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How to Create a Children’s Picture Book

Updated on September 23, 2015
PAINTDRIPS profile image

As a children's book illustrator, Denise has many things to say about the process, her struggles, and children's books on the market today.

The Frog King
The Frog King | Source

Here's how to create a children's book.

When I am asked what I do I have gotten to where I like to say artist instead of children’s book illustrator because invariably the person I’m talking to has written a book and could use an illustrator. That’s not a bad thing. What is bad is that they don’t intend to PAY the illustrator. They usually want the illustrator to do the pictures for a “percentage” of the book proceeds IF it ever sells or for free.

It would be better for artists and more ethical for the writers to just offer the illustrator a small pittance for the work, such at $300 to $500 for a body of work amounting to a book cover and 28 color interior illustrations. We would be willing, most of us, to work for that. Then the art belongs to you to do with as you will.

That being said, I have some experience in children’s picture books and would love to share the parameters with you. It seems to me that most people don’t know that children’s books fall into one of several categories.

How do Dinosaurs Clean Their Room?
How do Dinosaurs Clean Their Room? | Source
Oops!
Oops! | Source

Standard Board books

Standard Board books are usually 6 inches by 6 inches and 12 pages long. Very few words are included in Standard Board books. They are intended for ages 0 through 3 years. Perfect for little uncoordinated fingers and teething children.

Free Fall, a picture book with no words whatsoever.
Free Fall, a picture book with no words whatsoever. | Source
Maria Had a Little Llama
Maria Had a Little Llama | Source

Picture books

Picture books rarely have more than 400 to 900 words. By the very definition it’s about the pictures more than the words or pictures and words equally. They are printed in full color therefore they are more expensive to self publish. They can be several sizes from 8 x 11 inches to 8 by 8 inches to 10 x 8 inches, your choice. Picture books are hardly ever more than 32 pages. Of those, usually 28 are illustrated; the others are end pages and title pages, etc.

Illustrator for Sky High, a picture story book.
Illustrator for Sky High, a picture story book. | Source
Shining Star, the Anna May Wong Story.
Shining Star, the Anna May Wong Story. | Source

Picture Story Books or Story Picture Books

Picture Story Books or Story Picture Books can be more than 900 words with a full color picture on every other page. They can usually be much more than 32 pages. You don’t know how many times I have been asked to read a manuscript from a friend, told it was a Picture Book and what I thought of maybe if I’d be willing to illustrate. Then I find the book is thousands of words long, definitely not a picture book and sometimes not even an Early Reader because of the choice of certain vocabulary words that are way out of a Easy Reader’s grasp. That’s when I have to tell him cut the words or make it an Easy Reader or even Independent Reader instead of a Picture book. There is a difference in cost, in consumer and in readership.

Frog Power, an Easy Reader.
Frog Power, an Easy Reader. | Source

Early Readers or Easy Readers

Early Readers are books with fewer pictures, still color though, and more words, sometimes organized in short chapters, from 1,000 to 6,000 words. More than that and you are encroaching upon Independent Reader level books. They range in a number of sizes, and can be from 32 to 64 pages long. Early or Easy Readers are for grade levels from 2nd grade to 5th grade.

Independent Readers at the Library
Independent Readers at the Library | Source
One of my favorite Chapter Books is The Man With the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle.
One of my favorite Chapter Books is The Man With the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle. | Source

Independent Readers or Chapter Books

Independent Readers or Chapter Books can have from 4,000 to 12,000 words with about 100 pages. They would have lots of black and white interior illustrations, and catering to ages 10 through 14.

The sequel to the Invention of Hugo Cabret is Wonderstruck.
The sequel to the Invention of Hugo Cabret is Wonderstruck. | Source
Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black.
Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. | Source

Middle Grade reader books

Middle Grade reader books are transition books from Early Chapter Books to Young Adult books. They can have from 20,000 to 35, 000 words. Of course there are exceptions but most exceptions don’t do well in sales. One that broke the rule, of course, is Harry Potter. Middle Grade readers usually have black and white interior illustrations to keep the cost of printing down. They do however have nice full color cover illustrations. The age range is 12 and up. I know I love a good Middle Grade book simply because I’m still a preteen at heart!

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Young Adult or YA books

Young Adult or YA books have from 30,000 to 60,000 words and rarely have interior illustration, although there are exceptions, few as those may be. The Invention of Hugo Cabret would be one of those. Age range is 14 and up. The illustrations were extensive and exceptional which probably brought the book to the attention of the movie producers that made it into a movie. I think what made this exception do well was because the story was about early silent black and white movies and the illustrator did extensive double page illustrations that gave the impression with each turn of the page that you were seeing scenes from a silent movie. Fabulous book.

