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?
The simple answer: no. There are various reasons for this.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
In my last blog post I was delighted to share with you that the very talented Julia Patton is the illustrator for Professor McQuark. I posed her a few questions and I think you’ll agree that, with her hectic schedule, inspired ideas and appreciation for the silly things in life, she is the Professor McQuark of the illustrative world!
Looking at your Amazon Author Page, you are a very busy woman! How do you choose your next project? What drew you to Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip?
It’s true I’m a workaholic! I’m madly in love with my job and my passion for creating children’s picture books makes me skip to my studio each morning. (All of three paces, as my studio is my woodshed in my garden overlooking my vegetable patch!)
I am lucky enough to have a collection of dedicated Bright agents in London and New York who work tirelessly for me, internationally sourcing the newest and hottest authors and publishers to collaborate with. Most weeks a few new jobs pop up! I also source my own new publishers through attending the International Children’s Book fair in Bologna, which I visit each year. It’s a lovely break in the publishing calendar to look forward to during the long hours in the studio. I use this annual opportunity to meet face-to-face with existing international publishers, strengthening those all important relationships. It’s a delight to finally meet someone after 6 moths of daily emails (often at very unsocial hours). Attending the trade fairs is important for me to see the worlds finest publishing houses under one roof. I then can see emerging trends, where my work fits into the market and who is on my next wish list to work with. Very inspiring. Networking with a glass of prosecco is also rather lovely!
Choosing the next project?….rather more difficult than first anticipated. I’d love to say yes to everything, but it’s is impossible. At one intense period I had 6 books on the go simultaneously. As you can imagine this is not sustainable or really giving everyone your best. A freelance creative has to carefully select what works best for them, everyone works differently. I know illustrators who deliberately take weekends off and others that work flexibly around busy families. Unfortunately these decisions usually depend upon timing: what I’m currently working on, what’s lined up for the immediate months and what I have lurking in the not-so-distant-future. Deadlines vary greatly so calculating what I’m capable of achieving to the highest standards has to be estimated. Saying no to any project is very hard. I also specifically put aside time to write and develop my own stories- I have maybe 4/5 ready to pitch, a few in the pea-pod stage and others just scribbles in my sketchbook that require frequent watering to blossom.
I was delighted to be offered Professor McQuark from Maverick Publishing as we’d wanted to work together previously but I’d been too busy unfortunately. Timing. The text was exceptional – if you can visualise each line, word and character on the first read-through you know it’s going to be very special. Exciting, busy and beautifully rhymed! A female professor empowering a new generation of mini-inventors and engineers! YES PLEASE!
How do you come up with a look for your characters? For example, I love the fact that the Professor has four pairs of glasses!
Character development is important to make each book distinctive, we have to care about our protagonists and this requires creating them with love and attention to detail. A redheaded character can subliminally be seen as the underdog we all secretly champion and we all can imagine what adding copious amounts of freckles to a little boys’ nose can possibly achieve!!! Professor McQuark is so clever and busy that she’d obviously require numerous spectacles and it was also a reference to my childhood hero, Professor Branestawm, who had multiple glasses too.
The level of detail in the illustrations is amazing! Were you a Richard Scarry fan when you were younger? Who inspired you?
I believe my role as an illustrator is to illuminate words, suggest the magical and interpret the unspoken. A good illustrator can capture the imagination and hearts of not only the audience, but visually interpret the emotions of characters and the adventures they explore. We have the tangible tools of colour, tone, texture and composition at our disposal and the responsibility to capture audible drama, anticipation, and physical emotions. The pause that a ‘page-turn’ gives offers an illustrator infinite possibilities. I love the idea that nothing is impossible to render and breathe life into. It can be quite an overwhelming responsibility and challenge sometimes. Professor McQuark was an amalgamating of many of my historical visual influences: Lego manuals I poured over for hours, and my beloved Richard Scarry (whose books I read as regularly now as in my infant years). Not forgetting Heath Robinson. Many days have been lost in delight fanatically deliberating how his contraptions were created. I loved discovering a 1912 dictionary definition of ‘Heath Robinson-esque’ as an “Absurdly ingenious and impracticable device” Even my children’s love of Wallace and Gromit is a modern embodiment of the same theme. A perfect partnership for Professor McQuark I thought!
