaps 500-1000 words long.

    If you translate that to standard manuscript pages, that’s 5 pages or less. When you send in the mss to a publisher, you send it in stand 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.

    Darcy

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  10. This is a goldmine! Thank you so much for all these tips about a children’s book. I’m writing my very first one and needed help with the guidelines for it. I really appreciate it!

    Kat

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  13. Hi Darcy,

    Is your book also available in hard copy? And is the entire book posted here on your site, under these headings (Picture Book Standards, Putting the Picture in Picture Books, etc.)?

    Thanks so much. I am an aspiring picture book writer/illustrator, and I was directed by my mentor to read your book.

    Mia

  14. Question: Does 32 only include illustration and manuscript? Ie. no title page, publishing info, etc.

    Thank you!

  15. Picture books have 32 pages, including a title page, half title page, copyright page, dedication page and the rest of the book. The “front matter” — title page, half title page, copyright page, dedication page — is variable and you can expand or contract this to meet your needs. The minimum is a title page and a copyright page.

    DArcy

  16. Hi Darcy,

    Thank you very much for your last response! One more question: Does the 32-page count refer to individual sheets or front-and-back total?

    Front and back right now I have 32 pages, but 16 sheets total. If I were to add in front matter (4 sheets) and blank pages at the end, then I presume that would get me up to 24 pages – enough for a signature, correct?

    Thank you for your help! I look forward to buying your book!

  17. 32 pages refer to counting every page.
    It starts with a single-page on the right-hand side, page 1.
    Next double-page spread is pages 2-3, with page 2 on the left-hand side and page 3 on the right hand side.
    Continue that pattern to page 32, which is a single page on the left-hand side.

    In the HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK, there is a thumbnail sketch layout that shows this visually.

    To do a dummy take 8-pages and fold in half. Each sheet of paper will create 4 book-pages.
    Or take 16 pages and staple along one side to create a 32 page book with each sheet of paper representing 2 pages.

    Darcy

  18. I just finished all edits and revisions to my story. The manuscript is 2 double spaced pages and the word count is 515. I was trying to keep it under 500 but I am happy with the flow and rhythm of the story. In Microsoft Word I inserted comments where illustrations would go. I am very happy that it comes out to the 3 page standard like the printed children’s books I have in my collection. It’s funny how sometimes it just comes together without a creative workaround.
    Rich Olson/Children’s book Illustrator SCBWI
    http://braintofu1.blogspot.com

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