Picture Books, The Whole Story in 32 Pages

Don't Be a Pig in a Panic!Picture books are usually 32 pages long. As a children’s book author AND a children’s book illustrator, I have two different feelings about this total number.

When I am writing I feel like 32 pages are never enough. I always have a problem cutting my words down to 400 to 800 to hit the sweet spot of children’s picture books. It seems like 32 pages minus the title and copyright pages are never enough to say all the funny and clever things I want to say.

When I am illustrating for another author, I feel exactly the opposite. Thirty-two pages are a lot of pages to design characters and scenes for. There are so many decisions to make and get the author’s total agreement on. Each page must enhance and add to the text but also work well as a total design to direct the eye, advance the story and to flow to the next spread. It’s no surprise it usually takes between 4 months and 8 months to finish illustrating a picture book.

Some authors think they can just describe each scene or page as they see it and send this to the illustrator to work from. This technique seldom works. The whole story must be considered. The growth of each character and their interaction with each other within the scene is important. The images must flow from page to page. I always read your story over and over until I fully understand the characters and their interaction before I start. Page breaks are important. They can make or break a suspenseful or humorous scene. An illustrator brings enrichment and flow to a picture book. It’s not just a matter of drawing pretty pictures to match the words.

Can picture books be over 32 pages long? Yes, but usually the page-count advances in multiples of eight. This has to do with the way books are printed and the economic use of paper. Self-published books by CreateSpace and Ingram will let you add pages in multiples of two. They “gang” up several different books to save paper and ink. Can picture books be below 32 pages? Yes, but you won’t really be saving money. A 24-page book will feel like a pamphlet or brochure. It’s really too thin to have a proper spine for hardcover books. Usually, if a book is that short, blank pages are added at the beginning and end to make up 32 pages.

When authors write picture books, it helps to make a dummy out of typing paper. Just count out eight sheets and fold it in the middle. The first page is the title, the second page is the copyright and dedication page, the third page is the half title page. The story usually starts on page four. If you want to start your self-published book on a single page (instead of a spread), you can use the half title page (page three) as the first page of the story.

Now you can clearly see how many different scenes you will need. Just having characters standing around and talking to each other doesn’t make for a lot of fun action for kids. So think about action and change of scenery. Modern picture books use a lot of spreads. This means when the book is open and you see two pages next to each other, they are treated as one large image continuing over the gutter. Text can be on both pages, but never near the gutter. The action extends across the gutter.

Some pages can be broken up into many small spot illustrations to show fast moving action or a lot of little changes. The way each page is composed or laid-out can show a quicker pace or a slow down in pace. These are decisions an illustrator will suggest to create a more polished finished book.

Picture book illustrations

I love to work with self-publishing authors. Contact me and tell me about your book. Be sure to read my other blog posts and pages on this site to get suggestions and details so you don’t need to ask questions that I have already covered fully. Also visit my website to see more images and more suggestions