Picture Book Dummy is a Smart Idea

by Margaret Welwood

“You mixed up the spaghettis,” announced Coralie (Scissortown artist and spaghetti sorter).

I had printed off my story as a Word doc, then cut the text into strips and taped them onto pages of 8” x 8” paper. I then taped the rough line drawings of Coralie’s pictures to the pages. That’s when I knew something was wrong, and Coralie diagnosed the problem: I had Tina’s mom adding sardines to the spaghetti AFTER she’d added a whole onion to another batch. You’ll have to read the story to find out why the invading Slicers and Dicers made for such unorthodox culinary measures. 😊

Unless you have a great ability to visualize, and maybe even then, a picture book dummy is critical to see how your story flows. The dummy can be quite fancy, or—like mine—drop dead simple. However you make it, this tool will help you see how much text is on each page, where it should go in relation to the pictures for variety and greatest effect, and how to place suspenseful material on the righthand page to invite your young reader to turn the page.

This author is much “artsier” than some of us, but you might enjoy watching him construct a dummy for his picture book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KG-DxxChC8g

This post gives useful information on the physical construction of a picture book (not something I’d given much thought to till I started writing them). http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/2008/10/basic-book-construction.html

I find the instructions in this post very clear. https://www.highlightsfoundation.org/12445/guest-post-lisa-cinelli-crafting-a-picture-book-dummy/

Lisa’s guidelines for evaluating your book dummy will also help you evaluate the story itself.

Speaking of which, I sent Marie and Mr. Bee to an online author/editor friend in the hope of getting some pre-publication buzz. What I got was a very kind reply that I wouldn’t want her to review the story because it had plot holes. Making a book dummy helped my son and me lay out the book to make the story clear, making minor adjustments to the wording while paying careful attention to page turns.

Also, Coralie’s art did what it was supposed to do: clarify, enhance, and add credibility to the story line. For example, the “Super Grow Tree Co” labels on the trees in the picture above were Coralie’s idea to explain how the trees grew so fast.

Please note below the matching teacups and lamp, the warm glow of the lamp, the aging Mr. Bee’s glasses and gray hair, and the fact that Marie is knitting him a sweater. None of these are mentioned in the text, but they add a richness beyond words as we see Marie caring for her elderly little friend.

Interestingly, when I invited this online friend to take a look at the story after it was laid out, she gave it five stars and made no mention of plot holes.

So there you have it: a do-it-yourself visual aid that will be invaluable if you indie publish and will be working directly with your illustrator. If you’re seeking a traditional publisher, you will probably not be asked for suggestions for illustrations. However, making a book dummy will help you get the best possible flow for your story.

Margaret Welwood loved teaching English as a Second Language, writing magazine articles, and editing a business magazine and adult non-fiction books (one an Amazon #1 best seller, the other a Writer’s Digest award winner). However, with the arrival of grandchildren and their welcome request—“Grandma, can you tell me a story?”—she began writing and editing picture books for children. This is now her favorite genre.

Please visit eBookChristian to learn about Margaret’s picture books for children (both print and digital), and her Authors Community (AC) vendor page for her editing services.

Margaret has been working with AC author Terri Martin on Happy’s Surprise, a charming tale of a little rabbit, his grandpa (think Grandparents Day), and an important life lesson learned the easy way! For those of us who have learned too many lessons the hard way, this is a refreshing and comforting story.

If you’re an aspiring children’s book writer, please check out the benefits of a free membership in the Authors Community, and the value in the Manuscript Bundle.

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4 thoughts on “Picture Book Dummy is a Smart Idea”

  1. I’m not much of an artist. I used to make home movies for competitions, though–so I’m overly visually-oriented. I need more help working in sounds, scents, tastes and textures.

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