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- author Jackie French

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Publisher’s Insider: Structuring a Picture Book

So, you’ve written a picture book manuscript and it’s brilliant! You’ve sent it out to publishers but it keeps getting rejected. Why? Perhaps the answer is that it’s not structured to work as a picture book. Here are four common problems you should consider:
  1. Page extent. Most picture books are either 24 or 32 pages long. (Books are usually printed in 16-page sections, with half-sections of 8 pages also possible.) Occasionally, the endpapers are roped in to extend that page extent a little, but this adds to production costs so isn’t standard. Try to break your story up into either 24 or 32 pages. You’ll lose two or three pages to what’s known as the title pages, and probably another one to the imprint. So that leaves you either 20 or 28 pages for your story. If you’re running far too short or far too long or falling uncomfortably inbetween, that could be the reason you’ve been rejected.
  2. Illustrative scope. The best picture books are a joyful interaction between words and images, with both text and illustrations doing their bit to tell the story. The illustrations shouldn’t simply reflect the text content. They need to add to it in some way. So, check that you’ve allowed for this. Is the story you’ve written best conveyed as a picture book, or would you be better off expanding it and turning it into an early reader/chapter book?
  3. Target audience. The key picture book market is kids aged 4 to 8. Yes, there are adults who love picture books (look at the KBR team!), and yes there are board books for babies and toddlers, and yes there are also picture books aimed at older children (either due to subject matter or as a means of encouraging reluctant readers), but the majority are consumed during the preschool and early primary school years. Is your story appropriate in both subject matter and vocabulary? It’s good to stretch children a little, but not so much that every page becomes a frustrating puzzle of words they don’t know, or where the story tackles topics they’re simply not equipped to deal with yet.
  4. Word count. Any more than 500 words and you’re in dangerous territory for a picture book. After all, you need to leave some room for the pictures! In fact, many publishers are now only considering picture books with 400 words or less. This relates to points 1 and 2: your story needs to comfortably fit into ‘picture book’ length and provide ample opportunity for an illustrator to create their magic. So, rework, edit and polish your text until you have cut away any unnecessary words.
Anouska Jones is our KBR Senior Editor. Mum to a gorgeous little girl, she has over twenty years' experience in the book publishing industry. A publishing consultant and editor, Anouska is obsessed by all things to do with words, writing and books.