Character Sketches for main character Abby.
Character Sketches for main character Abby. | Source
Character Sketches for cats.
Character Sketches for cats. | Source

Identify main Characters

When working on picture books, the very first thing that needs to be done is to identify the main characters and do character studies to keep them consistent on each page. These usually involve several poses for each character, different facial expressions with front, side and ¾ view. Also it is wisest for an artist to go out and get a model to pose for each of the characters so that they remain consistent.

Thumbnail Sketches
Thumbnail Sketches | Source

Thumbnail Sketches

Once you have the characters decided on, it’s time for the layout. Starting with thumbnail sketches. Ten to twenty thumbnails for each double page spread is common. When you choose two or three of the thumbnails that work for each page. Thumbnails are just that, small versions of the final. These sketches can be very rough but shouldn’t take more than a few minutes each. They are just for placement and point of view, not finished drawings. They should be between 2 and 3 inches each. This is the stage where you make sure that the gutter where the pages fold on a double page spread, doesn’t have something important like a person’s face or a hand or other important character part.

Photo References for Girls
Photo References for Girls | Source
Roughs for Mr Sticky.
Roughs for Mr Sticky. | Source
Roughs for Mr Sticky.
Roughs for Mr Sticky. | Source
Roughs for Mr Sticky.
Roughs for Mr Sticky. | Source

Roughs

The next step is the roughs. The roughs are like the thumbnails but more detail and little value is added. Value is not color. Value is blocking out the dark and the light areas so that you can see more of how the balance works. Dark pictures add a mysterious and ominous feel, while mostly light pictures give a more cheerful and uplifting feel. For children’s books the feel is very important. Also once you have the roughs ready, you want to go back to your models and have them pose for each of the pictures that they are in. Use lighting trees/stands and keep the lighting consistent for the layout. For instance if your sunlight on the trees or whatever is from the left, make sure the model is lighted the same way. This is so important to keeping the characters consistent that even when I’m doing the Frog King, I use my husband as a model and pose him with body language and facial expressions that I will need later. Also as you work out the layout you need to consider where the text will be. If the text is to be on the image, leave a light colored space for that. If the text will be on a page between illustrations make sure you don’t make a double page spread there.

Revised Thumbnail Dummy Book for Mr Sticky.
Revised Thumbnail Dummy Book for Mr Sticky. | Source

Rough book

I like to take the roughs and put them in a book form so that I can see how each of the pages will like up and flow. Also I “draw” in where the text will be so I can deep in mind there is text and how much of it there is.

Value Sketches for Mr. Sticky
Value Sketches for Mr. Sticky | Source

Value Sketches

After the roughs are worked out and one for each double page spread is chosen, you go on to making Value Sketches. These are more detailed, highly worked out and are only missing the color. These should look highly finished. Often this is the last opportunity for the publisher to make any changes or suggestions.

Color Sketches for Mr Sticky.
Color Sketches for Mr Sticky. | Source
Postcard Promotional designs
Postcard Promotional designs | Source

Color Sketches

The last stage is the final color copies. By this time you have the characters and sets so worked out that adding the color is a piece of cake. Often beginners will try to jump to this last stage first thinking the rest of steps are a waste of time. And what happens is that you end up having to do the work over again and again because something is missing. You haven’t worked out the lights and darks and figure placement first. It’s so much easier to make changes in the thumbnails and roughs than it is in the final color copy.

PDF format

When I am making a self-published book, I save my work in a photoshop format and then go to Adobe InDesign to lay it all out page by page. This allows me to see how they all line up and I can then save it as a PDF to upload to the self-publishing site. This is also where I lay in the text myself. PDF allows me to keep the text in place. It will not move or shift being uploaded like some other formats will.

Wrap around book cover for Anne of Green Gables
Wrap around book cover for Anne of Green Gables | Source

For my Boxes, Boxes, Boxes craft book, I created the cover by using photos I took of the boxes with pattern overlays and some colored borders. Fairly simple but effective.

Design the Cover

Also you need to design a cover. The cover is always full color even if the interior illustrations are black and white. Remember the front is on the right and the back is on the left with a spine down the middle. Place the title down the middle spine so that when the book is laying on a table face up, the title on the spine is right side up. Sometimes you can made a wrap around dust cover with space for the author and illustrator bio information of the inside wrap but not always on a self-published book. Check to be sure before going to the trouble to design one. I like to make my cover illustrations as if it were one big picture wrapping around the cover but you don’t always have to do this. You can make a separate design for the front and back. You can even use a photo for the front or back as long as you own the photo, you took it yourself, etc. Copyright infringement is a serious issue and you could loose everything if you try to use someone else’s work without permission.

