In the course of editing and designing books for people we often get questions. One we’ve heard a lot lately is, “Can you help me find a good illustrator for a children’s book?”
Like many things associated with creating a book, this question is more complex than it seems. To begin with, you must deal with another question: How do you hope to get your book published? Will you follow the traditional process and submit it to a publishing house or do you plan to self publish? Your answer will take you down one of two very different roads.
Today we’ll focus on the road to traditional commercial publication.
So, how do you find an illustrator for the book you plan to submit to a publisher?
Children’s book illustrator Dani Jones offers a simple and unequivocal answer.
“You don’t,” says Jones. “And you don’t want to”
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators explains why:
The editor who purchases your picture book manuscript or the art director at that publishing house will ultimately choose the illustrator. Except in rare circumstances, it is seldom a good idea to collaborate with an illustrator. Illustrators are better off researching the market and submitting their portfolios for assignments. You don't want to illustrate it yourself unless you are a professional. There is also no need to describe the illustrations in your submission. If your manuscript doesn't come to life visually without being explained, then it probably needs work. If the story needs to be told by the illustrations, then mention that briefly in your cover letter. Perhaps include a separate page with annotations for the illustrations (so titled), but you may not want to clutter the main manuscript with explanations.
Okay, you’re saying, I understand the process, but I have already teamed up with a friend or acquaintance to have them illustrate my book and we want to submit it jointly, what do we do?
Harold Underdown, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, advises:
Presenting a "package" of this type can be done, but if the writer is unpublished, and the illustrator is unpublished, doing so will reduce the already slim chance that a publisher will be interested. Editors are able to evaluate the manuscript and illustrations as if they had been submitted separately--they do that all the time when looking at published books. Presenting them together, however, suggests that the writer wants them to be published together, and that means that a rejection will be the result not only if the manuscript isn't what the editor wants, but also if the illustrations don't impress, or if the combination of story and illustrations is not one she likes.
Writers and illustrators who have already taken this step should consider how strongly they feel that their work must be published together. If the author can imagine another illustrator, and the illustrator could imagine illustrating manuscripts by other people, then they should submit separately. The writer can submit her manuscript, and perhaps suggest the illustrator later if her book is accepted for publication; the illustrator can submit the illustrations she did as samples to an art director.
If a writer and an illustrator have considered this question carefully, and both feel that there are strong reasons why they must present their work together, then of course they may do so. They should follow the guidance of Uri Shulevitz in his Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books, and prepare a professional-quality dummy, accompanied by a few color copies of finished sample illustrations, to increase their chances. A printed sample, if the material was self-published, is an acceptable alternative. But in this situation author and illustrator should go into the process with their eyes wide open to the simple fact that they may have considerably reduced their chances of getting themselves published.
In our next post, we’ll look at the other road to print, self publication and the question of finding an illustrator.