Category Archives: tech for smart dummies

Submitting a PDF book dummy

Submitting a PDF book dummy

This is a companion post to Make a PDF book dummy the free, easy way.  That article talked about how to use the free page layout program Scribus to make a dummy. This will discuss how to submit or show a PDF book dummy to a publisher or agent.


Do make sure your target publisher or agent wants PDF book dummies and follow submission guidelines as to sending solicited or unsolicited work.

Do confirm that your email can accommodate the file size. For an emailable dummy, choose a low resolution when you export as PDF. 72 dpi is an appropriate size for the Web.

Do keep a high-resolution file of the dummy for printing. 300 dpi is print quality.

Do use Dropbox or a similar storage system if the file is too big for your email, and send the editor or agent the link. Or, you could put it on your Web site on a password-protected page and send the link and password. However, emaiing is best as it’s simpler for the recipient.

Do send your text ms along with the dummy, either as part of the PDF dummy at the end, or as a separate Word attachment. (This is a judgment call.)

If you have a book accepted that you will illustrate, the publisher will give you a layout to work with. They may want you to send revised PDF dummies as you go along. You can use Scribus for those, too.

With the accepted book, once the finished art is done, you will deliver each illustration as either original art or a high-res digital file, not as a dummy or book, though you will work with the layout, the publisher creates the final book.



Here are some things NOT to do when submitting a PDF book dummy.

Don’t use a fancy typeface or make a finished-looking product.

Don’t show more than 1-2 color pieces in your dummy. Most pages should be in black and white. Publishers like to have a lot of input. Don’t include a cover image unless asked, since the publisher will especially want to give feedback on the cover.

Don’t post your dummy on your site for the world to see or email it willy-nilly to friends. Take basic precautions by only sending when asked or expected. It’s OK to show some of it in your portfolio, maybe a few pages to show sequential art, and color work.

Remember that the editor can see the color pieces on-screen, but might print it out all in black and white (even at 72 dpi, it will print OK, but if you are submitting a print dummy, use the 300 dpi version). It is helpful to show color pieces on your site, either in your portfolio or on a password-protected page if you wish; you can send the editor/agent the password.

Good luck submitting your PDF book dummy!



Make a PDF Book Dummy the free, easy way

Update to this post: This originally was only about Scribus, which is a page-layout program similar to InDesign, but if you don’t want to use that, you can use Microsoft PowerPoint online, which is free, to do your layout and save as PDF. You can also do that with Microsoft Word online, also free, by inserting your images and saving as a PDF. Or you can use OpenOffice or LibreOffice, free MS Office substitutes . If you’re using the presentation (the PowerPoint-like) programs and not the Wordlike ones, I recommend using PowerPoint online instead, as the free PowerPoint-like ones are not as good as the free real one that’s online). Office Online is not as robust as the non-free offline one but it’s quite good. All you need is a Microsoft sign-in, and you can get sign up at those links.

This post will give an overview of making and editing a book dummy using the free page layout program Scribus.

Why you should make a PDF book dummy

First of all, what is a PDF Book dummy? It’s an editable book dummy in digital version, saved as a PDF file. It’s not animated or music-making like an app. it doesn’t flip pages. It sits on the screen, enchanting editors with words and pictures. It’s an alternative to paper book dummies. Best of all, it’s not that complicated to make one.

Picture book writers who don’t illustrate will find it useful to make editable text dummy. I do love the scissors and Scotch tape kind as well, but this way, the text won’t be cut up like a ransom note.

More and more children’s book publishers and are asking for PDF  picture book dummies both in submissions and as you develop your accepted book.  Having a PDF book dummy will streamline your children’s-book submissions. But how do you make one? You could try to put it together in Photoshop and Acrobat, but that’s difficult. Indesign is complicated and costly.  You could scan a paper dummy into a PDF, but that’s time-consuming, and anyway you can’t make changes to it easily. Scribus is a great alternative.

What is Scribus?

Scribus is a free, open source page layout program.

What is open source? Why is it free?

Basically, this means a program is not written by people working for a company, but by a group of programmers working for the love of it and who give away their products. You can download it at

Sometimes Open Source isn’t perfect, but bugs get reported and fixed in updates. Don’t worry about viruses, just be sure you download the program from the official program page. Gimp is a well-known open source program similar to Photoshop. WordPress is also open source.


Using Scribus to make and edit your book dummy

Scribus is simple to use. I’m not going into detailed tutorials here, but you can find those at

You don’t need any special knowledge to use it–what I’ve done here is basic. You do not need Adobe Acrobat.

You should create all your images and save them as JPGs or TIFFs. You can either create them digitally, as I do on a tablet, or you can draw your pictures on paper and scan them then save them.


Here’s an overview and some formatting tips for your book dummy

Create a page layout of 32 pages, then insert image frames and text boxes. Image frames and text boxes can overlap or be separate. You can resize image to frame or frame to image using the Item menu. You can type in the text, or paste it in.

For images, first make an image frame, then insert the image using the mouse or keyboard shortcuts.

If you change an image, don’t manually put into the layout. Save it as the same file name and the image will automatically update in Scribus. Awesome, huh! I like watching it change.

Some things about the text styling aren’t that obvious at first (unless you are one of those virtuous people who read the manual …)

To edit text, use the Text menu. You can choose from whichever fonts you have on your computer. To style the text, use the Edit menu (Edit/Edit text). I didn’t have any luck keeping the same font and had to select the text and change the font each time. (This seemed like a bug. Eventually the font size stayed the same but only after many attempts. However, compared to the time I saved using the program, I didn’t mind).