I love the Science Fair page with all the wacky inventions you have come up with. What is your favourite illustration or spread in the book?
I really love diagrams. All those dotted lines, numerical influences, keys explaining odd symbols has me giddy with excitement. Combined with all those Heath Robinson and Richard Scary influences, the science page was a sheer delight. Your description of each object was delicious, just enough to give me a spring-board and leaving just enough to the imagination to create the sublime and the ridiculous. You can never underestimate how magical something ‘plain silly’ can be. The science fair page took me almost 2 weeks to create. I loved every second. I’d really like the ‘parrot-interpreter-radio’ to be achievable please – I imagine macaws are just hilarious company.
And finally… Your latest publication is the Children in Need celebrity co-authored book, The Curious Tale of Fi-Rex. I have to ask: did you get to meet any of the celebrities? Who came up with the best page?
This new book is raising vital funds for the BBC Children In Need charity which is very close to my heart. It was a huge privilege to be a part of. Fi-Rex is a collaboration between some of the finest sportsmen, musicians and creatives in contemporary society. A bonkers story based around a traditional game of ‘consequences’ which concludes happily I can report! The launch party was really quite marvellous, attended by many famous faces. Trying to give a sense of consistency to so many voices within one book what a delightful challenge. (Between you and I, Bear Grylls’ page was the most atmospheric and tension building – this was my favourite. Shhhhhh!)
Thank you Julia! We will let you return to your woodshed where no doubt new and amazing illustrations are impatient to burst forth!
Julia’s Amazon author page
It’s an actual Professor McQuark illustration by Julia Patton! I love it!
Probably the most exciting part about getting a picture book accepted is seeing the illustrations. More than any other book, a picture book has to grab the reader’s attention from the very first glance, so the illustrations really are the most important part of the package. I can appreciate much more now why most publishers ask for text only. They may have illustrators they are waiting to work with, they have their own house style to pursue, they have access to agencies with hundreds of artists… in short, they are much better placed to make a decision about an illustrator than you are. The exception is if you are an author-illustrator (a rare but amazing breed!) or an already established partnership such as Hedgehugs‘ Steve Wilson and Lucy Tapper (husband and wife as well as writer and illustrator). Having an illustrator chosen for you also gives you a wonderful chance to see your book elevated to another level, as your illustrator brings a whole new level of interest and fun to your text. This has certainly been the case with the illustrator my publishers, Maverick, have selected for Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip: the amazingly inventive Julia Patton.
Normally Maverick will select perhaps three artists and ask for sample spreads before comparing them and selecting their favourite. The author is consulted as part of the decision but is not in charge of making the final choice. In this case, however, they were keen to work with Julia and knew she would be the perfect choice for a book about wacky inventions. I only had to look at her sample spread to instantly agree!
The next time the author will see illustrations is usually when pencil-drawn drafts are produced for each spread, to give a rough idea of how the finished book will look. There is an opportunity for input but again the editor and artist will be making the main decisions. After the pencil stage, it’s time to sit back and try not to fidget too much while the artist puts in the hard graft. As I mentioned in my previous post about promotion, this is a good time to do those pre-publication jobs such as creating a website and Facebook page. When the finished drawings come in and you have picked yourself off the floor in amazement and awe, there is a chance for some typo-hunting, as by now the text will have been laid out on the pages by the editor. At this stage you may get a digital copy, which isn’t actually a virtual book but the real thing. It’s just not the actual book yet. Yes, I don’t understand either. One last check and then it’s off to be printed for real, a process which takes three long months. Time to get very excited indeed!
In my next post I’ll be interviewing Julia Patton about inventions, inspiration and interpretation via parrot. Back soon!