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Don't Be A Dummy...Make One! Top 3 Ways To Plan The Layout of Your Picture Book

Updated: Jun 12

When writing a children's picture book, the art tells half the story (more, in some cases!)

How to plan your picture book layout

Because of this, your picture book layout is essential to the reading experience. You want page turns in the right place and you don't want too much text on each page.

But if you're not an illustrator, this can be tricky to envision.

In this post, I'll show you how to make a picture book dummy so that you can nail your layout before the illustration phase.

What is a picture book dummy?

A picture book dummy is a mock-up that is used to determine what text will go on which page and to help you plan the layout of your picture book. In other words, it’s a tool you can use to figure out how the text and the pictures are going to work together on the pages to make picture book magic!

Why make a picture book dummy?

Many writers think of dummies as a final step before self-publishing. And the process of making a picture book dummy is a lot like storyboarding - the process of planning out each page with your illustrator. But making a dummy during the final stages of editing is also a great way to self-edit and improve your manuscript before you get to the illustration stage.

As you divide the text across the pages, you might notice…

  • Multiple pages in a row with nothing new to illustrate because characters are talking too much.

  • Lengthy descriptions of the setting that will be shown in illustrations.

  • Ways you can use page turns as dramatic pauses to build tension or add humor or drama.

  • Places where a double-page spread illustration would make a big impact.

  • And much more!

NOTE: If you are an author-illustrator submitting to traditional agents or publishers, you’ll need to make a much fancier dummy that includes several completed illustrations and showcases your ability to lay out text and images on a page. That’s NOT what we’re talking about in this post. Instead, here’s a great post from Shawna J.C. Tenney that might help.

Writing course for picture book authors

How do you make a picture book dummy?

There are many ways to make a picture book dummy. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Old-fashioned paper and pencil

At my first-ever writing retreat at the Highlights Foundation, the teacher gave us each 9 sheets of blank computer paper and had us stack them, fold them in half, and staple them together to make a 32-page blank book (plus front and back covers). Then, we printed our story, cut out all the lines of text, and shuffled them from page to page until we liked the layout of our picture book. (You can also write the words on sticky notes and move them around on the pages.) With the help of a little glue, we had a basic version of our book that we could hold in our hands, turning the pages to feel the pacing as we read it aloud.

Supplies needed to make a picture book dummy: computer paper, stapler, manuscript sticky notes, glue stick, scissors

👍 PROS: This method appeals to people who like to see a physical product. And the act of physically moving the words around from page to page can be powerful for some writers!

👎 CONS: You’ll need to handwrite or literally cut and glue everything, which can become tedious when making changes, as you’re sure to do during this process. Make sure you write in pencil and keep your big pink eraser handy or save that glue stick until you’re done moving words from page to page.

⭐️ RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: If you want to save yourself the trouble of constructing your own books, grab a bundle of these cheap, blank books from Amazon. With 32 pages, they’re perfect for picture book planning!

2. Printable Template

If you like paper and pencil, but don’t want to go full kindergarten craft time with scissors and glue, a simple printable template works too. There are many that can be found online. Print out one or a few and hand copy your text onto the pages to see how your story flows.

32 page picture book template

👍 PROS: You’ll save a few trees by only using a single sheet of paper for the entire book.

👎 CONS: You don’t get to physically flip the pages, which for some authors, is part of what they like about the dummy-making process. There’s also not a lot of room for text, so this won’t work well for long manuscripts or if you have large handwriting.

⭐️ RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: Here’s a link to a printable template.

3. Google Slides and Canva

If digital is more your style, Google Slides and Canva both offer super easy-to-use (and FREE) platforms that work great for making a dummy. Simply create 16 blank slides and divide each slide in half with a vertical line. Or use our FREE premade templates below. Add text boxes and simply copy and paste the appropriate lines from your manuscript onto each page.

screenshot of digital picture book dummy in Google Slides

👍 PROS: This method is great if you want to add some basic clip art images to help you envision the illustrations, as both programs offer that option. It’s also handy because making changes just requires a simple copy and paste.

👎 CONS: You won’t be physically turning pages…but you can use presentation mode to click through as if you’re reading an e-book.

⭐️ RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: Use these premade templates to save yourself time. Google Slides or Canva

Before you get started, you should know that how you plan to print your book can impact how you layout the copyright page, title page, interior pages, etc. If you aren’t sure about that, start by reading this amazing post by Brooke Vitale.

The process of creating a picture book dummy can highlight the strengths and weaknesses of a story that just aren't evident in a Word or Google document.

So, if you have a manuscript that you THINK is ready, but you just aren't sure...don't be a dummy - make one!

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