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…because they’ll change!

WHAT, TARA?

Let me explain.

For a dozen years, this post on picture book dummies has been one of this site’s most popular articles.

It presents guidance on page breaks and how many a picture book can sustain.

I first learned about the picture book format when an editor told me my 500-word PB was “too long”. I didn’t understand. She then asked me to mark natural page breaks. I took a pen and went swoop, here! Swoop, there! Swoop, swoop, ta-da swoop! Turns out I had 42 gazillion breaks!

She drew the diagrams above on the back of my manuscript and told me that I had to focus on scenes as well as words. That day, everything about my writing changed. I was embarrassed that I had been writing picture books without any idea of how they were formatted.

The point of the dummy article I wrote (the second I got home) is to inform PB writers about format, like I was informed that day. Every genre has a standard length and general format. To sell a story, you need to familiarize yourself with said format. A picture book is different than a magazine short story, a graphic novel and countless other literary forms.

Plugging your PB manuscript into this format does many things for your story, like demonstrating which scenes have too many words, which have too few, which are necessary, and which can be tossed. It’s also a telltale way to determine if you have changed the scene on a regular basis. It’s a PICTURE book, so the same scene on multiple pages can get ho-hum, hum-drum. Pacing a picture book, with page-turn surprises, is key to its readability.

OK, so you know all this.

Well, also know that it all could CHANGE.

Once an editor buys a manuscript for publication, they may have a different vision for certain spreads and page breaks. Don’t be alarmed; they’re typically genius moves.

“Case” in point: in THE UPPER CASE, the 2nd book in the 7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I series, I sprinkled punctuation mark characters throughout the story. My editor at the time, Tracey Keevan, suggested we instead get them all onto one spread. AHA! However, I didn’t feature enough punctuation to make that spread visually interesting. So, I added Period, Apostrophe and Comma—even the babies p and q. Then I wrote them all onto a single spread, and Ross MacDonald worked his magic. Voila!

There’s a reason why you need to be cognizant of page breaks—an editor will sense them as they read your manuscript. But there’s also a reason why I don’t recommend submitting a manuscript marked up with them (unless specifically requested)—they may change as the editor edits your story. (Plus those few words interrupt the flow of the story.)

The layout guides above are there to teach the picture book format so eventually you can internalize it. After writing many manuscripts, you’ll be able to create picture books without plugging them into a dummy at all. Those logical scene changes will appear in your story without you even realizing it.

In short—be aware of page breaks, but be flexible, too!

 


The 3rd book in the 7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I series, TIME FLIES, is zooming your way in April 2022!

In the colorful and letter-filled Capital City, there’s never a moment’s rest for Private I, the city’s best investigator. Trouble seems to always have a way of finding him—trouble with a capital T. On this particular day, T tells Private I that his watch is missing. And T isn’t alone—the citizens of Capital City have lost track of timepieces all over town! Can Private I catch the perp and make up for lost time before it’s too late?

Click here to pre-order!

Five years ago I was reading Joanne Levy’s SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE—such a clever title and a fun read. I thought to myself…what elementary school joke’s punchline could I turn into a picture book title?

And then…

BAM!

I got whacked upside the head…

Why is 6 afraid of 7?

Because…7 ATE 9!

I felt a powerful surge of muse awaken all my senses, sorta like this…

When I get smacked so soundly, I immediate go research my idea. Surely someone already had to have published a 7 ATE 9 book, right?

Well, I should have searched on worldcat.org, but instead I went somewhere else. You can probably guess where.

And somehow I did not find a picture book with that name. I found other items, like a card game, but no picture book. But it turns out, there were picture books with that title—I was just so frantic with inspiration that I missed them. I could have been searching on a typewriter for all the attention I paid the results.

But guess what? That was a good thing. Because if I had found other 7 ATE 9 picture books, I would have immediately deflated…

And sometimes, you just have to go with your gut.

