Share your book dummy process?

  • I thought I would share some of my thoughts on making a book dummy and my book dummy process. The reason is that I have tried multiple times in the past and I have never been able to make a submittable book dummy. I just could not go past the ugly stage in the early process. I am trying it again now, and hoping to make a breakthrough.

    I am still in the ugly phase, and most of my thumbnails are unreadable at this moment. I find thinking about all spreads at the same time a bit overwhelming. I would love to hear from those who have done book dummies before: What is your process like? What is your thinking process is like at this stage (e.g. work on one spread at a time? thinking about all spread at the same time?)?

    Here is my process so far:

    1. I did not have a full manuscript ready. I have a concrete idea, and an early draft of the text manuscript. I started thumbnailing, and edit the text in thumbnailing process.
    2. working with the whole book in the early stage (making thumbnails for the entire book, then iterate on it).
    3. co-writing with a writer (I am doing the illustration part alone, but collaborated with a writer in terms of the story idea, concept, and the language).
    4. Switch tools. I first did very rough thumbnails in one big piece of paper for the entire book, then I made the thumbnails into a mini dummy book using printer paper to test page turning. Then I took photos of all thumbnails and made a document for each spread in Procreate. Now I am iterating the thumbnails on papers, drawing more options for each spread, and if I discover something I like, I draw/trace the thumbnail again in Procreate.

  • I've made quite a few dummy books (At the minute I'm actually revisiting one I started 3 years ago!) and your process is very similar to mine.
    I usually start with writing a rough draft of the text.
    Then I split the text into pages.
    Then I visit each page individually for thumbnails.
    Then draw the thumbnails for the whole book out on one piece of paper.
    Then revisit any issues with thumbnails.
    Do slightly more detailed sketches.
    Make a small paper dummy book for page turning.
    Revisit issues again...
    Re do this whole process about a hundred times before I find something that works and can begin doing roughs and illustrations :face_with_stuck-out_tongue_closed_eyes: Of course while I do this I am also doing character design and research alongside! It is a very long process and I've had many ideas that never made it past the thumbnail stage...

  • @eriberart thank you so much for sharing your process. I did a couple of character drawings last year for this particular story. Maybe I should do a bit more on the side to keep me engaged with the project. Seeing something more finished than a thumbnail might help to keep momentum even if I will not use any of the more finished drawings in the book.

  • I start with stick figure level drawings first and when the spreads are all figured out I add text (mostly because writing isn't my strength and I think more in imagery).

  • I had a question related to pacing of the spreads. I just completed some thumbnails, and I only have 4 double page spreads. Is there a pattern or a certain number of double page spreads vs. single pages spreads that is the norm? Are double page spreads saved for the big emotional moments, or a way to pan the camera back?

  • Do people do dummies as something they're pitching to publishers or just for practice or both? Curious as I haven't done one before.

  • @xin-li Here is my process (so far) I am working through it with 2 dummies right now and that is informing the process as I go. The end of the process has not been tested as I am not that far yet with either of the dummies. I will try to provide reasoning as to why do things as well.

    1. I start with a prompt or nugget of an idea, I use to brainstorm on the idea. I will explore different avenues to follow and write a synopsis. I try to create a repeating problem (3x) and climax (solution) even at this stage. I developed this process when doing the "Turbocharging Your Creativity" class with @Lee-White & @davidhohn Here is an example from Nov 2019 prompts:

    Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 9.49.43 AM.png

    1. If I decide I like this idea and want to move forward with this I will move into a google doc and rewrite the idea, usually in dialogue. Most children's books are not narrative but are characters talking. Here I will start looking at page breaks as well separating text with '----' lines at page turns. Here I will check this against my story writing checklist, I developed this from the SVS 'Writing Picture Books' class. It helps me know what I thought about and what I didn't. It is not perfect but reminds me of common errors to avoid (or to do purposefully).

    Writing Checklist

    1. When I am satisfied with the text I will move it into my dummy template which is a google slide deck that mimics a book. Each slide is a two-page spread. It is set up to be a 32-page book. I have built a couple of different sizes.

    8x10 Picture Book Dummy Template

    1. If the text depends heavily on the illustrations I will include illustration descriptions. One of my dummies has only 300 words or so of dialogue and some pages have 0 words on them as the main narrative is shown in the illustrations. This is an advantage the author/illustrator has that is more difficult with a separate author and illustrator.

