Tuesday, 16 December 2008

On Illustrations

If you’ve written a book for children which needs illustrations you’d be wise to submit just your text, and leave your publisher to commission the illustrations.

Like much of publishing, this seems counterintuitive to many new writers. They feel that their work needs those illustrations in order to realise its true potential. But there are good reasons for leaving that side of the work to the publishers.

What if you go to great expense to commission a series of illustrations and you don’t manage to sell the book? Good quality illustrations don’t come cheap, and you’ll be substantially out of pocket.

Can you be sure that you’ve calculated the pagination correctly? Illustrated books have very specific page-counts and if you’ve committed to a single spread over or under the necessary amount, you’ll be in trouble.

What if the publishers you submit to don’t like the pictures? It could put them off the whole book, whereas if there are no illustrations at all, they are free to imagine it as they prefer.

What if a publisher likes the book, but the illustrator decides to hold out for a further fee before he’ll allow his pictures to be published? Or you find that you’ve not covered all rights in your contract with the illustrator, so your book can’t be licensed or sold in translation?

There are all sorts of problems involved in commissioning your own illustrations and really, it’s best not to encounter them at all. Write your text, and leave it up to your publisher to find and commission the right illustrator for it.


Anonymous said...

Unless, of course, you're Dr. Seuss.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a fairly new visitor enjoying your blog. Yup, publishers in my neck of the woods tend to say no pictures please unless you are both illustrator and author all rolled into one. If you are worried that things might be misunderstood or missed you could provide an 'artist's brief' - a few lines to show any visual elements you believe are essential to the illustration - but the story should be clear from the text anyway. I've had text edited to include visual features (a carrot nose on a snowman important to the conclusion of the story) which i thought would be enough just shown in the illustrations - if a child is learning to read through your text they need the key words with the pictures.


Kate said...

I have a story that on the surface is a very simple repetitive tale. But I also imagine a subplot that is told in the illustrations and adds humour. I'm an illustrator, but I've only illustrated for self-publishing authors. How do you think it would it go down if I sent a publisher both the story and a couple of example illustrations with a summary of what I imagine in the rest?

Jane Smith said...

Melinda, you're right: the story has to be self-evident from the text, and if it's not then changes will have to be made.

Kate, in your case I'd submit the complete text with a couple of samples of your illustrations: but in my view, you're selling the text first. Remember, though, that it's been about 20 years since I wrote children's fiction and I'm not the best person to answer this question for you.

Should you point out in your covering letter that you've already illustrated a couple of books? There's a problem with them being self-published: if they're typical of most self-published books then they're going to have quite a lot of textual problems, so they might not count in your favour; I can't make a judgement on that one without seeing the books.