Finding an Illustrator for your book. Step One: Don’t!

A number of times each year I get an email that usually starts with these words;

These emails are hugely flattering, because the writer likes my work enough to think that I’m the right person to bring their story to life. Who wouldn’t be pleased by that?
However, even if their story is fantastic and something that I’d usually love to illustrate, most of the time I have to turn them down. This isn’t because I’m rushed off my feet and unable to find the time but because choosing me as their artist could be a costly mistake.

So, for the sake of this blog let’s say you’re a first time writer who has asked me to illustrate your story, and are now wondering why on earth I’ve said, “Sorry, but no”.

Firstly, if you haven’t done so already, put your manuscript somewhere you’ll forget about it, and get on with your life for a week or two. Then go back to it and take a look with fresh eyes; You might find mistakes or clunky passages, which weren’t obvious when you were originally writing it.

Next, it’s important that you  get a good idea in your own mind of how your finished book will look. What format will it be? How many pages? Is it more suited to a 48 page epic or a 12 page board book for pre-school kids?
A standard picture book is 32 pages in length, but not all of these can be devoted to story and/or artwork. Some are required to be end pages, a copyright page, and a title page. Will your story fill that amount, or have you written too much? Think about how the text will flow from page to page, and what pictures might compliment it. Importantly, does it need further editing? (The answer to that is probably “Yes”, by the way. If you’re unwilling to allow an editor to edit your story then it’s doubtful it’ll get published).

Have you decided what Publishing Houses you’re going to approach? If you’ve written a children’s book and are going to send it off for consideration into the big, wide world then at the very least you should make sure you’ve sent it to people who might be interested in it. Different publishers often specialise in different types of books, so make sure you don’t send your story about flying monkeys to someone who only prints historical stories.
You should also be aware of the problems of sending publishers an unsolicited manuscript. Not every publisher accepts stories sent out of the blue, and might only work with authors, or a literary agent, with whom they already have a working relationship.
If you send your story to one such publisher it would simply end up languishing  in the limbo of the dreaded slush pile, no matter how good it is.

Perhaps you might consider trying to get a literary agent yourself. They will take a percentage of your profits, but they will do all the leg work of sending the manuscript to the right people, and might have contacts in the publishing industry that would otherwise be unavailable to you.

Next, get your coat on, go to your local bookshop and see how everyone else is doing it. See what other writers are up to. Get an idea in your head of what your book might look like when it’s published, and while you’re at it take a look at who is producing the sort of books that yours might fit in with.
You could do worse off than buy yourself  a copy of The Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.
It’s full of useful information for those trying to break into the world of children’s books. It has articles, contacts, the addresses of Publishing Houses and whether they accept story manuscripts, and lots more advice. It will help you to be better equipped to get your story noticed.

If you’re still positive that you want me to illustrate your book before you send it off then let’s talk about payment.
I don’t want to wait until the book has been picked up by a publisher before I get paid; I prefer to be paid when all the work has been delivered to you. Sometimes the payment might be split into chunks; one on delivery of the roughs and the other on delivery of the finals. I mean, I do have bills to pay.
Then, of course, there’s the subjects of contracts and royalties…

Importantly can I point out that even though you like my art, a commissioning editor interested in your story might hate it. They might think the style is completely unsuitable, want major changes throughout, or worst of all want a completely new illustrator to do the work. If this happens then you will find yourself with a bookload of artwork that nobody wants, and thousands of pounds out of pocket.

So if you’re a first time writer who is thinking about approaching an illustrator (whether it’s me or someone else) to illustrate your book, my advice is “Don’t!”.
If you’re still adamant that you want some sort of artwork to go with your story then you might consider paying for a double page spread, or perhaps a few character deigns to show the editor what you have in mind; but please, no more than that.
Anything else at this early stage would be a waste of cash.

Instead, you’d be much better off  making sure your manuscript is as perfect as it can be before sending it off.
Then, wait…

If you’re lucky enough to get a call back from an excited commissioning editor who is desperate to put your book on the shelves, then you can suggest an illustrator to them.
Who knows, they may think you’ve made a great choice, and tell you that fame and fortune await.

In which case my answer is “Yes”. I’d be delighted to illustrate it for you.

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