How to Create a Children’s Picture Book
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
Do you have any desire to create a Children's Picture Book?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Good luck with your publication. I hope all this was of help to anyone thinking of publishing their own children’s books.