Welcome to our newest feature, “Ask an Editor,” where our wonderful SCBWI members send in questions which may be answered in an upcoming Kite Tales blog. You can remain anonymous if you wish.
Have a question to submit? Log in to your SCBWI account, then either click on the “Ask an Editor” image at the left or follow this link http://losangeles.scbwi.org/ask-an-editor/ and fill out the form. It’s easy!
Dear Editor – I write picture books. Why picture books are almost always 32 pages? Is this something I even need to care about while I’m writing? It’s all about writing the best story and staying within the word count, right?
—Notta Paige Counter
Dear Notta Paige Counter:
Picture books are typically 32 pages because books are produced in page-count multiples of eight. However, you will also see some with page counts of 24, 40, or 48 pages. Nonfiction picture books and books for writers with a demonstrated audience tend to run longer. Keep in mind that more page mean more cost and, therefore, more risk, for the publisher. (Update, 3/22/21: Some recent picture books have come in at high page counts, such as Sophie Blackall’s IF YOU COME TO EARTH at 80 pages and Deborah Hopkinson’s BUTTERFLIES BELONG HERE at 68 pages).
And, yes, page count matters. Demonstrating that you have an understanding of page count may give you an advantage in securing that agent or publisher, and it can definitely help plan the layout of the story. If you’re self-publishing and wish to mimic the look of a traditionally published book, then aim for 32 pages.
When in the early stages of developing your story, get it down. But once you begin revising and refining for word count and story-line development, inserting page breaks can help you visualize each scene and pace the plot.
Using the 32-page book as an example, use a template such as this one to help define the plot:
– Three pages should be set aside for the front matter (or you can call this the back matter).
– This leaves 29 pages with which to work. Visualize the book and you will realize that, except for the last page, the other pages will be in two-page spreads. Your page numbering will be like this: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21, 22-23, 24-25, 26-27, 28-29, 30-31, and 32.
– In regard to pacing of the plot, the end of the beginning should occur around pages 6-7 or 8-9. The middle of the book and the building of the dramatic arc falls between 16-17 and 18-19. Pages 28-29, 30-31, and 32 are for the climax and resolution.
When you analyze your book in this manner, it’s easier to see how the story line breaks into two-page scenes. Each scene should lend itself to illustration and play a role in the overall plot. It’s ideal to end a page with an interesting or suspenseful line, encouraging the reader to turn the page.
A picture book is different from a book manuscript in that page breaks are not literal (done by adding “insert,” “page break”). Instead, page breaks in a picture-book manuscript are signified with asterisks, paragraph return marks, and/or the page numbers listed. This means that your entire picture book will probably be 4-6 printed pages if your text is double-spaced, size-12 font.
To ask a question which may be answered in an upcoming Kite Tales, please follow this link and fill in the form (note that you must be logged in to your SCBWI account to access this feature): http://losangeles.scbwi.org/ask-an-editor/.
Question answered by Christine Van Zandt, SCBWI’s Kite Tales co-editor and freelance editor at Write for Success, www.write-for-success.com.