How to Format a Children’s Book: 8 Useful Tips

Formatting a children's book can be an intimidating venture. Getting it right is key to having a finished product that's ready for children and their parents to read.

So whether you're looking to sell print copies, digital copies, or both, you'll need a little guidance to get you through the formatting process. That's what this article is all about! Read on to find out how to format a children's book for self-publishing.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. The different formatting requirements for children’s books
  2. What you need to have done before formatting
  3. Tips for formatting your children’s book
  4. The best options for formatting your children’s book
  5. Formatting your children’s book for Kindle

Formatting Requirements for the Types of Children’s Books

As you already know, there's more than one type of kid's book. So before we dig into the meat of this article, let's get clear on the types of children's books we're talking about.

1. Middle Grade and YA

If you're a chapter book author, you can go about formatting your text-heavy book in much the same way you would any other fiction book. Many of the steps below won't pertain to you unless you have a lot of images in your book. Luckily, we've got you covered. Check out our article on book formatting to learn how to format your middle-grade or young adult book.

2. Picture Books

If you're a picture book author, this article is for you. The complexities of images, text, layout, spacing, trim size, and bleed all come together to make picture book formatting more difficult than text-heavy book formatting.

So, let's get right to it.

What You Should Have Done Before Formatting

Formatting means different things to different people. To be clear, this article isn't about formatting your picture book manuscript to send to a literary agent or a publishing house. Manuscript formatting for children's books is very different from formatting for self-publishing.

In fact, in a perfect world, formatting happens during the “writing” process as you put your images (or placeholders) together with your text. The real formatting happens on the computer, but having a vivid idea of what your book will look like before you start formatting on the computer will save you a lot of time and a lot of headaches.  

So, before we dive into the tips for formatting your children's book, it's important to know what you should already have done before focusing on formatting.

Edited Text

At this point in the children's book writing process, it's important to have a fully edited text. This means that you've already had an editor look at it (which we highly recommend), or you've edited it yourself.

Either way, it's important to have the words exactly the way you want them. Making changes during or after the formatting process can be a bit of a headache, so make sure you have this done already!

Illustrations

Formatting is all about putting your text and illustrations together, so it's also important to have all your illustrations ready to go. If you're still waiting on images from your illustrator, you'll want to wait until you have them all at your disposal before starting. 

A Book Dummy (Or a Mockup)

Before formatting, it's incredibly helpful to have a mockup of your book on hand. Sometimes called a book dummy or a storyboard, this is an approximation of how your book will look when formatting is finished.

It's actually a good idea to do this before hiring an illustrator (or drawing your own pictures, if you're going that route) because it helps you determine what illustrations you actually need for the finished product.

You can do this on folded sheets of plain white paper, sketching out each illustration and putting the words down so you can see how the layout will look. Then, once you get your artwork back from the illustrator, you can create a new mockup with the new images to make sure everything looks good. You'll use this for reference during the formatting process.

Children's Book Formatting Tips

There are a lot of different ways to go about formatting a children's book. You can use software like Adobe InDesign, Pages, or even MS Word if you're truly brave. There are too many options for us to present this as a step-by-step guide. However, the intricacies of various software programs don't change the core factors that you need to follow to have a book that your target age group will enjoy.

So, if you follow the tips below, you'll be well on your way to becoming a children's book author!

1. Page Count

Most children's picture books are 32 pages. This includes the title page, copyright, front matter, and back matter. The reason for this originally had to do with how children's books are printed, but now it has become the standard.

Sticking to this 32-page standard is a good idea for your first children's book. However, if you won't or can't stick to this number, try to ensure your book has a total page number that's a multiple of 8 (24, 32, 40, 48, etc.).

2. Word Count

Like page count, word count is also something to be aware of as you format your book. Most children's picture books are under 500 words total. A little bit over this may not be a big deal, but if you're more than a hundred words over, it may be a good idea to revisit your plan for the book to get that number down.

Remember that formatting isn't just about putting a book out there. It's about putting a book out there that has the best possible chance of success.

3. Trim Size and Orientation

It's best to choose your trim size and orientation early on in the book writing process — or at least before you hire an illustrator.

You have three options for orientation: landscape, portrait, and square. Within these choices, you have standard sizes that do well in the children's book publishing world.

Best Landscape Sizes

  • 10″ x 8″
  • 11″ x 8.5″

Best Portrait Sizes

  • 7″ x 10″
  • 7.5″ x 9.25″
  • 8″ x10″
  • 8.5″ x 11″

Best Square Sizes

  • 8″ x 8″
  • 8.5″ x 8.5″
  • 9″ x 9″
  • 10″ x 10″

However, before you choose a size, you'll need to know what print-on-demand service you'll be using (if any), as some of them have different sizes available. IngramSpark and KDP are the two big players, and neither of them offers landscape format sizes. Below are the standard sizes they offer:

Portrait Sizes from KDP and IngramSpark:

  • 7″ × 10″
  • 7.25″ × 9.25″
  • 8″ × 10″
  • 8.5″ × 11″

Square Sizes from KDP and IngramSpark:

  • 8″ × 8″
  • 8.5″ × 8.5″

4. Bleed

Once you know your trim size, you can take bleed into account. Bleed is a term that describes when the images in your book will go all the way to the edges of the page. No bleed means the images don’t go all the way to the edge, meaning you’ll have a border around the pages. Most children's books do have bleed, but not all of them. It's up to you whether you want the images to go all the way to the edge of the page or not.