My cursor would get “stuck” sometimes and when that happened I would hit the Escape (esc) key and all would become unstuck. Took a while to figure that out!

One cool thing (out of many) is that you can zoom way out to as small as 10% and see your dummy as thumbnails, giving you a good sense of the visual rhythm.


How to make the Scribus file into a PDF

Scribus files are saved with the file extension .sla. Don’t worry about that. Once you’re done with your dummy, simply use the edit menu and export it as a PDF. If you make changes to any pages and want to make a new PDF, simply export it as a PDF again. You can keep the same file name or change it.

To edit your dummy, open the .sla file (e.g., mydummy.sla) in Scribus.

There you have it! It’s very flexible and forgiving. You can change any of the pages and put them back in, just as if it were on paper. You can print it out, email it, post it online, or send it to your Kindle or any e-reader that takes PDF files (note: this is not the same as formatting an ebook for Kindle, which is a different process. You can read PDFs on Kindle).

Scribus lets you export it in color, black and white, viewed in one column or two, and there are other viewing options as well.

Ready to hit “send”? My next post will be Tips for submitting a PDF book dummy.


Looking for help writing and/or editing for your picture book manuscript or dummy? Please visit my critiques and editing page.

Skype author visits – the hows and whys

I recently began doing Skype author visits. These are virtual school visits done via a Webcam.  I have done one and it was a fun and rewarding experience. Here I will share my experience and how to get started. (Note: when I say author, that can also man author-illustrator or illustrator.)

The Hows

First of all, you need a Skype account. You also need a computer that has a Webcam and microphone. If your computer doesn’t have these, you can buy them. You don’t need headphones or a mic other than the one that’s built into your computer. You don’t need special lighting, but you should be in a well-lit, quiet place when you do a visit. Obviously, you need a fast, reliable Internet connection, and a computer that can handle Skype video (most can). You don’t need the Skype premium account. You can use the free one.  You can’t do fancy things like split screens in the free one, but that’s OK. You can sign up for the Skype account on

The  Skype an Author Network  is at It used to  be called the Wet Paint wiki, but is now Wiki Foundry. It’s free, has no ads, and is run by a librarian and an author. What’s not to like?  Take a look around at what other authors and illustrators are doing.  Logging in and finding and editing your page can take a little getting used to, but once you do it  you will realize it’s very simple.

You can post text, links and photos on your author page, and videos in their video gallery. Videos are particularly helpful to show to teachers. Testimonials from teachers and principals would help you get work. If you are just starting out, try doing some volunteer Skype or in-person visits to get recommendations. Sometimes a teacher will have kids write thank- you letters. These are wonderful keepsakes.

Linked In is another good place to promote your Skype  author visits.

Here is my page on Skype an Author. As you can see, it has my basic info and images to my books. I may update it. I have had several inquiries so far.

Many authors and illustrators, including myself, offer a free short visit, such as 15 or 20 minutes, and charge for a longer one. You can set prices for varying lengths of visits.  If you have NO experience in teaching or author visits, you might want to do some volunteer or low-cost Skype visits. Spread the word. You can use the SCBWI speakers bureau on their site (if you’re a member), and of course to schools via your own network, blog, and social media.

My First Visit

I did my first visit as a volunteer for Read Across America. Someone from the school contacted me via Skype an Author. When I signed on it was a great moment to see all those little faces in the computer screen, and they could actually see me! Still feels futuristic to me. I was a bit nervous the night before and made sure to dress as I would have for a regular school visit. Except from the waist down… then, I could keep my PJ bottoms on if I had wanted. (If that’s not a reason to do Skype author visits, I don’t know what is!)

The school sent me their Skype name ahead of time and I called them at the planned time. I read my book Ralphie and the Swamp Baby to them. They had read it and were ready with questions. The teachers facilitated. It wasn’t a long visit and went very quickly. It was a lot of fun. It would have been great to record the visit, but I could not find free or low-cost software to do so. If you have a video camera set up or someone who could film you and your screen that’s one way to record it. I don’t feel I need to record the visits; I “recorded” it in my mind’s eye and it’s a fun memory. I e-mailed them a PDF project related to my book for them to do after, as the teacher had already prepared them with reading the book before the visit. I would like to make more use of these assignments. A teacher’s guide to your book is a helpful resource.

It would be harder to do an art or writing project with the kids on Skype than it is in person. But there is always a creative solution. On my Skype an Author Network page, I mention that I could do a two-part visit where I read to the kids and give them an assignment, then in the next visit I help them present it.

I happened to see this post on children’s author Margot Finke’s blog from just yesterday. Here she describes an international Skype  author visit. I like that she finishes with a song.

The Whys

As Skype author visits become more common, schools will integrate them more into their curriculum. They are great time savers for busy authors, and they are often money savers for schools, who won’t have to pay transportation expenses. It gives author and illustrators a great way to visit schools they might not have otherwise, and for children to interact with authors and illustrators they might not have otherwise. So it’s a win-win.

Children’s book creators are, of course, ahead of the curve with technology. I took Mark Mitchell’s amazing course, How to Be a Children’s Book Illustrator, taught on a Wiggio group with live crits via AnyMeeting.

What I was most glad about was that emotional connection between author, kids, and book was still there very strongly with the Skype visit, just as it is in person. The children were clearly excited as was I. As we head into ever more highly developed technology and faster Internet connections, expect more use of live, interactive school visits.