By Carol Hinz, Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books
Last weekend at the fall conference of the Wisconsin chapter of SCBWI, I discovered that I might be a bit . . . odd. We’re all odd in our our own ways, of course, but this was in comparison to other book publishing people.
In my talk on standout submissions, I happened to mention that it’s a bonus for me when an author paginates a picture book manuscript before submitting. This offhand statement led to questions. A LOT of questions. And during the faculty Q&A panel the following day, I learned that neither the other editor attending the conference nor the agent there had a particular interest in seeing picture book texts submitted with pagination.
Ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out why it is that seeing those page breaks in a manuscript is meaningful to me.
Why I love a paginated picture book manuscript
It comes down to this: A picture book manuscript isn’t an end product. Paginating helps all of us envision the text in its final form.
Ultimately, a picture book text isn’t going to exist as a text on its own. If a text feels fully complete without any accompanying images . . . it may not be a picture book. Now to be sure, a text can be wonderful, but the purpose of illustrations is not merely to render the text in visual form. The pictures should add an additional layer of meaning.
For a great example, take a look at Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes. The text says nothing about the mother being an airplane pilot who has to go to work–that’s all in the art.
Because a picture book text will ultimately exist in picture book form, spread out across 32 pages, one of my jobs as editor is to think about how best to distribute the text. Does it make sense to have a roughly equal amount of text on every spread? Yes, often. But it can also be interesting to include a page with much more text than any other page–or no text at all. (Who doesn’t love a wordless spread?)
In a narrative picture book, it typically makes sense to give each scene its own spread. The page breaks help make the transition from one scene or one idea to the next. Yet if this rule is applied too rigidly, the pacing can become a little too predictable. On occasion, it might make sense to either speed up time or slow it down and linger on a particular scene or moment.
I regularly see picture book biography texts that are well done but just don’t completely grab me. A common problem with these is pacing. Everything in the subject’s life is given equal weight, so the highs don’t feel all that high nor do the lows feel all that low.
Examples of Millbrook picture books with top-notch pagination
I firmly believe that a page break has to mean something. The turn of a page should reveal something interesting, different, or new. And when I’m reading picture book submissions, I am looking for a reason for readers to keep on turning the pages.
A Leaf Can Be . . .
To be sure, you can think about page breaks without literally inserting page numbers in your manuscript. For instance, in A Leaf Can Be . . . by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Violeta Dabija, we knew from the beginning that the rhyming couplets would each get their own spread.
Whose Hands Are These?
And in Whose Hands Are These? A Community Helper Guessing Book by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell, we knew from the beginning that the questions posed by the rhyming text would be answered after a page turn.
And in Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb, many spreads end in a statement that builds tension, prompts a question, or gets to the heart of what’s happening. Art director Danielle Carnito picked up on these statements and emphasized them with her choice of typography.
When I look at a paginated picture book manuscript, I get an immediate sense of the book’s pacing and how much text might be on a given spread. And that helps me start thinking about how the text will look in book form and what the possibilities might be for illustration.
So do you absolutely have to start paginating your picture book manuscripts? Well . . . no. But particularly for writers who are new to the picture book form, I’d suggest paginating one of your manuscripts just to see what happens when you spend time thinking about those all-important page breaks. As short as picture books are, they contain a world of possibilities!
For more advice for picture book writers and illustrators, check out Carol’s “Greetings from PictureBookLand” post.