Dummy Template.  Just right click and save to your computer.
Dummy Template. Just right click and save to your computer. | Source

PDF formate

Like the inside of the book, once you have designed your cover, save it as a PDF to upload to the publishing site. And you are done. Things like choosing a font for the interior and the cover title page is something you should discuss with the publisher or other professionals. It does make a difference though and needs serious consideration. Too much information on choosing fonts to cover here but needless to say, a good font can grab attention and a bad one can keep your book from getting that attention.

32 page Picture Book Template

Picture Book Template.  Just right click and save to your computer.
Picture Book Template. Just right click and save to your computer. | Source

Good Luck

Good luck with your publication. I hope all this was of help to anyone thinking of publishing their own children’s books.

Source

Bookish Comments Welcome

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      23 months ago from Fresno CA

      grand old lady,

      Like you, I think I took it all for granted too until I started getting into the business of creating them myself. What is more, every publisher has an art director who has his/her own ideas of how your book should look and will ask for constant corrections and additions. It almost feels like it isn't your book after a while. But that is the business of picture books. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      23 months ago from Philippines

      I never realized it was so difficult to make illustrations for children's books. When my daughter was a child, she had so many beautifully illustrated books, and I took all those works of art for granted. This has been a most enlightening article. Thank you!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      PaigSr,

      That is wonderful news. I wish you great success. I think everyone has at least one awesome creative story in them, but most people never get around to sharing it. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PaigSr profile image

      PaigSr 

      2 years ago from State of Confusion

      I have two books that I have the story lines for and most of the pictures. My big issue is illustrating them. The words go with the pictures and may need a little tweeking. But I plan on taking another shot at these after finding your page. Thanks. And in the good news I have two administrators - My sister and my daughter.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Reynold Jay,

      That's pretty fabulous. Glad hiring illustrators worked out so well for you. You are one of the rare ones who hires the starving artist rather than trying to get art free and cheat the artist. I'm so happy to know you! Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      2 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      Well now! This is up my alley! I hired several artists to work on my series, The Wurtherington Diary. After reading this I would say I learned by doing. My artists would draw art according to my directions and then IO would do the rest. Ttake a glance at it here...http://biccomix.com/seedsfromheaven.htm and I would hope you will see it turned out fairly well, Denise.

      On one called Rose and her Little Lost Kitten, I found an artist at FAA and did the story around all the art she had posted in her gallery. Yep--she did not need to do any more than say 'Yes!" and she got half the proceeds. Book comes out Thursday.

      I back at HUBS just a bit now after two years of working on the series.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      FlourishAnyway,

      So kind of you to say so. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and comment.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      2 years ago from USA

      Beautiful illustrations and I know that Hubbers appreciate the encouragement and advice that you provide.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Glenn Stok,

      Yes, it's true most illustrations are done the same way. I hope you find this very helpful. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I never knew the methods used to create illustrations. It's important to have the right tools as I learned from your hub and from the video you included. With that knowledge I'm motivated now to give it a try. I'm not planning to write a children's book. But it's useful for illustrating articles too.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thank you, Larry. Are you thinking about creating a Children's Book? Glad you got something out of this one. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very useful.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      denise.w.anderson,

      Thank you. I try to be informative. I would have loved to find all this information way back when. That is before I decided to go back to college to learn how to do it right. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      This is very informative. It gives a thorough explanation of both the process and the procedure! Thanks!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Carb Diva,

      That is super kind. The greatest compliment to an illustrator is that people buy the book for the illustrations. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Denise, your work is beautiful. I would buy the books simply for the illustrations. Thank you for sharing.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      galleryofgrace,

      Thank you, grace, that is truly a compliment. Thanks for the comment.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      christinemariezzz,

      Thank you very much. I'm not much of a writer really but I love illustration. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      SaltyLady,

      Thank you very much. I appreciate the comment.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      tillsontitan,

      I appreciate the affirmation. It is a lot of work to do it right. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • galleryofgrace profile image

      galleryofgrace 

      3 years ago from Virginia

      Excellent information -it inspires me to do better! Thanks

    • profile image

      christinemariezzz 

      3 years ago

      Beautiful Denise!

      I took a young children's literature class in my university studies- your hub is so full of information on this good stuff'

      Thank you for taking the time to compose it.

      ~christinemariezzz

    • profile image

      SaltyLady 

      3 years ago

      Thank you! This was very informative.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      3 years ago from New York

      Nicely done and certainly enlightening. Your illustrations are brilliant! My children's book is in the works. My illustrator works sketch to color, one at a time. It's a long process but I appreciate the talent and artistry.

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