Illustration and Writing Children's Books
I would be a rich man if I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard this question—If I write children’s books, do I need to find my own illustrator? I don’t believe I’ve addressed this question in my past entries about the Writing Life. It’s a common assumption from new writers that besides writing children’s books, they also must illustrate them or find the illustrator. It’s a huge assumption on their part and shows their lack of understanding for the publishing process.
If you are writing children’s books, here’s the key question for you to ask yourself (with brute honesty), “Will these illustrations help or hurt my project with the editor?” Often the honest answer is these illustrations will hurt your case.
This weekend, I began reading a new book for writers, Putting Your Passion Into Print by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. Several years ago at an evening with published book authors at Barnes & Noble in Northern California, I met Arielle and David. Our paths had not crossed until I began reading their book and recognized them (and realized I had their names and contact information in my rolodex). Their book is loaded with wisdom and insight about various aspects of the process if publishing your book. In addition to their own publishing experiences, they have interviewed many experts in the industry. I’m going to quote from a small sidebar in their book about this issue of illustrating children’s books:
“One of the biggest mistakes authors of children’s books make is to submit illustrations with their text. Even if you think your friend or colleague is a master illustrator, hold off making any sort of recommendation about art until after your book is sold. David Allender, a senior editor at Workman responsible for children’s publishing, says, “Including illustrations doubles your chances of rejection. If it’s essential, include directional sketches.” If you are wondering why submitting art could possible hurt your chances, here’s David’s explanation: “Children’s book editors are a bit like musicians. We can read the score and hear the music in our head, and that’s what’s exciting. Typically, pictures drain the life out of the text. Of course, the exception is when there are illustrations that are wonderful. But you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than submitting this kind of quality illustration.”
This quotation from David Allender and the comparative illustration were perfect. I don’t know writer who wants to double their chances of rejection. It’s something to consider with your children’s book submissions. You may be getting form rejections simply because you’ve combined illustrations with your text for the submission.