Does EPub Change the 32-Page Illustrated Picture Book?

Thursday, January 12, 2012
This is an excerpt from How to Write a Children's Picture Book, an ebook by Darcy Pattison, available on Kindle, Nook and iBook.


The gold standard for printed, illustrated children’s picture books is 32 pages. It has to do with the way paper folds: eight sheets will fold nicely into what is called a signature. More than that, the ends of the pages don’t align well. Four signatures is 32 pages, the typical picture book. It also has to do with the way printing presses are set up, so that a picture book can be printed on a single huge sheet of paper, then cut apart to create the book.

Digital publishing is about to blow this standard apart. There are two ways to publish a picture book digitally. First, you might make it into an app on any of the devices, but especially an iTunes app. Second, the book can become an EPUB. EPUB ( is the standard for displaying information in a digital book format. Basically, it uses a form of html (hypertext markup language) that is used to code webpages, allows for CSS (cascading style sheets), which controls how the information looks, and adds a container for all the files. The rest of what I’ll say here refers to EPUB, not apps.

In contrast to printing a book, EPUB, doesn’t deal with paper or printing presses. One way to think about an EPUB is that it is one long, continuous webpage. It happens to be displayed one “page” at a time on an ebook reader, but the person reading can change the type font used and font size, which means each person’s page can look unique. Each ebook reader displays the book differently, too. One problem with the EPUB format is that each ebook reader supports it in different ways, which means that your book’s code might need tweaking to be consistently displayed in the Kindle, Nook, iBook and other readers.

EPUB presents a problem for an illustrated picture book: how do you keep the text and images together? The images expand upon the text in some way, so we assume here that you want to keep them together. There seems to be two answers to this question.

First, you can embed the text in the image, which makes the ebook a series of images. This allows simple control of where the text is displayed on the image. It also makes for a simple production process because the pages are a series of images. It’s almost like making a pdf file of the story, except each page is a separate file saved in an image format for EPUB display. VonLogan Brimhall started the Instant Sunshine Publishing using this method and has over twenty books in the Nook version of EPUB. He’s written a free ebook that explains how he prepares his files: Idea to eBook in 3 Easy Steps: How to Design, Build and Publish Illustrated Children’s eBooks with Adobe InDesign.

Second, you can use CSS to control the display of the images and text. This is more difficult because it requires some knowledge of html and CSS. But Elizabeth Castro has an ebook which explains the process and provides sample files from which to work. EPUB: Straight to the Point discusses the EPUB (especially for iBook) in detail, and is a good general reference on the current state of producing EPUBs. If you already know something about EPUBs, html and CSS, you may be fine with one of her mini-guides such as Fixed Layout EPUBs for iPad and iPhone.

With her fixed layout EPUB, Castro imitates the double-page spreads of print books. Without a fixed layout, you are limited to images in the portrait orientation. With fixed layouts, you can force the display to turn landscape and show two pages at once.


Short answer: No. EPUB illustrated books for children can be any length you want.

However, the question is whether you want to only do an EPUB, or if you are also interested in a print version. Even here, new technology in the form of print-on-demand (POD) printing presses is changing the industry; these presses are set up to only print when a book is ordered and can print/bind/deliver a single copy at a time. Amazon’s CreateSpace POD program allows for 24 page and up, which means you can do a book with 25, 26, 27 pages, or whatever length you choose. In other words, the requirements of this printing press do not force you to print 32 page picture books. Of course, if you go to a commercial printer, the most economical printing
size continues to be 32 pages.

32 pages? Yes, if you want the best prices on a printed quantity of books. Or, if you think at some point you might want to do this. So far, traditional publishers are sticking to the 32 pages, because it is the most economical; POD is still far more expensive per book.

32 pages? No, if you only want to use EPUB and POD. 24 pages is the minimum for POD, but you can do whatever size you want after that.

In my mind, an apt analogy is poetry, which was bound for years by strict forms like a sonnet. When free verse swept through the poetry world, it resulted in amazing creativity and wonderful poetry. Those who still favored sonnets were still writing great poetry and to attempt a sonnet is still a wonderful thing. But free verse allowed for a different sort of expression, a different sort of verse. It meant redefining what poetry was and is. I think we are the threshold of doing the same thing for children’s illustrated picture books. The form no longer restricts anything; but that puts more of a burden on the creativity of the author and book designer on how to use the freer format to an advantage in telling a great story or sharing great information.


Look at and read some children’s illustrated ebooks. Read about POD printing. Investigate the app market, as well, the other option for a children’s illustrated picture book. Decide what format you want to write for and adapt everything in this book to that format. You’ll still need to write a great story, which is what the rest of this book explains. You can just adjust the page requirements as needed.

Darcy Pattison blogs about how-to-write at Fiction Notes.


AEA Elementary Staff said...

Thank you for sharing this. Certainly presents some interesting aspects of how the world of children's books is changing.

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