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CREATING PICTURE BOOK DUMMIES
by Elizabeth O. Dulemba
As seen in the SCBWI Bulletin May/June 2013 Issue

     At a recent Southern Breeze Illustrators’ Day, alongside the portfolios, we added a display table solely for picture book dummies. Not only did it give our visiting speakers a one-stop shopping experience, it also turned out to be a wide-ranging showcase of what dummies can be.
     Budding author/illustrators tend to get very nervous about putting together proper dummies. How many finished pieces should there be? Should it all be in color? How should it be bound? Well, our display table proved there are lots of ways to create a successful book dummy!
     The key goal of a book dummy is to relay the idea of what the book could be - the vision.
     Dianne Hess, Executive Editor of Scholastic Press said, “A book dummy shows that you have a sense of how your picture book will be paced. This can be achieved through a 32-page sketch dummy.”
     Some artists choose to make book dummies that are works of art unto themselves. They can be wonderful portfolio pieces, treasures to their creators and admirers. Although, from a submissions standpoint, Dianne feels that, “a full-color dummy with finished art is fun to look at, but totally unnecessary. And it’s a waste of your time, since even if the book does get sold, you will most likely still need to make some extensive changes–and you need to be flexible.”
     As Meredith Mundy, Executive Editor of Sterling Children’s Book said, “...even if an author-illustrator says in the cover letter that he/she is fully willing to revise/reshape a project, when it looks done, it feels done. I’d much prefer to see a project in rough form and feel that the art director and editor will have a chance to work with the creator to shape a project to completion.”
     My personal formula has been to pencil out the entire story and take 2-3 of the pieces to final. The wiggle room has been how finished those pencils are. I’ve recently loosened up, sometimes including enlargements of my thumbnail sketches to get the general ideas across.
     Both Dianne and Meredith believe it’s important to share at least two finished pieces in a proposal to show what your final art will look like. Meredith said, “Even finished art unrelated to the proposed project is fine. What I’m really looking for is the finished style, since sketches don’t convey that well enough.”
     Dianne said, “I have seen sketch dummies with very loose, rudimentary drawings that are just fine. But whether you are a new artist–or a veteran artist–it’s good to create a full sketch dummy. You don’t need refined sketches—just something loose. But enough to show placement, have some feeling of character development and page design, and logical movement of the story.” 
     Dummies don’t have to be hard to make. They don’t even have to be true to the book’s final intended size (although you can trim them down to the same proportions). They can be as simple as 20 pieces of regular paper or card stock stapled together at one end, or 10 pieces of paper folded over and stapled in the middle. This will give you a full, standard-length, 32-page picture book made up of 40 facing sides from cover to cover, including the endpapers, title page, copyright page, and dedication page. To see how many pages need to be accounted for and where they go, you can download my thumbnails template at http://dulemba.com/FreeTools/storyboard.html, or look at a picture book you like and count it out.
     Follow the same rule as your portfolio - never include original artwork in a dummy. Instead, scan your work into your computer and print it to each side of a page on your home printer. Staple it together and, voila!
     While you can find directions for hand-made books with sewn bindings and such online, Dianne says, “Fancy bindings are completely unnecessary. Staples are fine. Just make sure your pages are numbered.”
     I do suggest getting one of those over-sized staplers that can reach all the way to the middle. I love mine. If you’re worried about sharp ends, put some masking or fabric tape over the spine.
     If you do want to get fancy, you can lay your story out in printer spreads in InDesign, ready to fold into a proper book. Or a little bit of skill in Photoshop can go a long way if you’d like to format your pages there. You can have your local copy shop put it together, or send your dummy off to Lulu.com for a seriously slick finish. But it’s really not necessary.
     As Meredith said, “No need to provide anything super fancy - the simpler the better.”
     So, do dummies work? Do dummies sell books?
     When I asked Dianne if she’d ever acquired a book because of a dummy, she said, “I can’t say how often - but I have bought many a book based on a dummy.”
     Meredith has too. She said, “Twice that I can think of... And one of those times, we didn’t even end up using the author as the illustrator! BUT the dummy showed very clearly the author’s vision for the book, and without it, I would not have looked twice at the very simple manuscript. It really did need visuals to clarify the concept.”
     Take note authors!
     Creating book dummies isn’t just for illustrators. All creators can benefit from laying out their text in a page-turning format to see if the images/scenes are changing up, if there are any text dumps vs. spare verbiage spots, if the text fits the standard 32 page layout, and if the story is working in general.
     Bottom line, don’t let creating a picture book dummy scare you. As long as you have the page count right for a standard picture book, there are many different ways to get the point of your story across.
     So, don’t be a dummy. Start creating dummies!

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Other Resources
Storyboard Template You Can Use
Free Picture Book Thumbnail Templates for Writers and Illustrators, by Debbie Ohi
All Artwork © Elizabeth O. Dulemba -  Y'all play nice, Okay?
dulemba.com