Children’s books are wonderful to read because they’re the perfect blend of words and images. They employ storytelling that balances both elements equally. Words and art combine to create a unique experience in reading. Many self-published authors want to write children’s books. Writing these books is rewarding, and it can also be a lot of fun, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s easy. Books that appeal to children must condense a lot of meaning into a few short, simple words. The illustrations are also a major part of any children’s book. If you want to write and publish one, these tips for children’s book formatting will help you get started.
Know the Publishing Standards for Children’s Books
Like most books, children’s books follow certain strict formatting rules set by the publishing industry. To make your book fit the expected standards, it’s helpful to know these rules.
- Most children’s books are 32 pages, including the title page, front matter, and back matter.
- Children’s books are usually 8.5 x 11 or the square 8.5 x 8.5 size.
- If you’re submitting your book to a publisher, they will choose the illustrator. If you’re self-publishing, you can choose any illustrator you want.
Write the Text First
Before you begin children’s book formatting, you should have a finished story that you’ve written, edited, and allowed someone else to read. Your text may change slightly once you start adding illustrations, but these should not be major changes.
It is much easier to start with a fully finished text than to spend time trying to write, figure out illustrations, and format the book all at the same time. You’ll drive yourself crazy, and your book will take a long, frustrating time to write. Save steps by having your story complete before you begin worrying about illustrations and layout.
Understand the Importance of Illustrations
Pictures are as important as words in children’s book formatting. To appeal to children, you need lots of high-quality, highly artistic illustrations. Some rare authors happen to also be excellent artists, but that doesn’t mean you know how to illustrate for children. That takes a special skill.
If you’re new to creating children’s books, start by looking at the many popular kid’s books in your library or bookstore. Notice the many different artistic styles they use.
Pay attention to covers. Just like books for adults, books for children must make an instant, irresistible appeal with a beautifully designed cover. Spend time thinking about the cover design, but don’t make that your initial focus. Wait until you’re finished with the layout to plan the cover image.
Determine the Balance of Words and Pictures
Children’s book formatting is always a blend of pictures and words. How long should your story be? This guide will tell you how many words and pictures you typically need for the age range your book is aimed at. Board books and picture books are heavy on illustrations, while books for older readers have more text and fewer pictures.
- Board Books: 0 to 3 years old, few words, pictures on every page
- Picture Books: 2 to 5 years old, fewer than 1,000 words, pictures on every page
- Chapter Books: 6 to 10 years old, 2,000 to 30,000 words
- Middle Grade: 8 to 12 years old, 30,000 to 50,000 words
Start with a Mockup
Sometimes called a book dummy, a mockup is a very helpful way to guide the formatting of your book. In graphic novels, this is known as a storyboard. It is a helpful way to fine-tune the layout of text and pictures before you produce a final version.
You don’t need any fancy equipment to create one.
In the first round, use sheets of plain white paper. Using your finished manuscript, write down which words you want on each page. Make notes about where you want an illustration. You will probably do this first round quickly.
In the second round, add detailed notes or brief sketches indicating what kind of illustration you want on each page. You should have a clear idea of what you want by this point.
If you are hiring an illustrator, a mockup is essential. It will help you both determine exactly what you expect the artist to create for you. Even if you’re doing the illustrations yourself, a mockup will help you plan and stay focused.
Choose a Font
Font is also important in children’s book formatting. Your chosen font is part of the design. Choose a font that is large, clean, and easy to read. Some children’s books use hand-drawn letters, but that can be a risky choice. It’s better to use a typeface that adults can read easily and that’s in line with publishing standards. Yes, you are a creative person, but you also want a readable book.
Prepare the Illustrations
If you are doing the illustrations yourself, you must have the ability to print at high resolution. Your home printer is unlikely to be able to do this, although it is fine for printing illustrations for your mockup or dummy. For the final version of your book, you must get a professional printer to print your images at 300 dpi (dots per inch) to get beautiful color resolution. A children’s book is not a place where muddy or faded colors will work.
If you are working with an illustrator, make sure they also know they must produce high-resolution artwork. Keep in mind that you need several different elements.
For older readers, you need pictures that help the story move along. You may also need pictures of key characters or locations. Discuss all these graphic elements with your artist.
How to Find an Illustrator
If you’ve decided to work with a professional illustrator, your next questions are “Where do I find one?” and “How much will it cost?”
If you look at the websites of established, professional artists, you will see rates in the thousands of dollars—assuming these illustrators even have the time or inclination to work with a new author. Those probably won’t be the people you end up hiring for your book.
However, you can find artists who are willing to work with you. Most of them will be people early in their careers who are looking to build their portfolios and experience.
Freelance work sites like Fiverr, Upwork, and freelancer.com allow you to post your job request and what you plan to pay. You can specify whether you want the payment to include a cover design and other graphic elements.
Social media is another good source. Many amateur and beginning artists use Instagram and other sites to post their work. They are looking for exposure and may be willing to take on a project that allows them to make money and build experience doing something they enjoy.
How much will it cost? At a minimum, you can expect to pay about $500, but be prepared to go higher if you don’t get any takers. If you are using a freelance site, make sure you check the reviews and ratings before you sign a contract.
Get Feedback on Your Book
Before you put the final touches on your children’s book, try to get reactions from your potential readers. Ask your child or a friend’s child to read it and look at the pictures. Children are usually honest—often brutally so—and they will give you a good idea of whether other kids will like your story. You could also ask parents what they think.
Prepare Your Book for Print
Once you have your dummy and your illustrations lined up, how do you put it all together? The fastest, easiest way is with design software and a template. You can download templates from sites like Canva, Adobe Express, and Google Docs. These customizable templates make children’s book formatting easy. Export your book to a PDF format before you send it to a professional printer.
We hope you’ve enjoyed these tips for children’s book formatting. Once your book is ready, count on Dazzle Printing for fast, expert printing and superior customer service. We specialize in working with self-published authors, and we have printed many beautiful, full-color children’s books.