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All Those Pages: The Pagination Problem

by Laura Belgrave

So what IS the deal on pagination, anyway?

It's very easy to make your job harder than it already is. Here's a particularly good way: Take pains to indicate on your manuscript exactly where page breaks should occur when the book is laid out. Picture books authors especially like to sweat this one. Non-fiction writers occasionally seem fond of it, too. Guess what, though? The only people who need to fuss with those details are editors and book designers. They're the ones who wrangle over pagination, and their wrangling is typically based on exciting factors such as in-house standards, cost, and the way printing presses work. Not everything is within their control.

For instance, printing presses generally run pages in blocks of 8, 16, 24 or 32 at a time. Those chunks, each of which is printed on one huge sheet and then later folded and gathered for binding, is called a "signature." Two 24-page signatures make for a 48-page book, three 32-page signatures make for a 96-page book, and so on. Actually, it gets a lot more technical than that, but all you really need to know is that editors are most often restricted to putting books together that are, one way or another, divisible in page number by eight.

If you go to the trouble of indicating page breaks for a 34-page book, well, it just isn't going to happen. For that matter, if you already know that picture books are most often printed as 24- or 32-page books and you break your text out to show precisely 32 pages, you still haven't done anyone any favors. That's because as part of those 32 pages, the editor needs to include front and back matter--all that fascinating stuff like a copyright page, a title page, perhaps an author/illustrator bio, and more. (See Glossary of Publishing Terms for more detail.)

Decisions for what gets included in the front and back matter, and how many pages that material takes up are usually based on in-house standards. Because you can't know what those standards are, you can't paginate for the editor. Your best bet is simply to make your work unique and compelling, (did I say simply?) finalize it with commonly accepted manuscript formatting conventions, and ship it off. (Or build a web site. Page numbering doesn't count at all!)

Copyright © 1997 by Laura Belgrave

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