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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dummy assembly

It's that time, folks--time to put it all together into a neat package. What you're striving for is to look professional (you ARE a professional illustrator, even if unpublished), but not to get so elaborate that an editor or art director is going to think you're some sort of artistic diva. No matter how well-thought out your proposal, the text of your story will most assuredly undergo some editing, and that will mean rethinking layouts, adding or deleting characters--whatever it takes to make a viable property for a publisher. You want to demonstrate that you know what you're doing, but also that you're flexible and willing to make changes.

This is a fine line--in the end, you have to be happy with the way you present yourself. I've heard some people say minimal presentation is best, and there's certainly NOTHING WRONG with standard typing paper folded in half, with text and copies of illustrations taped (neatly) into place. An experienced publishing professional has the imagination to fill in the gaps and see what you intend.

True confession: I thumbnail and storyboard up a storm, but I've only produced one dummy in my career so far. (Yeah, yeah, I know!) For my one, I chose to do a slightly fancier job, because I wanted something to keep in my portfolio. My process is outlined below. If you're looking for suggestions, this is ONE WAY to do it--and I do think the dummy helped to sell the manuscript in my case. I submitted both for a conference critique, and got a request from an editor (yay!) . . . but she also said (apologetically), "You wouldn't necessarily expect to illustrate this yourself, would you?" LOL!

So, with that caveat in mind:

STEP I: Choose a convenient size for mailing and display.

I knew my page width would be 7" max, because legal-size paper is the largest my printer will accommodate. I played around and discovered that between 5.5" and 5.75" worked well, proportionately, for the other dimension. This gave me a finished book size that would fit easily into a mailing envelope (more on what should be in a submissions packet next week!), and would also fit nicely in the front pocket of my Itoya portfolio.

STEP II: Gather your tools.

Here's what I used to produce my dummy:

legal-size paper for printing spreads
110-lb. cover stock for front and back covers
quilter's needle
waxed dental floss
pushpin (for making pilot holes for stitching)
clear adhesive shelf liner

STEP III: Print your spreads.

I used Photoshop--you can also use a layout program like InDesign. Figure out the imposition (i.e., the way individual pages print when bound into a book). For a traditional 32-page picture book, you'll have eight sheets folded in half, printed front and back.

Here is the imposition for the first sheet of paper. (My story starts on page three, with pages one and two for title and copyright info.)

I composited the images and text, using Times New Roman as a "neutral" typeface. Mine worked out to be 14 pt. for my page size.

STEP IV: Assemble the printed pages in the proper order, including a blank spread for "endpapers."

Fold all nine sheets in half. Along the center crease, punch five evenly-spaced holes. I stitched the pages together using a simple technique, a quilter's needle (one with a large eye) and waxed dental floss.

Here is an excellent tutorial, using three holes instead of five (it doesn't matter how many holes, as long as it's an odd number).

STEP V: Print your front cover and back cover.

I chose to print mine separately and glue to the endpapers, because I wanted to print a full bleed, which would not have been possible with my printer and legal-size paper.

STEP VI: (Optional) "Laminate" your cover with clear self-stick shelf liner.

I figured this would hold up better for repeated handling. Also, my printer inks are not waterproof, and I didn't want to run the risk of having the dummy arrive smudged or water-spotted.

STEP VII: Fold; crease as well as you can, then trim edges neatly.

Use a paper cutter or a craft knife (which I forgot to include in my tools photo).

And, voila!


Back: I used my "elevator pitch" as jacket copy.

Inside spread: Yep, those are my pencil thumbnails, blown up.

The hastily-done color spread (NOT recommended, given the editor's comment!):

And the dummy at home in my portfolio (to get an idea of scale, my portfolio is 8.5" x 11"):

In the end, I think it accomplished what I wanted to do--which was to demonstrate the flow of the story and how the page turns would work to reinforce the pacing. Also (I think) it shows that I understand the picture book format. What wasn't so successful, obviously, was the presentation of my skills as an illustrator!

The point is, there are MANY ways to produce a dummy: better and easier ones, I'm sure . . .

Join us at #kidlitart Thursday, June 2, at 9 pm Eastern, to discuss your favorite dummy assembly techniques--and if you have a tried-and-true method, please feel free to share and/or leave links in the comments section below.


  1. THANK YOU SO MUCH for this article! I always struggle with the best way print and bind my book, this is really a life saver!!

  2. I'm still looking for the chat about printing a sketch from your photoshop file onto watercolor paper. Can you help me find it?