Wednesday 24 April 2013

Picture Books On My Mind

By Candy Gourlay

I made a video about my wonderful day reading
picture books at Foyles
If you follow my author blog, you will know I've had picture books on my mind.

This is because I'm kind of in a mini gap while waiting for the proofs of my next book SHINE which is out in September ... which means I'm trying to write picture books.

I'm definitely no expert on picture books, it's an art form that has baffled me since I got my first rejection slip almost a dozen years ago now.

But it so happens, this week has been a week of brilliant posts about the making of picture books on the blogosphere.

Ragnhild Scamell over on the Picture Book Den, deals with how picture book texts have to be formatted on submission.

I was relieved to discover that there was no proper way - the key is to create an enticing reading experience for your editor.

But Ragnhild's main point is this:
A picture book is a story visualized by three people: the writer, the editor and the illustrator. Read the article
As Ragnhild's work became more polished, she found herself wondering how much of the book she was leaving for the editor and the illustrator to get their teeth into:
"Do publishers actually want thoroughly honed stories? The editor will be looking for something new and exciting, and the story must first and foremost be capable of inspiring the illustrator, so that she can produce her best and most imaginative work."
Adam Rex, who illustrated Neil Gaiman's new picture book Chu's Day (geddit?), blogged on Muddy Colors, the Illustrator collective blog, about how he makes a picture book, from storyboard to final artwork.

You can read about Adam's process here. But in the comments he explains something that I'd never understood - which pages are the 32 pages that make a picture book? It's the subject of much conjecture, as evidenced by this well illustrated discussion on the Drawn Blog (with thanks to Dana Atnip for the heads up on SCBWI's LinkedIn group).

But here at last is the technical explanation. If you can't be bothered to trawl through the comments of Adam Rex's post, here's what Adam said (non-geeks, this might give you a headache):
...only those pages that are printed on the same paper as the story itself should be considered in the page count. So if the endpapers are of a different paper stock (which is most often the case), you do not count these. Such a book is called "separated ended."

But sometimes a book's endpapers are of the same paper as the rest of the book. This is a "self-ended" book, and the endpapers count. And here's the weird part: in such a book, the first page is the one that's pasted face-down against the board. The second page is the first visible (yet still un-flippable) page, and so on. The last page is similarly pasted face-down against the back board.

A half-title is a page that displays the book's title but typically nothing else. It's accompanied by a full title page (or spread) as well.

You can also budget a full page just for a dedication, or stick that dedication with the copyright.
So now you know.

If you want to look sophisticated in the company of picturebookerati, you can now casually use the words 'separated-ended' and 'self-ended' without looking like a total fool.

Apologies for life being a bit slow on the Slushpile this month. Teri very suddenly found herself touring the country promoting Fractured (energetic publicist, you see), Addy's been cycling and getting lost in the North of England, Maureen is working on her forthcoming utterly wonderful book (I read Florence and the Meanies and lemme tell you, it was wow - and that was just a draft), and Jo foolishly started a new blog (Space on the Bookshelf - go check it out) - that makes three blogs she's involved in now! But don't worry - there's even more blogging going on - do check out Words & Pictures, the new online magazine of SCBWI in the British Isles.


  1. Great links thanks and yes, I agree there's no proper way! I love the collaborative aspect of picture book making. We work not just between words and pictures, but with the editor, designer, the physical shape of the book and of course the child and parent.
    If publishers the story or something about it, then they'll want to work on it too - how best to promote it as a physical object, how many spreads, and at what cost.
    Because flexibility is useful, I like to start out with 12 or so post-its, laid out like a storyboard, each post-it representing a spread of two pages. It helps me to limit 'wordage' and think visually - placing words somewhere in the spread that might help emphasize their meaning, even when I've no idea about the illustration. The classic "and this is what he saw..." will prompt the page turn if it's on the bottom right of a spread but top left it would be an immediate unveiling of a scene.
    Whether I have a storyboard for it or not, I'll present the finished story as a double spaced text , numbering each spread for clarity...
    (Oops - sorry about this pb length comment!)

    1. Oh that's a great idea, working with post-its! I'll have a go at that. Thanks for the picture book length response - on NFTSP the comments always add value and this is brilliant. Now off to get some post-its!

  2. Great links. And I love the word "picturebookerati"!!! :)

    1. Thanks, Susanna! I have huge respect for picture book people - I actually gave up to write novels because PBs were so hard to write!

  3. I love picture book geekiness! Pbs are an art form and sooooo satisfying to craft. Enjoy yourself, Candy. Evil Baby?

  4. I work on my pb's in between my novels too. A good pb's is soooo satisfying to read aloud and I try really hard to write for the reader's experience as well as the listeners. It's a performance piece really.

  5. Great post Candy. I love picture books, coming from an art background, having a story delivered by words and pictures is so satisfying. I especially like it when the words and the illustrations work together allowing the pictures to tell some of the story or deliver the jokes.


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