Writing a Child Book e-Course

The Nitty Gritty: Format, Word Count, Vocabulary, Illustrations

Before you actually write your book or try to get it published, it’s a good idea to think about the nitty gritty issues.


Almost all picture books are either 24 or 32 pages in length, with the majority being 32 pages). A standard picture book usually has 3-4 pages of front matter (title page, copyright page, dedication page and possibly a table of contents). That means you have 28 pages to tell your story.

Spreads vs. Single Pages

Picture books are usually divided into spreads (2 pages facing each other, i.e. the book open) or single pages. Spreads usually only have one illustration that covers the entire spread (it ‘spreads’ across both pages) whereas single pages usually have one illustration per page for a total of 28 illustrations.

TIP: Create a thumbnail layout of your text.

Creating a thumbnail layout of your text will help you decide how to break your story into parts and how it will flow from page to page or spread to spread. To do this simply number several sheets from 1 to 32 starting with the first right-hand page. Once you’ve numbered them all you can glue or tape them all together to create a “mock-up” of your book.

Why create a thumbnail layout/mock-up?

By seeing how your story unfolds from page to page, you can edit it so that it flows well and keeps the reader’s attention. This will also ensure that your story is of the proper length (neither too long, nor too short). Ultimately, this saves an editor time and makes it more likely that she will accept your manuscript. To put it another way, if your manuscript does not follow a standard format, it will probably not be considered for publication.

How Long?

So far we’ve dealt with the number of pages, but what about the number of words? How many words should there be per page, and how many should there be in total? The word density per page depends upon the overall flow of your story and the age group for whom it’s written. Again, by creating a mock-up you can get a good feel for how long your story should be. As a general rule of thumb, most picture book manuscripts are between 200-1,000 words.

‘Big’ Words vs. ‘Little’ Words

Contrary to what you might think, there’s nothing wrong with using ‘big’, somewhat difficult words, when appropriate. The child probably won’t be reading the book herself and by using more difficult words you give her the chance to learn. Children actually love colorful or funny words. As long as they can be understood by the context, smoothly explained in the text or easily explained by the person reading the story, feel free to use some words that may be slightly beyond the child’s vocabulary. Whatever you do, don’t “dumb down” your story to the point that it becomes uninteresting.


The temptation may be great to have your storybook illustrated before sending it to publishing companies. Contrary to what you might think, however, this will actually work against you. When a publisher decides to publish your story, the editor will work with the design team to select just the right illustrator for your book. So, having your story illustrated is superfluous at best and could put-off editors in the worst case.

Of course, if you choose to self-publish or sell your story online then by all means have it illustrated.

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