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  • Writer's pictureKali Kuzma

How to Create the Perfect Dummy Book for Querying Your Next Story

Where to Start with Your Dummy Book

When I first began researching about writing and publishing a children's book, I had no clue where to begin. After many hours of searching, I often came across the term 'dummy book' and how creating one when querying your story could help when it came time for publishing. Besides this tad bit of information, there wasn't much else on where to begin, and the steps needed to take in crafting one.

This is why I am super excited to have our guest on the blog today. Nadja Bullis has some great insight to the many questions me and others have wondered about when it comes to creating dummy books.


Let's say you are looking to get into traditional publishing for children's books. Maybe you want to get an agent. What do you do? Well, as an author, you'd query with your manuscript. If you are an illustrator looking for work, you mainly provide your portfolio. For author/illustrators, if you're looking to do picture books, you're going to need to present a dummy book. Not only that, you should have about 3 before you start querying.

First off, what's a book dummy? It's a rough mockup of your book. So, no need to get fancy. You'll sketch out how you visualize your scenes and show where text would go. It can be rough and a bit messy, as long as the agent or editor can tell what's happening. You can do it on real paper or digitally. If you plan to query, you'll need to digitize it eventually. The idea is they want to see that you know how to make scenes and work with both the text and images. Are your images just repeating what the text says? Or is it giving more context?

Now, you have your pages sketched out. Next, you'll need to pick 2-3 of those scenes and create fully illustrated versions. This is to show how the sketches relate to what the final book would look like. Lastly, a cover design is also a good idea, especially fully done. Once you're happy with these, it's ready to go, as long as it is in an easily sendable PDF. One thing to add here, don't get too precious or attached to this version of your book. If you're going to traditionally publish, you will be working with a creative team who will make requests for changes. They know the business well and how to best present books. Obviously, if it's about something you're dead against, put your foot down. Just understand this is just the draft of the book, for you and for them. You're showing what you can do and what your vision is. It will go through some revisions to become the best it can!

People do their dummy books differently. I'm a traditional watercolor artist, so I start with sketches and paintings, then upload those to my laptop to put together with text in a PDF. I went with presenting my pages as spreads so the 2-page spreads would show the flow of the scene.

To touch on something I mentioned earlier, you'll need more than one dummy book if you're doing picture books. Why? Isn't that a lot of work? Well, yes. Keep in mind, you are signing up to be doing the work of an author and illustrator, so it comes with the territory. Some people can write excellently but their art isn't up for the market. Then there are amazing artists who can't write well. You need to present that you can do both AND that you're not going to be a one-hit wonder. You're showing you can create other work just as good. Also, keep in mind that the agent may like one story more than others. You may query with one story and an agent isn't too keen on it but asks what else you have. They love your second and third book! Maybe the first needs some reworking or you move on to a new project.

You can think of a dummy book like what storyboards are for moviemakers. They have the images up to see and discuss how they will finalize it or if they want to change things. You have enough of a visual to have a clear idea and for others to see that idea. From there, it's easier to make some decisions to tweak and make each page impactful and flow with your story.

Now, I'll answer some questions I had when looking into how to create dummy books, and you may have them as well.

Q: Do I need to include a copyright page, title page, etc.?

A: While probably not entirely necessary, it is a good idea to show that you understand that those pages will be required in the book, and you've taken them into account regarding the length of your story pages. Personally, I just label those pages as "copyright," "dedication page," "author bio," etc. No need to get fancy.

Q: Do I need to make a physical book?

A: No, it can be compiled as long as you can put it together in a PDF in a clear way. That being said, many artists like to make a small paper version of their book for convenience. They cut the pages to size, mark which page is which, sketch scenes in, and add text once uploaded to the computer. Also, such a version would be helpful if you attend in-person conferences. It's up to you.

Q: Can I illustrate the whole thing so it's ready to go?

A: Don't do this unless you want it solely for yourself. That won't be the version that gets published, as I mentioned before, and it could actually hurt your querying. The reason being, it shows that you are less willing to work with the design team and insist on having it your way. If you have this preference, then self-publishing would probably suit you better.

Q: How many pages?

A: You can find a template online or look at some picture books you have around or from the library. The short answer is that picture books are usually 24 pages or 32 pages, including non-story pages. So, it's a good idea to plan that out first. Also, mark where your spreads will go.

Q: Do non-author illustrators make dummies?

A: Yes, they can, but it's not required. If you've worked on a book and want to show it as an example of your work, you can create a dummy book. Another thing illustrators do is make a dummy book of a classic fairytale. Again, this is not required and is simply used as an example to demonstrate your familiarity with the process.

Check out Nadja at or on Instagram @nadja_m_studio.

Final Thoughts

Go check out Nadja if you haven't already! She has some great posts over on her page about her illustrations as well as how to contact her for hire.

I want to thank Nadja for coming on the blog today. Finally, being able to have a step-by-step guide/Q&A on how the process works is so beneficial to new author/illustrators wanting to join the industry.

If you are wanting to see more posts like this one in upcoming blogs, let me know in the comments below as well as the topic you are interested in. Don't forget to subscribe to get the latest updates!

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