I hadn't really considered myself a picture book writer, but at one Write Sisters critique session, I suddenly found myself -- with the strong encouragement of the Sisters -- with a possible PB manuscript.
One of the best pieces of advice on how to turn it into a publishable piece was from Kathy Deady. She suggested I make a dummy to get a feel for how my manuscript might appear in a published book.
I took printing paper and folded it into what I thought was the requisite number of pages -- 32 (turns out that''s not exactly true -- I should have done more research!). After that, I printed out a couple copies of my text and started cutting it into bits that I pasted onto the bottom of the pages.
Of course, my little experiment was nothing like how the Sail Away, Little Boat (Carolrhoda Books 2006) eventually turned out. That is okay, however. It helped me start thinking the way a picture book illustrator might.
Among illustrators, there is a debate about how artists (and writers) should think about laying out a PB. One good discussion is here at Drawn: The Illustration and Cartooning Blog. It's one of my favorite go-to blogs for so many reasons. The page I'm sending you to is a discussion of an original post by illustrator Bob Staake
This is Staake's version:
His version isn't necessarily correct, and neither is the version suggested by Drawn reader Michael Johnson. This only shows that it pays to know that there is more than one way publishers lay out picture books.
It's also useful to understand the way illustrators work. Another recommended resource is Writing with Pictures by Uri Shulevitz. Harold Underdown at The Purple Crayon has this to say about the book:
"It's not over-praising this book to say that there's no other book like it, and that it's an unmatched resource for anyone involved with children's book illustration. I've had a copy for several years, and I learn something every time I open it. Of course, I'm an editor, but the illustrators I know tell me the same. That may explain why no other book has come along to replace it, in spite of the fact that one section is mostly out of date."
Some websites will suggest to aspiring PB writers that they submit their PB manuscripts in the form of a dummy. The Write Sisters do not submit their own manuscripts in that format. We submit PB manuscripts in simple manuscript form -- usually just a few pages long, with notes to the illustrator as to how the author 'pictures' the final manuscript.
If you'd like to have fun with dummies and book binding in general, there's a good video at Break.com.