If You Write Picture Books, Do Something Smart: Make a Dummy


One thing my thickheaded brain learned late in the process of writing picture books and early chapter books/easy-to-reads is the value of making a dummy book.  Now, I wouldn’t even think twice about doing one—if not more, in the course of working on just one book.

But you may be asking what’s a dummy? And why does a writer have to make one? Good questions.  So glad you asked.  A dummy is just a mock-up of your book.  And once you’ve written out your story and the bones are pretty much there, doing a dummy helps with the fine-tuning.  You get to see how the story lays out, where your ah-ha! page-turners fall, where you might need to add a page-turner, and most of all, you get to cut, cut and cut some more.

Since word counts are such a huge issue these days, getting your word counts down as much as possible will help strengthen the story.  Although editors say picture books shouldn’t be more than 1000 words, what I keep hearing is that you need to shoot for the 600-700 word range, if not shorter!

Whether you’re working with picture books or early chapter books/easy-to-reads, your book needs to fit into 32 pages.  Since most picture books are 32 pages (although there are some that are 24 and 40 pages, think in terms of groups of eight), after front matter (the title page and copyright page), you’re left with about 28 pages to work with.

My dummies are not sophisticated.  Although I have heard that there are programs you can use to layout your story, I like the old-fashioned method.  My tools of choice are:

  • 8 sheets of paper (9 if you’d like to do a fancy, inspirational cover), folded in half.
  • Rubber cement glue
  • Scissors

This past week I spent a good amount of time working on a dummy for the fourth book in my easy-to-read detective series.  (I still can’t believe I’m in the fourth book already.)  And while doing the dummy, I realized the story still needs some tweaks.  But unlike the first 1000 drafts, doing the dummy helps me see that the finish line is in sight—well, at least for the next round of edits. 🙂


4 comments on “If You Write Picture Books, Do Something Smart: Make a Dummy

    • The rubber cement comes off pretty easily if you need to move text around. I also use tape or whatever is handy. I have a six year old and my office supplies seem to disappear from time to time. 🙂

  1. Do you send these dummies to the publisher (as a first time submission with no publishing history like me lol) or just use them for personal use and let the publisher decide how it should look with an illustrator, art director, ect?

    • Dummies are for your personal use. They are invaluable in helping you trim and polish your manuscript before you send it to a publisher. That said, I had one editor ask me to send her a dummy of how the words paged out. The editor will select an illustrator for you. Unless you’re an illustrator do not send any artwork to the editor. You can, however, put in illustrator notes. Some editors don’t like them but in my personal experience nobody has complained about them. Good luck!

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