The first thing I imagined was an intrepid Private “I” being hired by a nervous and trembling number 6. The puns just started flying out, I couldn’t even stop them if I tried. I tested them on my kids. After a while, they got sick of me.

And that’s pretty much how I knew I had a good idea. Thanks, girls!

Then, shortly after Disney-Hyperion bought the manuscript, my acquiring editor extraordinaire Kevin Lewis left to pursue writing full-time.

Kevin had known exactly who should illustrate, and the two of us had already had brainstorming sessions to determine the look and feel of the book.

Thankfully, when editor extraordinaire TWO took over, Tracey Keevan hired Ross MacDonald like Kevin and I had envisioned.

I am so thankful to everyone who helped get this book into the world—my family, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Maria Elias, Kevin, Tracey, Ross, and the entire team at Disney-Hyperion. Today 7 ATE 9 debuts and I hope you will check it out.

Here’s the trailer…

It took four years to go from manuscript to book, and it was one heckuva good ride!

 

 

 

 

 

by Ross MacDonald

Over the years I’ve been approached by illustration and design students who share an internal struggle: that they have other interests—cosplay, metalwork, bookbinding, writing, prop replication, embroidery, cobbling shoes (I kid)—and they feel the need (often encouraged by their instructors) to set aside these other “hobbies” to focus on their illustration and design skills. As if these things that they love are somehow an impediment, that they need to kill them off or they’ll never get better at the “real” discipline.

I do believe that staying on task and zeroing in on the work at hand is an important skill—maybe the most important one. As an illustrator, I always say “Illustration is easy, you just need to stare at a blank sheet of paper till the blood runs out of your ears.” In other words, don’t get up from your drawing board until you’ve finished the job, even if every fiber of your being is imploring you to leap up and see what’s in the fridge.

But speaking as someone who has always done a jillion different things, I’m a firm believer in doing all the things you love. No matter how seemingly unrelated they are, these passions can cross-pollinate. I see it happen all the time! Working hard at one thing doesn’t take away from other things, it adds to them.

Whatever it is that I’m working on, I’m constantly drawing inspiration from other interests, and getting ideas that I can use in other projects. I have one of those multi-hyphenate careers: I’m a graphic designer/illustrator/author/movie prop designer and fabricator/letterpress printer. I might be researching for a period movie prop job, and get a great idea for an illustration. Or doing an illustration might inspire some poster project, or a written humor piece. I don’t know if I could do just one thing at this point—I worry that I’d run out of ideas.

7ate9coverA good example of this cross-pollination is 7 ATE 9—a picture book written by Tara Lazar that I was lucky enough to illustrate. It’s a hilarious story of a private ‘I’ who is baffled by the age-old mystery of why 6 is afraid of 7 (spoiler alert—it’s because 7 ate 9!!!). When I was reading Tara’s manuscript, a vision popped into my head of 19th century wood type letters and numbers coming alive and sprouting little arms and legs and fedoras and bow ties. Luckily I have a letterpress shop full of 19th century wood type, so I was able to play around with the idea. And whaddaya know—it was just crazy enough to work!

5678

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rossmacdonaldRoss MacDonald’s illustrations have appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Harper’s, and Atlantic Monthly, and he is a contributing artist for Vanity Fair. He has written and illustrated several children’s and adult humor books.

His work was the subject of a one man retrospective at the New York Times, and has been honored by American Illustration, 3×3, Print, Communication Arts, the Society of Publication Designers, the AIGA, and the Society of Illustrators, from which he received a gold medal for book illustration in 2011.

He has also worked on many movies and television shows as an illustrator, prop designer and consultant on period design, printing, paper and documents. His work can be seen on 5 seasons of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, on the Cinemax series The Knick, and in the Tarantino movie Hateful Eight.

Born and raised in Canada, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, 2 kids, 2 dogs, 5 cats and a large collection of 19th century type and printing equipment. View his portfolio online at ross-macdonald.com.

prizedetails

Ross and Tara are giving away a copy of 7 ATE 9 (upon publication in May).

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
January 2, 2022

TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 2022

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