Keep in mind that if even one image in the entire book goes to the edge, you should format the whole book for bleed. It's also important to note that if you will have bleed in your children's picture book, it only works on KDP for fixed-format options, such as print-ready PDF files.

If your book will have bleed, you'll need to change the page size accordingly to make sure you don't end up with an unwanted white border around the pages. You can do this by following this formula:

  • Trim Height + 0.125 x 2 = Page Height with Bleed
  • Trim Width + 0.125 = Page Width with Bleed

Confused? Let's do an example together.

Let's say your trim size is 8″ x 10″ and you want bleed so your images go all the way to the edge of the page. Following the formula above, we would do it like this:

  • 10″ + 0.125 x 2 = 10.25″
  • 8″ + 0.125 = 8.125″

Page size to allow for bleed = 8.125″ x 10.25″

You can resize your pages to fit these before continuing on. But we still have margins to deal with!

5. Margins

Margins are important so none of the essential elements in your book get cut off during the printing process. You have four margins total: the outside margin, top margin, bottom margin, and the inside margin (also called the gutter).

The gutter margin depends on the page count because that's where the binding of the book goes. The more pages you have, the larger your gutter needs to be. Luckily, children's picture books all have low page counts, so the gutters are almost always 0.375″.

Depending on the software you're using for formatting, you may have both an inside margin option and a gutter option. If you do have both, ignore the gutter option or mark it at zero. The inside margin should be set at 0.375”.

Now, bleed will also affect the other margin sizes. If you're working with bleed, your outside, bottom, and top margins will need to be at least 0.375″. If you're not working with bleed, they need to be at least 0.25″. They don't all need to be the same, but they do all need to meet the minimum size for proper printing.

However, I recommend working with 0.5″ margins on those three sides, just to make sure you have enough space so your words or essential illustrations don't end up too close to the edges.

6. Placing Text and Images

Once you have your document set with trim size, bleed, and margins, you can add illustrations and text, following the guidelines from your dummy book. All you have to do is make sure no important components fall outside the margins (like, for instance, the main character's head!). 

This way you'll know that, once your book is printed, it will look great and be an excellent addition to the world of children's literature.

It's a good idea to take some time and think about the font you'll use (Times New Roman is not a great choice for a kid's book). Many times, children's book authors are so focused on the images and the placement of the text that they don't consider whether the text is easy on the eyes or not. The text needs to be easy for a young child to read, so a serif font is usually a good choice.

7. A Note About Images

As you know by now, writing children's books is only part writing. You also have to know how to work with images (or pay someone else to do this — more on that later). So if you're looking to do everything yourself, you'll need to ensure your images are high resolution. If you're hiring an illustrator, you can request that they ensure the images files are 300 dpi.

You'll also want to get them to send you the raw files, just in case you need to make changes to the illustrations (you'll need Adobe Photoshop or InDesign for this).

If you're the illustrator, you'll need to scan your images at 300 dpi to make sure you get all the details that you can so there's image quality loss.

8. Convert to PDF

Once you're happy with the formatting of your children's book, it's time to save it and convert it to PDF. With most software, this is a built-in feature. And as long as you have the margins, gutter, and size set correctly, you should have no problems uploading your file on Amazon or IngramSpark.

Options for Formatting a Children's Book

As you can see, formatting and publishing a children's book takes a bit more effort than publishing a text-heavy middle-grade book or a traditional novel. So to make things easier, we've included some options you can use for the design and formatting of your book.

Pages

This is the Mac version of MS Word. And while it's not the best with design features, it's one that many people are already familiar with. It's possible to use Pages to format a children's book, but it's certainly not the best choice.

Microsoft Word or Google Doc

Like Pages, Word is limited in its functionality when it comes to working with illustrations. You may need to lean on Photoshop (or a friend with Photoshop) to make changes to your images if need be.

Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign can do pretty much everything in terms of children's book formatting. However, it does feature a fairly steep learning curve. If you're not already familiar with the software, you'll need to invest some time in learning how to work it.

Atticus

If you're writing children's books for older kids, such as middle-grade books, chapter books, or young adult fiction, Atticus is the best formatting and writing software you can use. It supports full bleed, so you can add full-page images for the beginnings of chapters, maps for fantasy books, or the odd image that will give your book that bit of extra flair.

However, Atticus is limited (right now, anyway) in what it can do for image-heavy books. So if you're writing picture or board books, sticking with Adobe InDesign or something like it is a good idea.

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Pay a Designer

Many self-published children's book writers like to do it all.  But if this all seems like too much for you, seek out the help of a designer who has worked on children's books before.

There's a global workforce at your fingertips through sites like Fiverr and Upwork. Or you can search for designers through your favorite search engine.

Don't Forget the Kindle Kids' Book Creator

Before we close this article, it's important to mention the Kindle Kids’ Book Creator. This is a tool designed by Amazon that will help you convert your print-ready children's book to an ebook-friendly version which you can publish on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. Or you can use the tool to design your book from scratch.

Lots of people still buy children's books in print, but more and more are buying them for e-readers and tablets. You can be sure to maximize your exposure to young readers by offering both a print and an ebook version. You can check Amazon’s free tool here.

Final Thoughts

Formatting a children's book starts almost from the very first planning stages. Because dealing with each illustration and the words on each page is part of the storytelling process, it's hard to put off formatting until the end of the publishing process, as is the case with text-heavy books.

And while your book writing process may start with a simple manuscript, it's important to consider things like word count, page count, trim size, bleed, and layout from the very beginning. Luckily, you can follow the tips outlined above to format your children's story and get it ready for early readers while avoiding common headaches new children's book authors run into!



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