Frequently asked questions #1: Do I need to find an illustrator?

I thought I’d use this blog to answer some frequently asked questions about the submission process, starting with one of the most common.  Do I need to find an illustrator for my book before I submit it?

jon writing letters with both handsThe simple answer: no.  There are various reasons for this.

  1. Publishers usually like to source their own illustrators.  They may even have artists in mind that they want to work with, and are waiting for the right manuscript to come along (as was the case with my own manuscript Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip and the illustrator Julia Patton).
  2. A publisher will often have a house style that makes their books stand out as theirs.  The type of illustrators they choose will reflect this.  Yours is unlikely to fit unless you are only ever targeting one publisher.
  3. Fashions change in children’s illustration as much as anywhere else.  Your publisher will have a much better idea of how your book should look and what will make it fit (or stand out) in the current market.
  4. The right illustrator takes your book to another level – it’s like having a co-author who comes up with brilliant ideas.  The publisher knows which illustrator will make the most out of your text.
  5. Your editor and designer have a wealth of experience in laying out books, not only in terms of pictures but in the way the text interacts with the pictures, the pacing of the text through the spreads, typography etc.  Rarely these days does text simply sit under a picture.  It’s more likely to be dancing across a page, growing and shrinking or even spiraling through a spread.  If you’ve already provided illustrations, this hampers the space the designer can use rather than allowing them to work with the illustrator.

Exceptions

If you are already an illustrator then of course you will want to provide your own illustrations.  (Picture book author-illustrators are amazing and, in my opinion, demi-gods!)  Another exception might be that you have already teamed up with an illustrator and you want to work as a partnership or not at all.  It will be harder to be published in this case as both words and pictures will have to be accepted.  And finally if you are self-publishing you may need to find your own illustrator.  Self publishing is not something I tend to cover in this blog but there is plenty of help on line if you do pursue this route.

What happens next?

So how does your publisher find an illustrator?  While you are going through the editing process and refining your text, the publisher will also be researching artists and asking for sample pages to be created.  They may approach the artist directly or through an agency.  You may see these samples and be asked for your opinion but you may not!  Rest assured, your publisher knows what’s best for your story.

After the illustrator has been commissioned they will produce sketches for each page which are put together into a dummy pdf together with the text.  Again you may be asked to comment on this.  Once the roughs have been agreed, the illustrator finalises them with colour and detail.  The whole process can take a few months, but when you see the detail that goes into a picture book it’s surprising it’s not a few years!  By this time your text is normally complete too and you will be asked to look over the finished pdf and check for typos etc.  The book then goes for printing which can take about three months if it’s being printed abroad.  Finally you and your illustrator have a bouncing baby book – and you may never even have met!

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3 responses to “Frequently asked questions #1: Do I need to find an illustrator?

  1. Continuing the illustrator conversation… Are illustrators paid on a per project basis or are they also paid royalties based on the number of books sold? What is the norm? Also, when I write a story I like to create the main character or characters in some cases. It helps me write the story and brings the characters to life for me. Is it a negative to include a drawing or 2 with a submission? My character drawings are more like a cartoon character than what seems to be a standard style these days. One more question…. It seems more celebrities are writing children’s books these days. Is there still room with for us newcomers out there or are “agents” looking more for people who are known to the public? Love your blog…. It gives us great insight as we try to learn as much as we can about this industry as we continue to submit, submit and submit some more. Thanks…..

  2. Hi Kevin. I think it differs from publisher to publisher, but for a picture book it is generally a flat fee. Re your character drawings, I don’t think it’s necessary to include them if it’s just something that has helped your thinking process – unless you feel there is a particular aspect about them that doesn’t come across on the page. And finally, the celebrity issue! It can be very frustrating when you see the number of celebrities that have decided to increase their career portfolio with a children’s book. (As someone on Twitter said, why does it have to be children’s books? Why can’t they dabble in something else?) All I can say is that publishers and agents are still looking for good stories well told, no matter who the author is, so don’t lose heart. The opportunities are out there!

    • Thanks for the reply Lou and your insight on the illustrating of a published children’s picture book. Your blog answers questions and gives us a look inside you don’t generally find elsewhere. As a 64 year old grandfather who has “chased” this for a long time, I certainly appreciate your words of wisdom. Just yesterday I mailed out a submission that I had reworked the story to bring it to the industry standard of 24 story pages….. and I will never lose heart, this is way too much fun!

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