Illustrating Picture Books

[If your calendar says it’s still Monday, then don’t read this! It’s Tuesday’s post. I will be in meetings and away from my computer all day tomorrow. I’m putting you on the honor system to come back tomorrow and read this one! 🙂 ]

Hello, LDS Publisher!
I have a question for you, since you’re running a little low.

I have a friend who has written a childrens story in poetry form, and it is awesome. I have a fabulous idea for illustrating it – and I think (hope desperately) that she would let me submit it as a complete work.

I hear, though, that authors and illustrators don’t get to choose each other. If this book was submitted as text and illustration together, what are the chances it would stay that way?

Thanks, by the way, for answering questions like these! (You’re very welcome.)

For a picture book, the illustrations are just as important (honestly, more so) than the story line. I’ve seen great stories with illustrations that killed the book. No one would even pick them up to read them because the illustrations were really bad or simply boring. On the flip side, there are picture books with mediocre stories that sell well because the illustrations are so delightful.

Because illustrations are so crucial to the book’s sales, publishers choose them. Just as an author has little to no control over the title, layout or cover design of their book, they rarely have control over the illustrator. They may have input, but that’s generally the best they can hope for–unless they are illustrators themselves and do the work for their own book. But even then, that’s a risk. I’ve had submissions where the author insisted that they illustrate their own work and I’ve rejected them because although the story was good, the illustrations were really bad.

Of course, there are exceptions to the “publisher chooses the illustrator” rule. You have Don and Audrey Wood who write and illustrate together. Sonja (mother) and Paul (son) Linsley are an LDS picture book team that work well together (but I believe the Linsley’s are self-publishers, so that puts them in a different category).

Although the chances are not good that a publisher would keep your illustrations with your friend’s story, you can try and see what happens.

Here are a few suggestions for increasing your chances:

1. If you are a professional illustrator and have past experience illustrating picture books, or creating art work for book covers, have your friend briefly mention this in her query and include a website where the publisher can see samples.

2. I don’t know anyone who has rejected a picture book because someone included illustrations. I do know plenty who have accepted the book and rejected the illustrations. But since there might be someone who would fly into an irrational rage if illustrations were included, read submission guidelines on the publisher’s website. If they say absolutely, positively do not submit illustrations, then don’t do it. However, if they don’t say anything about it, take a chance and send the first two illustrations–1 color, 1 black & white. (Send copies, not the originals.)

3. Do not submit any more than the first two illustrations without an offer from the publisher. It would be a waste of time and effort and might lead the publisher to think it was an all or nothing submission.

4. Have your friend make it clear in her query that she is submitting the story and that your enclosed illustrations are simply samples of what she could get if the publisher would like her to find an illustrator.

5. There is always the slim possibility that the publisher will like your illustrations and hire you to do something else, even if they don’t want to use your work for your friend’s book. I’ve done that before.

Bottom line: If your friend is agreeable, take a chance and see what happens, but don’t get your hopes up.

Author: LDS Publisher

I am an anonymous blogger who works in the LDS publishing industry. I blog about topics that help authors seeking publication and about published fiction by LDS authors.

One thought on “Illustrating Picture Books”

  1. As a writer who has ALSO sold artwork to magazines and private collectors, I want to thank you for your post.

    I’ve never submitted illustrations for a potential book and have just recently thought about combining my two talents. I found your information intriguing. Do LDS publishers offer artist guidelines with such information as size, gutters, etc.? Is the demand for book art great enough in the LDS publishing world to have such guidelines?

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