Friday, October 31, 2008

Basic Book Construction

How would I go about finding a children’s book editor for a 15 page book?
The first thing you need to know is how this question sounds to anyone in the business. It sounds ignorant. And very confusing. I have no idea what you meant to ask.

For one thing, there aren't different editors for different page counts. (Though of course some editors specialize in picture books and others in novels, etc.)

For another thing, 15?
How did you come up with that number?

Most authors have only the sketchiest idea of how to count pages, so I'm going to go way out on a limb here and guess that you're just wrong about that.

Did you:
  1. count the number of pages the manuscript fills when typed or hand-written?
  2. count the number of pages the manuscript fills when space is left for illustration?
  3. count the number of spreads the manuscript fills when space is left for illustration?
The correct answer would be: none of the above.

Ok, you know what? Everybody: stand up right now and go to your bookshelf. Pull out a picture book and flip to the first two pieces of paper that you can pinch between a finger (i.e., I'm not talking about the paper that's glued to the covers).

Are the two pages made of the same kind of paper? You're holding a self-ended book.

Are the two pages made of two different kinds of paper? You're holding a separate-ended book.

Go through your picture books until you're holding one of each. I am personally holding Wild About Books by Judy Sierra (self-ended) and The Little Red Hen by Jerry Pinkney (separate-ended). Good. Class is now in session.

fig 1.

Ok. The very outside of a book is the jacket. It's loose, and would slip right off of the book except for the way it's folded around the book's cardboard cover. The two parts of the jacket that get folded into the book are called the 'front flap' and the 'back flap'. The front flap usually has a description of the book and/or marketing copy (and by 'copy' I mean 'text'). The copy on the back flap is usually information about the author and illustrator. Take the jackets off of your books and set the jackets aside.

Next you have the cardboard cover. This is the 'hard' part of the term 'hardcover'. It is this cardboard that makes the book not a paperback.

Next are the ends, or endsheets. Let's come back to these.

And then we come to the actual book pages-- the book block. (Aside: if asked for the 'trim size' of a normally bound book, it is this-- the size the pages are trimmed to-- that is being spoken of.)

Printers set bundles of paper sheets into the cover in sets of four. Once bound in, and counted front-and-back as pages, those four sheets make 16 pages. This is a signature. A 32-page book has two signatures of paper in it.

It costs a little extra to split a signature into smaller units, and so a publisher may be reluctant to do this. It is for this reason that many books have page counts in multiples of 16. (It is still possible to have a page count in a multiple of 8 or 4, but never 2--as you'll realize if you try building a book this way.)

So most picture books have 32 pages. Once bound into the book, page 1 is not part of a two-page spread, and neither is page 32. The pages in the book look like this:

fig 2.

Though of course I haven't indicated the gutter in the middle of the two-page spreads in this image.

So here's the thing about endsheets, or 'ends'. If the printer was asked to put 'separate ends' into the book, then he's put two sheets of paper between the cover and the book block. Two sheets of paper, once bound in, make 8 pages. If we numbered these endsheets (which, in bookmaking, we do not), page 1 and page 8 get glue applied to them and are glued onto the cardboard cover. You now cannot look at page 1 or 8, and their other sides, pages 2 and 7, you can look at, but they are now serving as the inside of the cover. Then you have a loose page of endpaper at both the front and back of the book (endsheets 3-4 and 5-6), and between them comes the printed book block.

In the case of separate-ended books, every page in the book block can be printed upon. Page 1 will have the title or half-title. Page 2 may have the copyright information, dedication, acknowledgements, and permissions info (depending on the kind of book) and page 3 the full title, or the CR info may go on page 32, and pages 2-3 may be the first spread you can use for your story. At the most, you will have 15 spreads to tell your story.

But what if the printer was not asked to put endpapers in? Then we go back to our fig 2. Then all we have to work with is the pages of the book block, so page 1 and page 32 are the ones glued face-down onto the cover. Spread 2-3 is the first thing you see when you open the book, and spread 30-31 the last thing before you close it. Now, you will often see those two spreads printed with patterns or extra illustration-- but those spreads cannot have meaningful information printed on them, because librarians are going to stick their little envelopes and barcodes all over them. And librarians have a big voice in children's books, make no mistake.

So, in a self-ended book, pages 1,2,3, and 30, 31, 32 serve as ends. They cannot have another use. Spread 4-5 will have the copyright info (etc) and the title page, and the remaining 12 spreads are what you have in which to tell your story.



I hope this was clear, but if not, I strongly recommend every picture book writer do what they must to figure it out. This is very basic book information.

Now, to the questionner: How many pages is your book?

26 comments:

ae said...

Thanks. This comes in very handy as I am wrapping up another dummy (which is longer than a 32 page pb)for an upcoming illustrator workshop and critique.

I'll be able to talk to the AD(s)like a pro.

Maria said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Sometimes it's hard to get this kind of basic information spelled out so clearly (because everyone already "knows" it). I'm new to the world of picture books (as a writer), and I've been realizing that a realistic idea of how many pages and how the text/potential illustrations might fit on the page is crucial to my writing process.

Wendy said...

I would add that unless you're an aspiring author-illustrator looking to submit a manuscript in sketched dummy form (where knowing how many spreads you're working with is essential to your visual storytelling), this page count stuff is really just a general guideline for most folks.

