FAQ: I just finished writing my picture book story. What next? How do I find an illustrator?
Note: This advice is for those who are interested in approaching traditional publishing houses, not for those who are self-publishing.
Congratulations on finishing your story! My advice: DON’T send out your story as soon as you’ve finished writing it. Unless you’re already very familiar with picture books and the picture book market, chances are good that your first manuscript is not nearly as strong or marketable as you may think. I advise you to put your first picture book manuscript on the back burner for now and write more. Read as many picture books as you can. Don’t just skim — read them SLOWLY.
The first time through, just read for enjoyment. Then go back and reread. Read each story out loud (um, you may want to do this at home rather than at the store/library). Look at how the illustrations and the text enhance each other. Study the rhythm, the page turns, the characters and emotions, how you feel at the end.
Remember: writing a picture book is easy. Writing a GOOD picture book that is strong enough to stand out in the marketplace is very, very hard. If you send out your first attempt without doing whatever you can to make it as strong as possible, then not only are you more likely to get rejected, but you’re also going to give the editor or agent the impression that you think writing picture books is easy. Read my top pieces of advice for those who want to write or illustrate books for young people someday.
Q. Do I need to find an illustrator before submitting my picture book manuscript?
In most cases, no.
Many new picture book writers think they need to find an illustrator before they can query a traditional publisher. Unless you have a very strong reason, I’d advise against doing this.
Most publishers prefer finding their own illustrator. Many factors go into their decision, not just finding a good match in terms of illustration style. Sometimes a publisher will pair an experienced illustrator with a brand-new author because they know this will help boost attention and sales. Editors and art directors may have certain illustrators in mind that they’d like to work with, but are just waiting for the right manuscript.
There are always exceptions, of course! Established picture book authors may have more influence when it comes to suggesting an illustrator they think would make a good match. You may also have a personal reason for submitting as an author-illustrator duo, such as being a mother-daughter team. However, be aware that if the editor likes your story but doesn’t think the art works well, they may reject your book. If they LOVE your story, they may ask if you’re open to them finding another illustrator.
Q. If the publisher loves my story text but not the illustrations, will they still acquire my manuscript?
Possibly. If an editor loves your manuscript, they may ask if it’s available without the art. However, if you’re a brand-new author and especially if your mss isn’t quite ready yet, the editor may also decide it’s less hassle to just send a rejection rather than go through the back-and-forth necessary to find out if you’re willing to revise the mss and then submit it without the art.
Q. If I don’t include illustrations with my text, how will the publisher know what’s going on?
If your picture book manuscript is well written, then the text alone should be strong enough to conjure up visual images Assume the editor who reads your manuscript has a good enough imagination that they don’t need a description of the illustrations; they wouldn’t be a successful editor otherwise. There are always exceptions, of course! If some or all of your story needs to be told in the art, this could be mentioned in your art notes or cover letter. I’ll be talking more about art notes in another post.
For more info, please visit my Resources Page and FAQ. I also talked more about taking one’s time during the creative brainstorming process in a guest post for Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm called “Bake Your Darlings.”
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