Help! I Need an Illustrator!
Solicitations for children's book illustrators sometimes sound like this: "New author looking for an illustrator for a children's book series. Must be willing to release all rights and work until we get paid." These are tough conditions under which to work, by any standard.Good luck!
Having written and illustrated several picture books and being no stranger to rejection, I am often conflicted about such requests. As a writer I can empathize with an author's need to see his work brought to life. However, as an artist I am also aware of the time and commitment needed to finish 32 pages of illustration. A children's book typically takes me several months to illustrate, and that's working four to eight hours a day, five days a week. In contrast, writing a 1000 word picture book manuscript is an on-again, off-again process, often juggled with developing other concepts, thus giving me ample time away from the story so that it can be edited more objectively.
New authors sometimes make the mistake of underestimating the amount of work and time needed to illustrate a picture book. This can create misunderstanding and disappointment on both sides. I have heard of eager authors paying large sums of money to an illustrator, only to find the work unsuitable or the artist disinterested as the project drags on without the commitment of a publisher. I have also heard of artists submitting proposal after proposal, with nary a paycheck in sight, only to find their sketches and ideas pirated to solicit another illustrator.
Having an artist illustrate a book before submission is a waste of time, energy and money, as the format and/or art may be unsuitable to the publisher and actually discourage the publisher from considering an otherwise perfectly good manuscript. Editors, art directors and designers are fully capable of visualizing your manuscript without illustrations; it's their livelihood. In addition, publishers have many artists with whom they regularly work, and will select one whose style best fits your text and their budget. Your manuscript should be strong enough to stand alone on its own merit, without illustrations. I've received rejections where my art was "nice," but my story was "not original enough." Fine enough for me, for there are no hard feelings between the artist and the author. However, what will you say to your Aunt Bea when your manuscript has been accepted but her artwork was not? Or to the unpaid artist, who has fully illustrated your book under the promise of royalties upon publication? How will you feel if the artist lands a contract but your manuscript is rejected? These are situations best avoided.
This is not to say that pre-submission author/artist pairings are never successful. One need look no further than the Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith collaboration that produced "The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!" This book faced numerous rejections before its publication by Viking Penguin in 1989. Since then, it has been translated into ten languages and has sold over a million copies. Likewise, if you have absolute confidence in your best friend's artistic talents and are determined to collaborate on your first children's book, make certain that you follow the publisher's submission guidelines for author/illustrators. Guidelines may require a manuscript, a dummy and a few colored photocopies of finished artwork, but never a fully illustrated book.
If you're a self-published author, you have no choice but to find an artist. In this case, be sure to familiarize yourself with the artist's portfolio and résumé. Can the artist finish and deliver a product to meet your deadline? Is the artistic style suitable for a children's book? Don't dictate to an artist that you want such and such a style if it's clearly not in his portfolio. You're better off finding another illustrator. And finally, protect yourself and the artist by writing a clear and reasonable contract that spells out deadlines, ownership of artwork, publication rights and terms of payment.
For more information about illustrating children's books, visit Theresa Brandon's Drawing Board, filled with useful information about agents, submission guidelines, marketing and portfolio management, and interviews with other illustrators. Nancy Barnet provides tips on getting started as a children's book illustrator. Picture-Book's online reference for children's illustrators, publishers, and book lovers even includes information on health insurance packages for the freelance artist. And finally, check out Scott Goto's Helpful Hints for Illustrators.
For those of you considering self-publishing, check out elance.com for a list of bids and portfolios that will give you an idea of how much it may cost to illustrate your work.
©2007 Tammy Yee. All rights reserved.
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