Ultimately, what all this means is that as a writer, you should be developing a sense of what a 32-page book feels like in terms of word count, pacing, etc. (And, for that matter, understand what 40-page and 16-page picture books are like.)

What it DOESN'T mean is that you should try to meticulously plan every last page of your manuscript. I think the gist of EA's advice here is you should just know the lay of the land. (Whereas making a detailed map of that land is another thing altogether, and for most writers, that usually comes later in the book process, and with an editor's input.)

Anonymous said...

I have been illustrating for fifteen-plus years and I have to have with ends/separate ends/etc. explained to me EVERY TIME THEY COME UP.

Jill Corcoran said...

Thanks EA!
I put a link to this post on Verla's Blue Boards and my blog. This is info every pb writer needs.

Kelly said...

Excellent explanation!

Maria said...

Thanks, Wendy, I agree we don't want to obsess over this. However, one piece I've been working on, for example, has a kind of "refrain" to it, and it's helpful to be able to think about how many "verses" fit into a typical picture book format (so I don't submit something that is a bad fit for the format and thus makes me look like I haven't done my homework).

ae said...

Actually, you've helped me make it 32 pages. That worked out.

I got this same template from Rutgers One on One a few years ago as a writer. But as an illustrator it is a whole nother can of wax. And I like anonymous 3:20 am the kind of writer/illustrator for constant reminders. That won't change. EVER. SMILE

BuffySquirrel said...

Fascinating!

Editorial Anonymous said...

Agreed, Wendy. Thanks for clarifying.

Bonnie A said...

I agree with Wendy that you shouldn't obsess about the format unless you are submitting a dummy, but it IS helpful for picture book writers to "storyboard" the text.

Jotting key elements onto a template such as the one EA provided is a great way to reveal problems in pacing and help you learn to understand the power of page breaks in picture books with minimal text.

ae said...

Dummying is also a way to get rid of words you don't need, or to rearrange plot elements.

I suggest everyone look for the Itoya portfolios (8.5 by 11... portrait or landscape. They have sleeves and you can finagle with your page layout. And you can reuse them if you like.

You can get them at most art suppliers, some stationers and probably find them on-line.

Just tell the Itoya so! ;)

Andy J Smith illustration said...

Obviously, it's all still VERY pliable, but do you think my endsheets have too much information/imagery?...
http://www.andyjsmithillustration.com/yuck/yuckDummy.pdf

kris said...

I'm only an aspiring PB author, so I can't speak with authority, but an author I respect once told me that he dummies all of his PBs before submission (he's not an illustrator, so I'm talking about page spreads with space for illustrations) FOR HIMSELF prior to submitting. This helps him find the rhythm of a story and make sure that it logically makes sense in PB format. He then submits in regular double-spaced prose as per guidelines. Later, when the editor/illustrator/designer are making decisions as to what goes on what page, they may or may not make the same page breaks he did, which is fine, but at least making a mock-up for himself helps him to understand if he's in the right ballpark in terms of the story he wants fitting the format.

Jane Smith said...

This is a FABULOUS blog post, and I'm going to link to it soon. Thank you!

jimmer said...

When I was putting together my first dummy, I found so many confusing versions on pagination for PBs that I just got out the books themselves and managed to figured it out--this is the first time I've seen a precise explanation, particularly about endsheets. Illustrators will be forever grateful to you!

I'd be really curious to see an actual signature sheet of uncut pages, if anyone has a link.

Jess said...

This is some essential knowledge for people who want to understand how book-making and book publishing works. Great post!

Jess
http://bookpublishing.today.com

JW said...

Great post! I've searched like mad looking for info like this. Thank you so very much!

Virginia Lowe said...

This is a very clear explanation. Actually, when teaching people to write picture books, I get them to start with the storyboard, which they can make with any sheet of paper by folding it in four, and numbering the first apace 32 & 1, then 2/3 4/5 etc, to the final one in the bottom right, which is 30/31. it's not as clear as yours, but once you understand it, it meas you can use any sheet of paper at all.
We encourage use of this by non-artists, because they then realize what the illustrations can say and the words don't need to - cutting down verbal description, usually.
Thanks AE.
Virginia.

Dr Virginia Lowe
Create a Kids' Book
http://www.createakidsbook.com.au
PO Box 2, Ormond Victoria 3204
ph: 03 9578 5689
fax: 03 9578 3466
mob: 0400 488 100
"Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two children tell" (Routledge 2007)

Anonymous said...

I found your "Basic Book Construction" description rather condescending, insulting,and rude to be honest. The writer who asked the question was sincere and looking for gentle and compassionate guidance, not snotty sarcasm.

Bethel said...

Excellent advice, although scathingly delivered. I appreciate the clarity of your explanation here, but I do see why you are anonymous! :)

Anonymous said...

What an incredibly rude reply! Perhaps this was a question you made up to demonstrate a point? I know this was written several years ago, but do you have a reason for your sarcasm? Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

Way to mar an otherwise clear explanation with a misplaced superiority complex. I hope you realize how comic you seem taking shots at someone who doesn't know the proper page numbers for a children's picture book. Remember which "business" you're in.

Anonymous said...

Thank you this post was excellent and very clear. Just to let you know that people are still finding it useful years later!

Crazy Travel Adventures by Debra said...

Good information. Thank you.

Sanola Jerry said...

Good basic knowledge explained with the best possible examples.

Thanks
Sanola Jerry

Plos Constructions