Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Creating an effective Picture Book Dummy Book

By Ginger Nielson

The term "DUMMY BOOK"  may bring to mind those yellow and black How To Books for Dummies, but a Dummy Book for a prospective publisher or author is quite different.

Illustrators will not always be asked to create one, but many will want to create one as a promotional tool, or as an example to show to a publisher. Writers may want to know how their work translates into a set number of illustrations.  Self publishers will welcome one as well.

Authors need not submit an illustrated version of their work unless they are actually the illustrator. Publishers choose the best illustrator for any particular picture book.

The purpose of the dummy book is to allow the editor to see what a final version of a picture book will look like.  Changes made at this stage affect the final finished book.  That is why only one or two of the illustrations in a dummy book need to be finished.

There are a number of ways to create a Picture Book dummy.
Traditionally picture books consist of 32 interior pages.  This may not be the case for some publishers and with self publishing on the rise there is a great deal of variance in page count.

For the purpose of this article I am going to stick to 32 pages,  and a wrap around cover. (I will cover the construction of a dust jacket and the template used for one in another article.)

Your page count (32) needs to include a Title Page, A copyright / ISBN page, a dedication page, a Half Title page if the editor request one and perhaps some place for a bit about the author and illustrator.

The first step is to really get involved with the manuscript.  Page breaks may be decided by the editor or the illustrator may be given that task.

If you have previously laid out your ideas on a story board it would look something like this:
You may click on the image to see the larger version.

Note that the actual illustrations in this particular book do not begin until page 5.  It is acceptable and sometimes effective to include a portion of the first illustration on pages 4 and 5 if the dedication on page 4 allows room for this.

With this outline and the manuscript you can begin the process of sketching your characters, selecting passages to illustrate and finishing all the illustrations in sketch form.  How detailed your sketches are will depend entirely on how you plan to finish the illustrations.  Some illustrators use the story board to simple WRITE out what they plan, others will make a small thumbnail drawing prior to more detailed full size sketches.

The sketches for a dummy book need only be detailed enough to mimic the action of the story but still need to be representative enough for an editor to know how the illustration relates to the text.

Assuming the page size has been decided and your sketches are finished to the correct size, you are almost ready to begin. Since most publishers will want at least one finished illustration along with the sketches, you need to have that done as well.  It can be sent separately or included as part of the dummy.
Many editors prefer the finished pieces to be separate so that they can hand them around during meetings or conferences.

You need to make copies of your sketches and a photo copy or scan of the finished work.  Originals should never be sent in the dummy.

With all the copies ready you have several options for assembling your copied sketches.

You can staple the pages together  (not  a great idea ... but some do this)

You can use artist tape to tape the backs of each page to the next and then tape all the pages together....

You can mount each page on another sheet of paper large enough to hold two pages on one side and two pages on the other side.  IF you do this you will need to leave a little room in the gutter.

Be sure to take into consideration where each page will go before you commit to gluing down your illustrations.

Take the first set of four larger sheets of paper with all the illustrations glued on back to back in order and sew them together with heavy button hole thread. This will create one "SIGNATURE" of 16 page sides.  Do the same with the next and then sew both "SIGNATURES" together.  I use a heavy carpet needle to get through the paper. But, by having the illustrations mounted on a thinner large sheet of paper, the gutter in between is a bit easier to sew through.

When all the pages are together it is time to attach the cover.  It can be larger sheets of paper with the illustration adhered or it can consist of a cardboard backing with the illustrations glued on top.   The cover needs ample allowance on the spine to accommodate the dummy book within.

I like to do my cover as a finished painting, but it is not necessary.

There is enough room between the front and back covers to wrap around the finished dummy.
In order to get the cover to become part of the entire book you may glue the spine created by the two signatures and then adhere them to the inside of the spine for the back cover. Or if the cover is to be your finish, you can simply wrap it around the inner book without gluing the two together.

With the dummy book finished you have a choice to send along one or two finished illustrations (not the originals) or you may have already counted the cover or an inside finish as sufficient.

Send your dummy to the art editor who requested it, or send it as part of your query for a new assignment.  A professional looking dummy book is worth the time and effort.


  1. Interesting post. I enjoyed learning about picture book dummy books.

  2. Actually this is more fun, interesting, and educational that a book for dummies.


  3. Thanks... although I do have a few of those Books for Dummies on my bookshelf. Most of them are for creating web sites, and learning high end software. *:)

  4. I love the detail in your posts. I am used to seeing one of these called a galley, or rather, a bound galley, too.

  5. Interesting and usefull post!Thanks:)