The Biggest Mistake in Submitting a Picture Book

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What is the biggest mistake made when submitting a picture book to a publisher?

You do NOT need to find an illustrator

The question most often asked is this: “How do I find an illustrator for my book?”

You don’t. The publisher chooses the illustrator.
In fact, you cut your chances of selling in half, if you try to team up with an illustrator and submit a package. The editor may love the text, but not the art; or, love the art, but not the text. Either way, you get a no.

Reputable trade publishers do not want you to find an illustrator, or pay for an illustrator, or do anything more than provide illustration possibilities in your text.

After an editor decides to publish your picture book, they decide on likely illustrators by looking at factors like these:

  • Style. What sort of style seems best for this story? watercolor v. pastels? Modern v. traditional? Perhaps, collage?
  • Reputation. Who is up and coming? Who is building a reputation and could add to the sales potential of this story? Or, is there a new illustrator they’d like to take a chance on?
  • Track Record. Who have they worked with before? Does the illustrator deliver on time? Does the illustrator do good research for the type story, i.e. for a historical, does the illustrator research clothing styles, etc.

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LIKE YOU, THE PUBLISHER WANTS TO SELL BOOKS

Always, the publisher is looking for ways to improve sales of your book by matching it with the best illustrator. Once the editor and art director agree on an illustrator, and the illustrator accepts the project, the publisher takes care of the contract and any money that will change hands. You sit back and wait.

Do you have input into the choice of an illustrator? Depends on the editor and art director involved. Once, an editor asked me to look at several illustrators and kept me in the loop as the text was sent to a couple possibilities. At a different publisher, the editor kept things close to the chest and told me nothing until the illustrator signed a contract.

You can usually, however, suggest illustrators and an editor will always be glad to review a professional portfolio. That means, your neighbor is out, unless s/he has a professional portfolio.

But what if you WANT to work with your neighbor? Sell your text first. Then, ask the editor to consider a portfolio, dummy book, or sample illustrations. That way, you keep a friend, but still sell your text.

As a professional writer, write the text, and include appropriate illustration possibilities IN THE TEXT. Leave the pictures to the illustrator.

ACTION POINTS

Check your manuscript. In the text, did you include actions for the illustrator to work with?

4 Comments
  • Linda Black
    July 2, 2009

    Hi Darcy,
    I had the pleasure of attending the seminar you held at Hot Springs Village this year. I learned a lot but, I’m so new to the writing field, I still have some questions. I don’t have money for an editor and am thinking about self-publishing. They normally don’t offer illustrations with the smaller packages, so I was thinking of trying to find an illustrator for my children’s book. Do you think it’s a good idea to self-publish? I’m just having a hard time, because I’m not sure how to go about anything. I’ve always liked to write, but I mostly fiddled around with poetry. I got this idea for this book and wrote it. Now I don’t know what to do with it! Any comments or advice will be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks
    Linda Black

  • Wendy
    October 20, 2010

    Hi Darcy,
    I have written a children’s picture book. Originally, I was thinking of self-publishing, and so hired a Chinese illustrator to do the pictures. (I am temporarily living in China where my husband is employed at an international school). The pictures have turned out to be superb – spectacular, in fact. Now I am considering sending my manuscript and pictures to some traditional publishers. However, would there be a chance that a picture book manuscript with pictures (great ones) that have been done by a professional illustrator other than the author be considered?

  • Darcy Pattison
    October 21, 2010

    You might get it considered. But in this case, the publisher would need to LOVE both the text and art. What if they only like the art? Or just the text? Essentially, you cut your chances of acceptance in half by doing this. And if a friend did your artwork, you have the potential of making your friend mad. But if you understand the risks, you could try it a couple places and see what happens.

    Otherwise, you’ll want to look at self-publishing options.

    Darcy

  • Rich Olson
    July 16, 2014

    The big publishing houses do not want to team up newbie writers with newbie artists. When they take a chance with a new children’s book writer they like to use a well known illustrator so that sales can be more robust. They also will team a new unknown illustrator with a veteren writer. Publishing is a costly affair and they don’t like to take chances with their money.
    If you are self-publishing than you can hand pick your own artist and not worry about these issues.
    Rich Olson/SCBWI children’s book illustrator
    http://braintofu1.blogspot.com

    http://braintofu1.blogspot.com