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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How to Series: PICTURE BOOK DUMMIES by Guest Blogger, Natasha Yim

How do you submit a picture book to a publisher? Do you need illustrations? A picture book dummy? What is a picture book dummy anyway? For writers new to the world of writing and publishing children’s books, manuscript formatting for picture books can be confusing. So, just let me clarify a few points.

First off, unless you’re an accomplished illustrator, you do not need to submit illustrations. You don’t need to spend a bucket load of cash to hire an illustrator. If your book is accepted for publication, it’s the art director’s job, in consultation with your editor, to match you with an illustrator who will magically bring your story to vibrant life.

That said, picture book dummies are very useful in planning your picture book and in the revision process. A picture book dummy is a rough mock-up of your book. It allows you to lay out and visualize how you want the book to look if it were published. Where would the page breaks be? Where would the illustrations go? It allows you to gauge pacing: do some pages look overly text-heavy? Is there enough variation of long and short sentences on each page?

You can assess the illustrability of each scene: if there’s not enough going on, or each page is too similar in tone (for example, there are three pages of your protagonist eating spaghetti and meatballs at the dining table), then the illustrations may not be different enough from page to page to engage your reader.

You can also play with “page turns” for your book. Do you want some of the pages to have a “cliff-hanger” (yes, they do exist in picture books albeit on a much simpler and smaller scale) so the child is eager to turn the page or will be rewarded with a little surprise on the next page? A good example of a picture book with “cliff-hanger” page turners is Deborah Ruddell’s Who Said Coo?, illustrated by Robin Luebs.   

To understand picture book dummies, it also behooves writers to understand the basic layout and construction of a picture book. The average picture book is 32 pages, which doesn’t mean 32 pages of printed text because you have to leave room for front and back matter which includes your copyright and Library of Congress page with the ISBN numbers, title page, acknowledgement page etc.

Here are two sites that give a really good explanation of the basic construction of a picture book: Editorial Anonymous,, and Writing for Kids (While Raising Them),

So, submit your picture book in standard manuscript format, but consider the picture book dummy as an invaluable visual aid.  

Here's some of the picture books Natasha Yim has authored. Otto's Rainy Day (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2000), Cixi, The Dragon Empress (Goosebottom Books, 2011), Sacajawea of the Shoshone (Goosebottom Books, 2012) and Goldy Luck and the Three Chans (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2014) 

She has also been published in Highlight for Children, Appleseeds, and Faces magazines.


  1. This was clear, concise, and so helpful! I'll be passing this on to writer friends!
    Margo :)

  2. Excellent blog and beautiful in its simplicity. I went completely the WRONG way about submitting my first picture book, and this confirms what I now know as the right way!

    Many Thanks


    1. Good to know that this is helpful. There's always something new we can learn about writing.

  3. Great advice, Natasha. Thanks for the interview, Chris.

  4. Thanks for writing this helpful post, Natasha. I have two dummy books sitting on my shelf, and you've inspired me to pull them out and DO something with them.

  5. Thank you all for your comments. Happy Writing and Publishing!