PICTURE BOOK DUMMIES FOR (NOT) DUMMIES with Sarah Frances Hardy — Plus a Giveaway!

Today, as part of Kidlit Week, we are thrilled to welcome author/illustrator and Sub It Club member Sarah Frances Hardy! Sarah has put together some great information on picture book dummies that is helpful not only to illustrators, but also to picture book writers, who need to think like illustrators. Sarah is also offering a special dummy critique giveaway to help us celebrate 2 years of Sub It Club. Details at the end of this post. (The giveaway is over but the information is still great! ) But first, here’s Sarah:

author photo copy 2Greetings to all of you fellow Sub It Clubbers! And thank you Heather for having me here today.

My name is Sarah Frances Hardy and I’m an author/illustrator of picture books. My published books are PUZZLED BY PINK (Viking 2012); PAINT ME! (Sky Pony Press 2014); and the upcoming May of 2015 release DRESS ME! (Sky Pony Press).

puzzled by pinkWhen I started writing and illustrating children’s books with the hope of publication several years ago, I read in how-to-get-published books and submission guidelines that I should submit a picture book dummy.

So what is this elusive thing called the picture book dummy?

Dress me jacketIt’s your picture book sketched out with the text and drawings so that editors or agents can see how you envision the book. A picture book dummy does not need to be finished; in fact, it’s better if it isn’t. If you send in a dummy with completely painted, slick illustrations, editors might think that you’re not willing to revise (and like it or not, you’re going to be revising!).

Paint MeHere’s where I begin:

[*If you are an illustrator who doesn’t also write your own books, do all of these steps with a classic fairy tale]

First I take my manuscript and I do something called “bracketing”.


Since picture books are most often 32 pages, I know that my words and illustrations need to fit within 32 pages. I begin with the last sentence or phrase because I know it will be on the last page, and I write “p. 32” out beside it. Then I go to the first sentence or phrase, and I write “p. 3” beside it (this is because picture books normal start on page 3 since there will be front matter like title and copyright pages). Then I number the pages, working my way in so I meet in the middle. It normally takes me several tries to get this to work out.

Additionally, I make sure to read my sentences carefully as I do this so that I know there’s something to illustrate on each page. Also, I’m aware of where I have two page spreads–I wouldn’t want to split them in half (page 4-5 would be a full two page spread; page 5-6 would not).

Next, I make thumbnails using a diagram like this.

Image 2(1)Image 2(2)

This is kind of like a rough draft of my book dummy. I put the words in the little boxes with stick people so that I can better plan
what my book will look like.

I love doing this because I can see my entire book spread out in front of me all at once. Here’s where I make sure I have a good variety of perspectives, close-ups and pull-backs, and double and single page spreads. I also make sure that the work flows in such a way that the reader will want to turn the page.

Additionally, I look for places that I can cut text. If I can draw something … I cut it out of the text. For example, you probably don’t have to say that your main character is mad. You can simply show her with an angry look on her face. And you don’t have to describe action. In PUZZLED BY PINK, I used to have a spread that said “Rose leapt into the room”. Well, I drew it so I got rid of those unnecessary words.Image 3

Sometimes, I cut up my sheets of thumbnails and move things around just to play with how the story is structured.

Image 4

After I feel pretty good about my overall plan for the book, I move on to doing more finished sketches that I will use in the book dummy. Normally, I draw in pencil and scan the images into my computer. Then I manipulate them using photoshop. This makes it easy to try new things. Like ….

Changing orientation.

 Image 5

I also make sure that the pages aren’t too busy so that you can’t tell what’s going on. This double spread was a little too busy and needed to be simplified.

Image 6

After I have sketched the entire 32 page book, put the pages onto double page spreads. I save each spread as a PDF, and added text, I then create a multi-page PDF so that I will have one document that I can send out.

Next I print out my book dummy on paper and read it and pass it around. It’s insane how things suddenly *change* when they’re printed out and in your hands. I do some heavy revisions at this point and get good critiques from writer friends.

When I feel like my dummy is in good shape, then I choose two or three spreads to illustrate as final painted illustrations, and I send those along with my submission so that the editor or agent has an idea of my final illustration style.

Image 7

Pick carefully! This is where you really showcase your style.

So in your submission packet, you should include:

*Query letter

*Manuscript (double spaced)

*PDF picture book dummy

*One or two final illustrations (PDF or JPEG)

Check each agent or editor’s specific submission guidelines. Some will want to first see a query before asking you to submit a full dummy.

Best of luck with your own projects and happy drawing!!

Sarah Frances

So much great information. Thank you Sarah! 

To find out more about Sarah and her work, go to her website: www.sfhardy.com

Follow Sarah on Twitter @sfhardy2 and like Sarah’s page on Facebook

Like I said at the beginning of this post, Sarah is offering a critique giveaway! This is a prize for illustrators– Sarah will critique 3 page spreads of a picture book dummy for one lucky winner. To enter, just tell us that you want to be entered in the comments on this post. THE GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED BUT THE INFO IS STILL GREAT. THANKS FOR READING!

For extra entries:

SubItClub Badge (175x88)

I’ll do a random number generation and pick a winner on Tuesday, February 24th. Entries are open until then. Good luck!

33 thoughts on “PICTURE BOOK DUMMIES FOR (NOT) DUMMIES with Sarah Frances Hardy — Plus a Giveaway!

Add yours

  1. WHOA NELLIE! This is bookmark worthy. LOVE. We were having this discussion in a FB group just yesterday. Great info for the non illustrators too. Thank you so much Heather and Sarah.


  2. I really like the bracketing idea – showing the relative amounts of text per page – and it is something that can be easily adjusted. I like to cut my text apart with scissors, but that can lead to a lot of orphan lines being tacked from one page to the next! Thanks Sarah!


  3. Thank you, Sarah, for these great tips on creating a book dummy to see how your story unfolds. I would like to have a critique. I belong to the Sub It Club and I have linked my website back to the Sub It Club.


  4. Hello! Brilliant article! You mention the two page spreads being on pg 4-5. Is the next one on 8-9? Could you give us a run down of where they come through a book?


    1. OH!!! Let me clarify! The two page spreads can be anywhere in your book, depending on how you want to pace things (often a two-pager is a page where you want your reader to linger a bit–or it’s a WOW part of the story). I only mentioned page numbers in the context of not splitting up a spread … you wouldn’t want to accidentally bracket pages 6-7 and then realize that those pages are back to back (not two pages that you see at once). Does that make sense? I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules about where two-pagers should appear in a story.


  5. Such an awesome post, thank you! As an author/illustrator, I would love to be entered to win a critique. I’m also a member of sub it club on fb.


  6. Sarah, I have a follow up question: if the agent or editor will accept dummies along with an initial query, and when you’re using pdf and jpeg formats for your dummy, do you send those as attachments (some agents/editors don’t want attachments), inline photos, or hyperlinks? Thanks!!


  7. I’m not an illustrator, but I do need to push myself in the dummy arena. I’ve tried cutting up the text and placing on pages…but honestly Times New Roman is really not that inspiring! Time to let myself doodle and take pride in stick figures.


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