In the first two parts of this series, I showed you why you might want to publish a picture book, why I prefer to publish through CreateSpace, and what goes into writing a picture book. Now it’s time to discuss what makes a picture book a picture book—illustrations.
There are so many ways to produce artwork for a picture book; but no matter how you do it, you’ll save time and make your art look its best if you make it the right dimensions, amount of room for text, dpi, format, and so on from the start. This article is about how you can do just that when preparing a picture book for publication with CreateSpace.
Every illustrator works differently. I like to draw a storyboard as thumbnails, sketch individual pages with a pencil on a piece of paper or cardboard, ink it, scan it, and then color it on my computer. Some like to draw on a tablet, like a Cintiq, that inputs their work directly into a computer. (I’d probably do that myself if I could only afford one!) Others like to work almost entirely on paper or canvas. And still others prefer to work in clay or another three-dimensional form of art that has to be photographed before it can become a picture book. No matter how you plan to do it, it’s best to keep in mind from the start what you’ll need to make the finished book look great.
The stages of an illustration from Fay Fairy’s Very BIG Problem: a pencil drawing; the inked drawing (in this case drawn on top of a light board to let me make changes more easily and avoid unsightly leftover pencil lines or smudges); the drawing digitally colored in the correct dimensions, format, and dpi required; and the final page with text added and with all the elements combined with the background, ready to be turn into a PDF for uploading. (I did originally draw thumbnails for this picture book, but I no longer have a copy of them.)
It’s best if the dimensions of your artwork match the pages of the finished book, plus a bit extra for edges that will probably be trimmed off. This is particularly true if you intend to choose the bleed option for your book, and you probably will. “Bleed” means that the artwork you submit will run a little past the edges of the trimmed book. You'll probably want that, because otherwise any color backgrounds you create might have unsightly white edges if the book doesn't get trimmed exactly right (which it almost certainly will be).
CreateSpace has a few basic trim sizes it prefers to print books in, and—except for the square 8.5”x8.5” trim size—all have portrait dimensions, not landscape. I was surprised to discover this, since I own so many picture books with landscape proportions. You'll notice that the first pencils I did for this book were in a landscape format. That turned out to be strangely lucky, because it meant I had a lot more space on the page to put text than I had originally thought. (CreateSpace does offer a landscape option when you click on “More Sizes,” but because these additional sizes aren't industry-standard, they might not fit bookstore or library shelves and aren't recommended.)
|CreateSpace’s recommended trim sizes|
With CreateSpace, you need to add 0.125 inches to all edges of the page that might be trimmed, which means adding 0.125” to the width and 0.25” to the height (since the top, bottom, and outside edge of the page will be trimmed, but the side of the page next to the spine won’t be). I chose the 8.5” x 11” size, because I like big picture books (they seem to work better for books that adults are meant to read to children), and because I felt the large size better reflected the title, Fay Fairy’s Very BIG Problem. This meant I had to create finished artwork that was exactly 8.625” wide (8.5” + 0.125”) by 11.25” high (11” + 0.25”).
Space for Text
Space for Text
Of course, the amount of space you'll need to leave for text will depend on the amount of text that will go on that page, as well as the chosen font size and leading (the space between the lines). Some old-fashioned picture books have so much text on a page that they have little or no artwork on any page that contains text, leaving illustrations to every other page in the book. Usually, these books will have text on the left and illustrations on the right. Some picture books have only have a word on each page, and some even have no words at all. Most, though, need to have about a quarter to a third of the page available for text. This space doesn't have to blank, but it shouldn't contain too many colors or include any important or distracting elements.
It’s best if the text is at least an inch away from the edges of the books on all sides—including the gutter (the side of the page that meets the spine). In fact, you should try to avoid putting anything important within half an inch of the top, bottom, and sides of the page. The external edges might get cut, and the reader might not open the book wide enough to see what’s in the gutter. This is especially true for double-page spreads.
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to double-page spreads is to avoid putting horizontal lines near the gutter. The two pages might not line up correctly vertically, so a horizontal line might end up looking oddly higher on one page than another.