    2. Have readers/editors review the text in dummy format. I chose the google slide format as it allows me to have remote editors/readers review and provide feedback right in the tool. Not only this it feels very much like a physical book to me. I might be an editor at heart (ask @Braden-Hallett ) and this allows for tons of editing and feedback.

    3. At this point, I will develop a counter-narrative or additional narrative that exists only in the illustrations. I will document this somewhere so that I create illustrations I can refer back to it. Think of stuff like a cat in each picture that is not really part of the written narrative. Or a counter-narrative of an unspecified creature reversing everything the main character does. Every book doesn't need this, but it provides non-readers a jewel they can find that the reader may miss.

    4. Once I am satisfied with the text, page turns, rhythm, and flow I will begin the illustration process. First I start with character and style studies. I will attach these examples directly into new slides at the end of the dummy so all my information is in the same place.

    5. Next, I will do 2 two page spreads. I do this intentionally before I sketch the whole book out. I do this because of comments @Lee-White has made about the illustration process and that the first 1-2 finished spreads usually cause the editor or illustrator to go back and do deep revisions of the other sketches. You might decide on specific style changes or to change or add an illustration narrative. I have found this to be true based on my style of working, though I can't attest to it globally.

    This is how far I am with my most advanced dummy. So, the rest of the process is speculation at this point. But here is my plan:

    1. I will now sketch out the entire book. Some things I will look for at this juncture are illustration pacing, double spreads vs. vinettes vs. single page, review illustration narrative is complete, and style consistency.

    2. At this point, I will have a larger group of editors/readers review and provide feedback. Note that with google slides I can have feedback directly give in the tool or I can also simply PDF the document and solicit feedback through email.

    3. Once satisfied I can create a PDF to start submitting to publishers. Here, I will need to do a few different things like preparing a cover letter, create a book synopsis, and move the text back into a true manuscript format. I am not sure what else as I haven't gotten this far yet.

    4. I plan on also creating a physical dummy using by choosing 8x10 as my size it should be relatively easy and cheap (<$10) to create these and I will be able to show them to any audience I meet in person. If you choose a different size the cost will increase as they are not the 'trade' size but still pretty reasonable.

    @xin-li thanks for posting this. As you can see I LOVE building a process I can follow multiple times so I don't have to think about it again (and can focus on the creative work). This forced me to write it down and now I will be able to use it going forward!

  • @Coley i guess both. I am doing it to pitch a picturebook story :-), It is also good practice.

  • @theprairiefox wow. I will have to take some time looking through your process. Fascinating. Will come back with more questions and thoughts 🙂

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @Laurel-Aylesworth There are no rules to laying out a dummy. Every book is going to be different. I'm a fan of taking various books that are either similar in subject matter or that "feel" similar to the book I'm dummying up. Photographing each page and laying it out as thumbnails. Then looking to see what choices the illustrator made. I find it's easier to see patterns in pacing, compositional choices, color scripting etc.

    For example in Dan Santat's BEEKLE it's clear the choice to deviate from full bleed spreads is a choice rarely and carefully made. Everything is full bleed spreads except two where he uses vignettes to both speed up (pg 21-21) and slow down (pg 36-37) the action.

    The first time I read it, I found the tree spreads on pgs 26-27 and 28-29 to be oddly flat and out of place with the other illustrations in the book. It wasn't until I laid this out that I realized Dan was trying to mimic/foreshadow Alice's drawing of the same tree on pg 35.

    Also the desaturated/monochromatic quality of the images starting on pg 18 and continuing through pg 23 becomes more obvious.

    Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 8.57.21 AM.png

    I'll also often go through and try to simplify the images into simple black, white and grey shapes so see how value and silhouette affect the experience of the book.

    When I did that to BEEKLE I realized that the little white shape of Beekle always appears on the right page of the spread -- except for pg 18-19, 22-23, 26-27 and 28-29. These are the moments in the book where Beekle is feeling unsure or overwhelmed.

    Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 8.58.04 AM.png

    These are some of the highlights from this particular book breakdown. Do this to a few other books and you'll start to see how other illustrators approach laying out books.

  • @xin-li one thing I forgot to mention in step 8 is to take into account your page bleed. Because my process is physical it is extremely important to make sure your illustration has the extra .5in of height and width to fit the bleed.

