“Ask an Editor” is a forum wherein SCBWI members submit questions that are answered as part of our quarterly Kite Tales blog.
—Unbroken, Los Angeles
Check each agency’s website for their submissions requirements. If you meet an agent in person or via a webinar, ask their preference. If you can’t tell, play it safe and submit the manuscript with page breaks.
When a manuscript is submitted without pagination, it’s unclear to the recipient whether the author has invested the time to correctly figure the page turns. Some writers cut up their document and create a picture-book dummy. While this is a helpful exercise, agents won’t know about it because you’ll only submit text.
Before querying, a writer should identify where the pages will break and ensure the two-page spreads will fit in a typical-size picture book. Books are produced with pages in multiples of eight. Board books or picture books for younger readers may be 8, 16, 24, or 32 pages. A general guideline for picture books is 32 pages. You will see picture books up to 48 pages, but those costly extra pages are often invested in authors with a proven track record such as Aaron Reynolds’s Creepy Pair of Underwear! (the follow-up to the successful 40-page Creepy Carrots!). Debut authors should work with the 32-page layout.
When paginating, remember to reserve about three pages for front/back matter. These are the pages with the title and copyright information; they should not have story text. That leaves 15 spreads for the story.
Once you have the story down, add in the actual pages (for example: 4-5, 6-7, and so forth), or demonstrate the page break with an extra paragraph return. Each two-page spread is a scene; it must entice the reader to turn the page and lend itself to illustrations. Section breaks (for example, a skip forward in time) should be shown with an asterisk, as you’d do in a longer work such as a novel. When the pagination has been added to your picture book, it’s time to workshop the manuscript. Page breaks help your critique group provide you with insightful feedback.
In summary: It may be okay if you submit your picture-book manuscript to an agent without pagination, or it may not. To know that your story works, a writer should insert the page breaks. If an agent does not want to see them, they can be quickly removed before querying.
If you submit the picture book with pagination and it finds a publisher, those page breaks may change, but including them demonstrated your knowledge of the craft.
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