Thursday, July 29, 2010

First-time author, looking for an illustrator???

I recently had a first-time author ask me if I would be interested in illustrating her manuscript, (which was quite imaginative!) I thought other new authors might benefit in hearing my answer;

First I'd like to congratulate you for having finished your first children's book! That in itself is a great accomplishment. I know how challenging and agonizing it can be to "put yourself out there". I remember when I completed my first PB manuscript and sent it off to publishers (back in 2003). I was so filled with anticipation and hope! I just knew I had written a great story that was sure to be picked up by a big publisher. Little did I know, I had a LOT to learn about writing for children and the children's publishing industry. It's quite different from any other type of publishing. Now, almost 8 years later-I'm STILL learning!

It is my opinion that honesty and respect is the best way to begin any relationship. So here we go!

Your manuscript is full of great images that are bursting at the seams with life and enthusiasm. It's a great place to start. However, with respect to your efforts (in my opinion) it may not be ready for submissions. In today's ever-changing publishing industry, it takes a LOT of work to make a manuscript shine brighter than all the others that pass by an editors desk on a daily basis. In order for a book to become a beloved classic, resulting in a reasonable amount of sales, your manuscript must be equal to it's illustrations in every way. In turn, the illustrations must be as good as the manuscript. It's just like a well choreographed dance!

Since this is your first book, I know you have big hopes and dreams, as well you should! I would never want to squash them. I'm sure you've heard all the statistics regarding publication, but if you haven't, then you need to slow down a bit.

Unless you are planning to self-publish, illustrating your book is a bad, and very costly idea. If you are thinking that it will help to get you published, I'm sorry to say, it will do just the opposite! Children's Book Editors today like to pick their own illustrator after they have accepted and made you an offer on your manuscript. They have the ability to pick from thousands of illustrators, and they will choose who they feel will fit your book best and make them the most money on their investment. Often the cost to produce one Picture Book exceeds $100,000.00 dollars! I can assure you, they will do everything possible to make it the best it can be, so that their money isn't wasted.

There are so many writing rules for Picture Books, that it is staggering! One of the first things YOU should consider, is how many manuscripts with dogs (as the main character) do you imagine editors read? I'll tell you. Each and every editor out there reads HUNDREDS! By making your main character into a dog, you have placed yourself in direct competition with thousands of other dog manuscripts, decreasing your chances by an incredible amount. Make her into a child, and you INCREASE your odds in today's market, as editors are actively seeking manuscripts about real children! I believe that your story would be just as fun if it were about a real child that children could relate to.

If you haven't yet, I suggest you spend $80 to join the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, It was the best investment I EVER made in my career, and I have renewed my membership every year! The SCBWI has a members message board, where you can ask questions and receive answers from professionals like me. They also have writers critique groups in every state that are free as part of your membership. My first face-to-face critique group was instrumental in improving my writing capabilities. They showed me what I was doing wrong, and helped me to polish my manuscripts. But more importantly, critique groups help you to see mistakes in other peoples writings, so that you can avoid making those mistakes yourself. If you are a full-time writer, you can deduct the yearly fee from your taxes as a business expense.

Now, to answer your question directly. You asked if I would consider illustrating your Picture Book. I would be honored, if the circumstances were a little different.

1.)As I mentioned, editors aren't interested in writers & illustrators who "collaborate". They want to have control over the expense of publication.

2.) "Collaborative" efforts seldom pay illustrators fairly for the amount of work that goes into illustrating a complete Picture Book. Publishers pay between $3000-$15,000 dollars for illustrations, depending on the illustrator's credentials and the size of the book. It takes 4-6 months to illustrate a book professionally. You can find freelance illustrators who will work for much less, but you will seldom get the quality that your book deserves, or the notoriety that comes with working through a professional publishing company.

3.) Seldom do first-time writers know what it takes to produce a Picture Book. For example, were you aware that Picture Books are paged in increments of 8?

If you are planning to self-publish, have you decided on a printing company, and if so-what size books do they print and what type of downloadable illustration files do they accept? These are very common questions that you must find answers for before you look to hire an illustrator.

As I mentioned earlier, I do not wish to be someone who puts a damper on your efforts, as they are commendable. But I do hope that you will see the reality of the situation and take from it a renewed sense of direction. Your first step should be joining the SCBWI, I can not begin to tell you how much strength and respect you will gain from it! There are literally thousands of Picture Book writers all over the world, and we're all working towards getting published!

After that, join a Picture Book writers critique group, either locally or on-line. You can find many of them on the on-line SCBWI membership boards. A critique group will help you to polish up your story, and make it into an editors dream! Who knows, maybe the odds are with us, and your editor will pick me after all....well, I can dream too you know!!!

Thank you for thinking of me, and I'm glad that you enjoyed my website!

Most sincerely and respectfully, Lisa


Mary Lou said...

Lisa, very nice response. You could have just politely declined, instead you chose to educate. That's why I always come back to your site, It's filled with good reading and practical information. What nice compliment that she wanted you as her illustrator. Have a good day:)

Lisa J. Michaels said...

Thanks Mary Lou! I'm happy to see you here again. Yes, it's always nice when authors want you to illustrate their work. It's so hard to say "no thank you" when there's not a hiring editor in sight!

Hopefully, when my next dummy book is finished, it'll land a contract and I'll be off to the land of "haapily published" once again!

Keep hope alive! ~Lisa

Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa!
Again this is great advise.