Archive for November, 2011


Working with Illustrators

Copyright 2011 by Sherry Garland


Voices of the Dust Bowl

A picture book is a unique art form. Neither the  words by themselves nor the artwork by itself  will evoke the same emotions as the two combined. The two together become one of the most beautiful, moving experiences a child (or adult) can have.

I am often approached by budding picture book authors who ask the procedure for getting an illustrator for the books they are writing. From these conversations, it becomes obvious that there are several basic misconceptions by new PB authors: 1) that the author must also know how to illustrate; 2) that the author is responsible for finding an illustrator for the project before the manuscript is even submitted; 3) that the author will need to give detailed instructions to the artist, maybe even submit rough sketches; 4)that the author will have an up and personal experience working directly with the illustrator; 5) the artist just creates images from his/her head.

Here are my responses to each of these points, assuming that the picture book is being submitted to regular publishers and not being self-published.

1) No, the author does not have to also be an artist.  It does happen, of course, and some of the most famous picture book creators are both author and illustrator. The average author, however, is not also the artist.  So, do not let that be a deterrent to writing a picture book. 

2) No, the author is not responsible for finding an illustrator.  As the writer, you submit only the text for the picture book.  If the publisher agrees to publish the manuscript, the editor will be responsible for locating and hiring the illustrator. The editor has contacts with many illustrators and is usually looking for a specific style to match your words. Sometimes a manuscript is turned down by several artists for various reasons before the editor locates the right one. That is not to say that you cannot make recommendations — I do that all the time. Sometimes the editors listen to me, sometimes not. One thing you never want to do is mention that you have a friend or relative who would love to illustrate the book.  Unless that person is already a well-established, professional artist, it will make you appear very amateurish.

3) No, you are not expected to turn in “rough sketches” or make suggestions for the artwork. Your text should be written in such a way that the illustrator will interpret your words in an acceptable manner. There are exceptions, of course.  For example, if you have a wordless book, then you do have to explain the context. Or, if you have a book that only has one word per page, you have to explain the “plot.” These exceptions are mostly for concept books. When the age of a character is not found in the text and if it makes a difference, it is okay to mention that.

4) No, you probably will never have a one-on-one dialog with the illustrator.  In fact, you will probably never meet the artist at all.  Of the 30 books I’ve had published, I’ve only met two of the artists in person and spoke to one on the phone long after the book was published. The editor serves as a buffer between the artist and the author. Let’s face it, both are creative types who can get emotionally attached to their ideas.  This is difficult, but you have to sit back and let the artist do his/her job. Once you see the sketches, if there is something you really disagree with, let the editor know.  She in turn will talk to the artist about making changes. In my case, many of my picture books are about other cultures or about historical events, so I do have more hands-on involvement that the average PB author.

5) Picture book illustrators are a hard-working lot. They will burn many more hours doing the artwork than you did writing the text. There are some exceptions, for example historical picture books that require many months of research, but in general your work pales in comparison to the artist’s work. Many of them use models and take photos of them to get realistic perspectives; they do tons of research to make sure the clothes, houses, trees, toys and everything imaginable are accurate. They interpret your words and bring them to life.

If you are lucky, the end creation will be a thing of beauty to all.




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