  • @davidhohn very cool process. Love this for the pacing. Do you add value to your sketches before sending to an editor? So much is lost without value...

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @theprairiefox Every. single. time.

    Honestly, adding value to my rough sketches is probably my favorite part of the book. As that's where the real storytelling begins.

  • @davidhohn I figured. I love working in value. It adds so much life to the sketches. I am so happy that you and @Lee-White introduced us to that process in "Turbocharging your creativity". It really changed how I approach my design.

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @theprairiefox Thrilled to hear it! I still remember learning it from illustrator Mark English. Pretty much blew my mind!

  • @davidhohn thank you so much for sharing how you study/analyze picture books. I am going to do this process with every picture book I love. 🙂

  • I'm working on a dummy book too! They are a lot of work! lol. Here's how I'm doing it, (I don't think there is really a right or wrong way.)

    1. had a fully edited final draft ready before any drawing took place
    2. sketched character ideas
    3. Took the finished manuscript and started breaking it down into pages. (Much like Jake did on one of the SVS classes with little red riding hood)
    4. Did thumbnails of all the pages on paper
    5. Printed the text out for each page and drew the thumbnails larger and more refined on 8.5x11 paper and glued the text in the appropriate place
    6. scanned all of them into my computer and put them in a document together
    7. painted two finished spreads

    Heres my thoughts on it...I don't know how I would have done this without a finished manuscript...I felt like figuring out the pace of the story was the hardest part and without a complete story I would be lost. Also, I ended up not liking the way I drew my characters so my final paintings are unusable as is most of my spreads because I'm drawing them different now. Problem is I've been working on this book for 8 years and I'm getting a little bored of it so who knows how long it will take me to finish!

    Yours is looking great so far! I hope you do share more as you continue.

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @xin-li Happy to share! I see that you are already setting your book up in this kind of storyboard format.

    What I try to do these days is be very clear what the intention of each spread is. What is happening at this point in the story? And how do I want the viewer to feel as they make the page turn and experience the spread? I try to boil it down to one or two "keywords". These keywords go a long way toward suggesting composition, camera placement, character pose, value structure and color choices.

    And I've found it's MUCH easier to dissect other illustrator's work first. Then apply that way of thinking to my own books.

    I hope you give it a try with your favorite books. But don't overlook the value of doing this to books you hate. Especially if they are super popular. It may well give you an insight into why that "terrible" book is doing so well!

  • @davidhohn Thank you so much for this break down of the process. Really helps!

  • @theprairiefox thanks for the write-up and sharing your process.

    Regarding to no.5
    I found it very interesting that you review the text-only version with readers/editors. I am wondering if it matters with the type of stories? The story I am working on right now is very much depending on the illustrations to carry out the drama of the story. The size and placement of the characters and objects are essential for the story (it is hard to put these things in words, I think I have to thumbnail it out to make sense). I was thinking of waiting until I am in the rough sketch phase to have a reader/editor review.

    I always wondered the wordless picture book "Sidewalk flowers" illustrated by Sydney Smith, and written by JonArno Lawson, what was the manuscript looked like? and how much did the author and illustrator collaborated in the process?

    Regarding to no.6
    I love an add-on character, especially for younger children, they are wonderful to make book reading fun, slow-down.

    Regarding to no.8
    Thanks for reminding me this. I also remember hearing Lee saying that at one of his lectures.

    Regarding to no.10
    Do you have a critique group? I found it hard to get feedback from editors in the process. My office is in a creative collective, and I can ask co-workers from the collective to take a look of my dummy - some of them work with illustration, but the majority of people work in either game or advertising.

    I subscribed Storyteller Academy this month to go through a book dummy course with Arree Chung
    One thing that made a lot of sense to me is what he called "to have the end product in mind from the beginning". He encourages students to make the physical dummies the same size as the final book, to get the feel of the final product even in the early sketching stage. I will be doing this in my process. I thumbnail with pen and paper but do rough sketch digitally. So I will be printing out all rough sketches in real size, and glue them together to make my first real size dummy.

  • @KaraDaniel Thank you for sharing your process.
    I know that Will talked about their process always starts with a finished manuscript (in that SVS class with little red riding hood). But I find it counter-intuitive since illustration is telling half of the story, it is hard to leave it out in the beginning. I always have a hard time understanding how a picture book is done without author and illustrator working closely. I guess the only way for me to get it is to work on a picture book that is written by someone else. :-).

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