Last weekend I was at Salt Lake Comic Con. I had a great time talking to people and selling my art. During this time, I spoke to a few individuals who told me they are writing a book and are looking for an illustrator.
“Your style is perfect,” They say. “Just what I’ve been looking for.”
It’s always nice to hear that people like my art, but when someone says this to me I cringe inside. Not that these people have done anything wrong but I know these people are missing some crucial information about book publishing.
Three Things Beginning Picture Book Writers Need to Know About Publishing
1. The publisher picks the illustrator
I’m starting with this as the number one thing because if your writing a children’s book and you’re here, you are probably looking for an illustrator.
As a picture book writer, choosing the illustrator is not your job.
At this point, you may be thinking, “What if my publisher doesn’t pick an illustrator I like?”
I’m not going to lie. There is a possibility you might not like the artist they pick, but before you write this idea off think of the benefits.
Publishers work with hundreds of illustrators. They get tons of postcard mailers every day from illustrators. They have education and experience at finding artists and matching them to the right picture book text. They also hire the illustrator, have lawyers to create contracts that include important details like deadlines and rights, and they pay the illustrator what they are worth so that you, the writer, don’t have to.
On the other hand, you might know 3-5 artists who are really good. Out of these artists, one or two may have professional work experience. If they know how book publishing works, they’ll probably say no to your project. Sometimes, they may say yes if you have the budget for it. If you can pay them enough, then all you have to worry about rights, deadlines, and art directing. No biggie.
Save yourself some stress. Let the publisher pick your illustrator.
2. It’s hard work
If you read section one up there, you’ve probably realized by now this picture book thing is more difficult than you think. Don’t let this discourage you. It’s hard work, but you can do it.
When you write a picture book, you are writing a story. Your story should have a beginning, middle, and end. It doesn’t matter how short the text is, all stories have those three things. Even the board books I illustrated have a beginning, middle, and an end and they have less than 100 words each.
Picture books are about text and pictures. When you write a picture book, think about what the images might show and don’t put that in the text. There is no need to use lengthy descriptions of the characters or settings. A picture is worth 1000 words. That means on every page there are at least 1000 words you don’t need to write.
Picture books these days are very short. Remember, parents and teachers read picture books out loud. Less than 1000 words is a great guideline, but lots of books have less than 500. Work on your drafts until you have the right amount of words for your story.
3. It’s not only your book once you involve an illustrator and publisher
Once you have a fantastic draft and you, start looking for a publisher you have to let some things go. In the end, it’s not only your book. The publisher and the illustrator also have their names on it, and they want to do they best they can to make it great. Just focus on the writing and trust the illustrator and publisher to make the book as great as they can, and everyone wins.
Here are some resources to find out more about writing and publishing your book
SCBWI.org is the Society of Children’s book Writers and Illustrators. They have great publishing resources and put together some great conferences all around they world where you can get more info about writing and illustrating picture books.
Stories Unbound Podcast is a great resource with interviews with published authors and illustrators. I got to be a co-host in a few episodes talking about attending conferences and setting up a critique group. Check it out.
The Purple Crayon is another great website with excellent info about children’s publishing. This website has the answers to tons of publishing questions. You’ll also learn stuff you probably never thought to ask.