Every author and illustrator knows the drill: a picture book comes out, and if you are lucky it gets face-out placement on the bookstore shelves for the first few months, then it gets shelved spine out, if at all, and that is the end of the life of your book as we know it.

Or is it?

Beginning today, a California-based startup company unveils Lookybook, an interactive book community Web site that enables people to browse through hundreds of picture books and post comments about them before deciding whether to purchase the book on Amazon. (They are also looking into working with independent bookstores through Book Sense.)

Lookybook is the brainchild of Craig Frazier, an author and illustrator of picture books who became frustrated by the display cycle. Frazier wanted to give more picture books a better chance of finding readers and hit upon the idea of creating a Web site that could help them stay in print. “It occurred to me as I watched these books that the marketing and sales opportunities dwindled over time, through no fault of the publisher,” Frazier said. “There was no apparent place on the Internet where you could have the experience of looking at a picture book as in the bookstore.”

The Lookybook site opens to the book trade today and is expected to go live for consumers on November 29, with about 300 books provided by charter publishers that include Chronicle, Penguin, Roaring Brook and Holiday House. Lookybook is making the program free to publishers for the first year, because as the founders admit, they are not sure how the site will affect book sales.

About a year ago, Frazier met Craig Virden, a children’s publishing veteran and former head of Random House Children’s Books. The two teamed up with designer Ron Chan, who created the site’s proprietary software that animates entire picture books and allows them to be browsed online. Frazier and the company are based in Mill Valley, Calif., so it fell to East Coaster Virden to spread the word about Lookybook to publishers.

Bill Boedecker, publishing director of children's books at Chronicle, admitted he was skeptical at first. “It’s showing the whole book online; it’s more than just a peek inside,” he told PW. Now Boedecker said he sees Lookybook as a means for publicity and a great way to promote backlist titles online, which Boedecker believes most picture book publishers have been trying to do. “We’re all sort of standing and looking out wondering who’s going to go first,” Boedecker said. He thinks that Lookybook, with its peer-to-peer review ability and user-created bookshelves, will serve as a picture book filter for site visitors.

At Holiday House, v-p of marketing Terry Borzumato-Greenberg said Lookybook offers a way to “showcase books that has not existed before.” Librarians, educators, parents and grandparents can check out a book for themselves and then read what others have said about it before deciding to buy the book, she said. Since browsing the full titles online can’t compare to the cozy feeling of curling up with a physical book, Borzumato-Greenberg does not think that Lookybook will steal potential picture book sales. And because there was no charge to be involved for the first year, she said Holiday House saw “no downside.”

“It’s a new frontier,” said Frazier. “We may be able to bring a book forward that hasn’t been seen in years. The goal of this is to create a broadened, level playing field for picture books.”

“There’s been an interesting amount of enthusiasm,” Virden added. “At least we are taking a shot at something new.” He hopes that once publishers realize Lookybook can convey the pictorial essence of a picture book without duplicating the physical experience of reading one, they will appreciate the promotional and marketing opportunities the site offers. “You can’t buy what you can’t see,” he said.

To browse a picture book using Lookybook’s software, click here.