Page counts are always a hot topic among picture book authors, largely because the limit is low. Picture book authors need to think economically about text distribution and pagination because picture books are, by their very nature, short.
You may have heard that there are page count rules you should be sticking to, but these can be confusing when you’re unfamiliar with them. How many pages should your picture book have? What are the rules for picture book pagination, and why do they exist?
Stay tuned for a free pagination template at the end of this post!
Magic number 32
Picture books are almost always 32 pages long. You’ve heard it a million times, but why?
The industry standard page count for picture books is 32, and this includes all the pages that appear in your book, even the ones reserved for a title page, copyright information, your dedication, and so on. What this means is that your story—the whole reason this book is being published—is likely to be restricted to just 26 or 27 pages. This is yet another reason why picture books should usually stick to a word count that is below 1,000.
The 32-page standard isn’t random, I promise. It exists for a reason, and that reason is largely logistical. Picture books are printed in signatures (or batches) of 8 pages. This has to do with the way pages are folded. These 8-page signatures are able to be bound well, and they use paper economically, making the printing process simpler and cheaper.
When 32 isn’t right
Sometimes, 32 just isn’t the right number of pages for your book, and that’s okay. Writing and book production are creative processes, which means there is some room for variation. If you’re pursuing traditional publishing, your publisher may make decisions to trim content until a 32-page book is possible, but if you’re self-publishing your book, you’re likely to have some page count freedom.
If 32 is too many or too few pages for your book, your other options are 16, 24, 40, or 48. You might be noticing a theme here. All of these numbers are multiples of 8. This comes back to the 8-page signatures involved in picture book production. All picture books should achieve a total page count that is divisible by 8.
What if they don’t? Choosing a page count that isn’t a multiple of 8 can lead to logistical issues because the 8-multiple rule is such an integral part of the printing process. If you submit a book that doesn’t have an 8-multiple page count, many self-publishing providers will add blank pages, usually to the end of your book, until the problem is resolved.
To avoid wasted blank pages and the unnecessary extra printing costs that come with them, it’s best to plan for an 8-multiple page count from the outset, making use of all the pages in your book.
Thinking about page turns
As if navigating the logistics of page counts wasn’t enough, you’ll also need to make decisions about where your page turns should fall.
In picture books, page turns can be make or break. A well-placed page turn has the power to act as a cliffhanger, driving readers to turn the page to find out what happens next. This is essential in keeping young readers engaged and interested.
When deciding where your text should split for a page turn, think about your final book. What will readers see?
Many elements can be used to create great page turns. Sometimes, an ellipsis might reveal that a major plot point or the punchline of a joke will appear just over the page. Other times, an engaging illustration might indicate that the exciting part of the story is happening one page over.
In picture books, even-numbered pages appear on the left, while odd-numbered pages appear on the right, so try to save your most engaging page turns for odd-numbered pages.
Remember, not every page needs an over-the-top page turn. Imagine reading a novel that left a cliffhanger at the end of every page; readers would be exhausted! Instead, focus on crafting just three or four really excellent page turns at your narrative’s most important plot points.
All this talk of pagination can be confusing when all you want to do is tell your story in the most effective, meaningful way possible. That’s why we’ve created a downloadable Microsoft Word template to help you write your picture book with its page count in mind.
At Wildflower Books, we offer a range of editing and proofreading services. We specialize in children’s fiction, from picture books and YA novels, and have helped many authors create fantastic books. If you’d like to learn more about your editing options, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email today!