Wednesday, April 11, 2012


How many pages does a picture book have?  Can the illustrator or author choose whatever length he or she wants?
Well, no.  A standard hardcover picture book contains 32 pages. The above diagram is the grid that many authors and illustrators start out with when working on a picture book. But how many of these pages are actually available for storytelling?  Much of that depends on what kind of endpapers (AKA endsheets, or ends) the book will have.
Some books have self-ends, which are part of the 32 pages, and are printed with art created by the illustrator.
The illustrator must reserve 8 of the 32 pages for self-ends as follows:  page 1 and page 32 will be pasted down to the boards; pages 2-3 and 30-31 will be printed with art; pages 4 and 29 will be (traditionally) left blank.  Thus page 5 will be the first page available, and page 28 will be the last page available, for storytelling---a total of 24 pages.  
And what if the ends will be separate ends---additional pages, of a colored or decorative paper?  
These ends will not be included in page numbering for the book, as shown above, and therefore the full complement of 1 through 32 pages will be available for story-telling. Right? 

 No, not quite.

There are two more elements that must be included in the book:  the title page, which is either a right-hand page, or a double page spread; and the copyright notice, which used to always be on the title page, or backing it; but which now is sometimes on the last page of the book.  There are also additional optional elements: a half title (the simpler, smaller title display that precedes the title page); the dedication; and sometimes an author's note.  At the discretion of the illustrator (and editor, designer, etc), the number of pages allotted to this front and back matter can vary from 2 or 3 pages, up to as many as 6.

Thus the number of pages available for actual story-telling could vary from as few as 18 pages, up to as many as 29 or 30.
The decision of how to handle the endpapers and front and back matter for BEDTIME BUNNIES was based, as is normal, partly on the publisher's budget for the book---for example, separate ends cost more.  In the case of this book, however, the cost of separate ends had been factored into the initial budget for book production.  Separate ends do give more room and freedom for the interior of the book, thus hopefully making the book more attractive to prospective buyers, and perhaps translating into more sales.   The decision was also based---again, as is normal---on editorial and creative choices.  For instance, in dividing up the text for this book, the story fell very naturally into 12 segments---12 double page spreads.  This left a few extra pages for a half title, and a whole double page spread for the dedication---though not enough extra pages for self-ends.  In other instances,  a smaller, slighter story might fall more comfortably into a smaller number of pages, in which case self ends would be appropriate.  A longer or more complicated story might need to spread out into every page it can get, squeezing a separate half title page or dedication page out of existence.

The above diagram shows the endpaper and front and back matter arrangement for BEDTIME BUNNIES.  There was a total of 24 pages available for the actual storytelling.  The story began on page 8, and ended on page 31.

In my next posts I'll be talking about analyzing the manuscript from the illustrator's point of view.


  1. Thanks for this post. Layout of a Picture Book is part of the planning for illustrations. Your explanation is helpful!

  2. Wendy, these picture book posts are so informative. I will use them with my students at Hamline this summer. So many writers don't realize how important it is to make a dummy, even if they (like moi) they can only draw stick figures. Your Hollins students will be lucky indeed to have your guidance and wisdom!