One of the questions I’m often asked by new authors is how they should present their picture book texts.
There’s no right or wrong way and it’s VERY IMPORTANT you consult publisher or agent websites to see if they have a preference.
Failing that, this is the method I was taught by my first publisher, and I have used it ever since.
1) Split your text into spreads
Picture books are unique as they come with a ready-made template: usually 12 spreads, though some publishers sometimes use 14.
A ‘spread’ means a double-page: the way the book ‘spreads’ across your lap. Often an illustration stretches across both pages, but sometimes there is a separate illustration for the left hand side and the right hand side of the double-page spread. (I’ll come to this later).
Why split into spreads? By doing so, you show publishers/editors/agents that your book fits the required template. Simple as. And at a glance, people can check how your story unfolds and whether the pace is good. For example, does the ‘inciting incident’ which kicks off your story happen by spread 3?
You do not need to type one spread per A4 sheet. This can stop the story flowing, especially if the word count is low per spread. However, .it’s best NOT to split a spread over two pages if you can help it, just insert a page break and start on the next sheet to keep all the spread content on one page.
I write my spread headings like this:
2) Illustration notes
Often (but not always) you need to include some illustration notes or suggestions to help explain more about what is happening on that spread. This shouldn’t be details about how you visualise the page UNLESS it is essential, for example, relating to character development, adding special humour (such as a bucket of water about to fall on our unsuspecting main character’s head), or giving extra information which elevates the story to another level (such as subplot information).
Illustration notes should be used SPARINGLY and in the PRESENT TENSE.
They should also be ABSOLUTELY SEPARATE from the text (note the capitals, folks, this is important). Let me say that again. They should be ABSOLUTELY SEPARATE from the text. There is nothing more distracting then reading a picture book text and having it interrupted halfway through the page by notes from the author. No. Keep them completely separate.
I often see picture book texts where an illustration note appears partway through the page, as if the author is describing an animation:
Bear is sitting down to a nice quiet picnic.
Illustration note: Little Rabbit bounds up to him.
“What are you doing?” says Little Rabbit.
No. No, he doesn’t. Little Rabbit doesn’t bound up. She is on the page from the moment we look at it. So we don’t need to have the illustration notes interrupting the text. Where to put them, then?
Again, I use the method I was taught by my first publisher. Put any illustration notes in ITALICS underneath the spread heading. I also put them in brackets. So we have:
(Illustration notes: a big bad wolf is peering around the tree in the background, licking her lips)
And the story begins here… after a nice big line space to keep the text separate from everything.
Because that makes it much easier to read.
3) Left and right pages
If you want to deliberately split your text into left and right pages of the double-page spread for storytelling purposes, you can do it like this:
Story text blah blah blah…
Story text blah blah blah.
Hope you find this helpful!