Monday, March 11, 2013

Making the Decision to Illustrate your Picture Book Manuscript...or Not

I received a question regarding my Monster List of Picture Book Agents pertaining to something I say in the introduction to the list. With the permission of the sender I'm going to answer it here on my blog. Here's the question:

I am confused. I was looking at your Monster reference list of agents that consider PB manuscripts. Then you say "how I wish I could illustrate." 

"As a picture book writer I know it can be difficult to track down which agents represent picture book authors. Not author/illustrators(how I wish I could illustrate!)but authors only. I've decided to create a monster list of picture book agents with info and links to help picture book authors find an agent."

I have a picture book, 32 pages, 382 words, for which I did a few illustrations on Illustrator. My very first book. I was told to forget the illustrations. Publishers pick their illustrators. Yet, you are an author of Picture Books and you wish you could illustrate them? Can you explain? Would you submit both writing + illustrations together if you draw and color? Should I finish illustrating the book? Or should I submit it as manuscript only?


There are great picture book writers. There are great picture book illustrators. And there are great picture book author/illustrators. I can write. I’ve been at this long enough to almost not blush when I type that. When I write picture books I see the illustrations in my head. Sure, I can draw, but when I try to draw what I see it fails to come close. I’m no illustrator. My drawings would never be good enough to carry anything let alone a 32-page picture book where, besides all the other illustrative nuances, the characters have to be consistent from page to page.

Why do I wish I could illustrate? It would be nice to be able to carry a manuscript through the way I see it. No, I'm not a control freak. Collaboration is one of the great parts of being a picture book author. But I do sometimes see certain sub-plots that could be played out through illustrations. Yes, sometimes I put illustration notes into a manuscript. But only when absolutely necessary like in my book, Bedtime Monster, where the illustration of dad also being a bit of a monster is essential to the story but isn't apparent in the text. It's always best to give the illustrator the freedom to create their own wonderful vision of the manuscript.

All that being said, the reason I say I wish I could illustrate in the introduction to the Monster List is pure business. Being an author/illustrator is more attractive to agents than being solely a picture book author. Why? More potential earnings of course. It is much more lucrative to get an advance for both the writing and illustrating of a book than solely for the text. Not that there’s usually a ton of money in picture books anyway, but it’s enough to make a difference.

That’s the reason I started the Monster List. It can be sort of frustrating looking for agents as a picture book author. First, you have to track down the agents that actually represent picture books only to find at least half the time they are only interested in author/illustrators. (No, I don’t have a factual number statistic on this but it sure would be interesting to know!)

Each person that is stepping into the children's book world with visions of both writing and illustrating has the decision to make for themselves. Take a step back. Try to be subjective. Is your art of the caliber that can carry a picture book? If it is take the time to create a submission package that shows the absolute best of your writing and illustration.

If your illustrating isn't professional caliber, it's okay. Congratulations on telling yourself a hard creative truth! And remember, we all have to start somewhere. Keep working. Craft can be developed. And there's nothing to stop a person who's a strong writer or illustrator to start with one craft and develop the other as time goes by. It's all part of the process of creation.

There are debut authors. There are debut illustrators. And there are debut author/illustrators. What you decide to pursue depends on you.

2 comments:

Cathy Ballou Mealey said...

I share the same wish! Wonderful post explaining exactly *why* possessing both skills would be exciting.

Thanks Heather!

Heather Ayris Burnell said...

Thank you Cathy! It certainly would be exciting. Lucky are those who are blessed with both talents!