Dimensions and Format
When you’re inputting artwork or manipulating it on a computer, work in 300 dpi (the minimum required by CreateSpace) and CMYK (which are printer colors, not computer monitor colors). Save in your art software’s native format, whatever it may be. (For example, I work in CorelDraw, so I save my files either in cdr or ctp format.) Anything else, like gif or jpg, might alter the look of your artwork or degrade the digital files each time you save them. Don't worry about compatibility issues. No matter what format you work in, you'll eventually have to convert the entire book into a pdf file when you upload it to CreateSpace (I'll go into how to do that in the next article).
I also recommend that you avoid over-saturating colors. This is something I learned when I was a comics magazine editor. It’s best to err on the side of caution. For example, 100% Cyan and 50% Magenta make a very nice dark blue. Yes, you can go with 100% of those two color and add some black to create a really dark, dark blue, but it’s overkill. When it comes to printed books, less usually works better. Also, if you can avoid putting bright red next to black, you probably should. Those two colors don't like each other (which is something I learned when I was a layout artist at a newspaper).
Create a storyboard that shows you how even and odd pages will look next to each other. Remember to keep the first page alone on the right (which is the standard for books that don't start with a double-page spread), and remember that even pages of books in English will go first on the left, and odd pages will go after them on the right. Try to design side-by-side pages that complement each other or at least don’t tell a story you don't want to tell. Consider things like where your characters are looking and how the colors on these pages will best look together. In general, characters looking to the right are looking toward the next page of the story, and that’s usually (but not always) a good thing. Colors should be balanced in some way, so that if a color appears on one page, it will often help to have that color or a similar color on the facing page. Also, consider how the eye will flow through the two pages, whether any of your lines are pointing at something, and whether that’s something you want to stand out.
And Let’s Not Forget…
Aside from the story itself—which should fill 32-38 out of 40 pages—you'll need to design the cover, back cover, copyright page, interior title page, and any other extra pages that will be going into the book. Have fun with them. There’s no reason why any page in your book should be boring. Here’s the copyright page of my book, for example:
|The copyright page for Fay Fairy’s Very BIG Problem|
I also used the interior title page to tell part of the story. It’s the first time the reader gets to see Fay as a fairy, and it’s important, because she doesn’t look like a fairy again until the end of the book. You’ll also noticed that I used different shades of the same color as the copyright page so the two will look right side by side. Fay’s magic wand is also on both pages.
|The interior title page of Fay Fairy’s Very BIG Problem|
You might want to design filler pages for the back and possibly the front of the book to make sure that a shorter story can fill 40 pages without any of those pages being blank. (This is a mistake I made, because I figured that CreateSpace would be okay with a 32-page book. That’s NOT the case. They turned my 32 pages into 36—an unusual number, considering that most printers prefer the number of pages to be divisible by eight. If I had known that, I would have filled those pages myself.)
You’ll need to have a file with just the front cover, so that CreateSpace, Amazon, and others can show the cover on your book’s page; but you’ll also need an additional file that includes the front cover on the right and the back cover on the left, with 0.002252” times the number of pages added to the width to account for the spine. For example, a 40-page picture book will need the file with the front and back cover to be 0.09008” wider than the width of the cover and back cover alone side by side. (For example, a 40-page book like mine with pages that need to be designed so that they are 8.625” wide will have a combined front and back cover file that is 17.34008” wide, which is 8.625” + 8.625” + 0.09008”) The front and back cover should more or less match up at the spine, because there’s a possibility that a part of the front cover near the spine might end up in the back, or vice versa.
Make sure that the back cover of your book has a space at the bottom right, where CreateSpace can insert a barcode.
And finally, as with the story, the illustrations in a picture book need to be clear enough to convey the story easily. Also, as with the story, they need to appeal to both the adults who will buy the book and the kids that the adults are buying the book for. Look at recently published picture books to get an idea of how the different visual elements work. And again, as with story, you can read Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books by Uri Shulevitz for more information on this topic.
Okay, so now you should have the text and the illustrations for your picture book ready for publication. In the next and last article in this series, I’ll show you how to prepare it all so you can upload it to CreateSpace, publish it, and start selling it.
Everything You Wanted to Know about Publishing a Picture Book (But Didn't Know Who to Ask):