Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How To Submit an Illustrated Children's Book to Publishers



Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Over the years, many children's book writers have asked me how to submit a picture book or a chapter book that contains pictures. There are many variations of this question. Many want to know how to type out the manuscript. Some are concerned that they don't know any illustrators and feel like they need to find an illustrator before they can submit. Others want to submit using their own drawings. The quick answers are: 1) You type the manuscript the same way you would for any submission, 2) You don't need to find your own illustrator, and 3) You should never submit your own artwork.

Why is this?

Let me explain each one at a time.




1) What does a picture book manuscript look like?

My short answer is, "The same as any other manuscript." That means Times New Roman 12 point font, double-spaced, 1-inch margins on all four sides. You could follow my instructions here (scroll down to the YouTube videos on Formatting a Manuscript) and do just fine. Below is an example of what this might look like. To read the full story, which I had published in a magazine, but could easily work as a picture book, click here.




If your book rhymes, or is written in meter or short verses like a poem, your manuscript will look different than the one above. It might look something like what I've written out below, showing desired page breaks in parentheses.


FIREBOY LUKE


Luke’s mom and dad took him out to a show
A new movie was playing about a talking big toe.

(Page 1)

Kaitlyn, Luke’s sister, had begged them to go.
How could a toe talk?  She just had to know!

(Page 2)

The line was so long that the four had to wait,
Mommy and Daddy and Lukey and Kait.

(Page 3)

They all stood beside a long velvet rope
By a big smelly man who forgot to use soap.

(Page 4)

etc...


2) Do I need to find my own illustrator before I submit?

No. And here is why:

-Publishers tend to have their own illustrators on staff or prefer to hire their own.
-Publishers like to pair an unknown author with a well-known illustrator OR an unknown illustrator with a well-known author. This increases the chances of the book's success.
-Your story should stand on its own without the aid of illustrations.


3) Can I submit my own illustrations with my book?

No. And here is why:

-Publishers tend to have their own illustrators on staff or prefer to hire their own.
-Publishers like to pair an unknown author with a well-known illustrator OR an unknown illustrator with a well-known author. This increases the chances of the book's success.
-Your story should stand on its own without the aid of illustrations.

*wink*

There are always exceptions to these rules, of course.

A. If you are a professional artist... Now, I don't mean that your mom says you have mad art skillz. I mean that you have been paid for your artwork, regularly, over the course of several years. You are a professional artists. Or you have won several high profile art contests or scholarships for art. Things like that set you apart from the rest of us.

B. You have written a book in which the illustrations are key to telling the story. The story makes no sense without them. In this case you might create a book dummy to accompany your submission. Another option would be to add illustration notes to your manuscript.

You might not need to do either of these things, however. Simply explaining how the illustrations work in the cover letter is usually good enough for an editor or agent. But if the book has very few words and the illustrations tell the story, like in the case of This is Not My Hat, you might want to send in a book dummy with your cover letter and manuscript or at least add a few illustration notes to your manuscript.


What is a book dummy?

A book dummy is a paper version of your book. Use extra-large paper, fold the correct number of pages in half together, as if you were making a book for fun. You could even staple the pages down the center spine. Then you'd draw pencil sketches, similar to storyboarding, and cut and paste the manuscript text onto each page where it needed to go. Again, this is only something you should do if your picture book manuscript makes no sense without it. If your book is a regular story, simply submit a traditional manuscript with a cover letter and add any necessary explanations there.

Here is an example of what a book dummy page might look like. In reality, the sketch would be even less detailed. (This is simply a drawing I found in my high school art book that I was able to use to show you what a book dummy looks like.)




I found two much better examples of what book dummies look like by Googling "children's book dummy." Here is a link to one that will show you what I mean much better. And here is a blog post on the topic of book dummies that is very thorough.


What are illustration notes?

These are notes to the illustrator (or the editor or agent at that stage of submission) to clarify what is necessary to properly tell the story. Here the "show don't tell" adage applies. Unless it's applicable to the story, you don't need to tell the illustrator that your character has brown hair and green eyes and a purple cat. Only add in what is necessary. For example:


They all stood beside a long velvet rope
By a big smelly man who forgot to use soap.

(Page 4)

Luke stared at the rope as he covered his nose;
The long velvet rope made a great fire hose!

(Page 5)

Fireman Luke in his hat, coat, and boots
Picked up his hose and started to shoot.

(Illo: Luke sees himself as he is imagining himself: dressed in full firefighter gear, holding a fire hose that is shooting water. The rest of the illustration shows what is really happening in the movie theater with Luke's parents, sister, and the other people.)

(Page 6)

He put out a big fire in the nearest trashcan
Then he washed all the stink off the big smelly man.


etc...

Do you see where I added the illustration note? I simply explained that the reader would see what Luke sees in his imagination. I left everything else up to the illustrator.

There are many opinions as to whether or not you should use illustration notes on a picture book manuscript. Some people are strictly against it, others say they are fine when necessary. And "necessary" is key. You must not use illustration notes to boss the illustrator on every page. This is similar to screenwriters leaving out direction or acting instructions in a script. Direction is the director's job. Acting is the actor's job. A screenwriter has no business telling others how to do those jobs. The same is true with picture books. You're the author. Leave the illustrating to the illustrator, and only give instructions when absolutely necessary.




Now, for all you illustrators out there who are looking to build a professional portfolio, my son Luke and I are hosting an art contest. We are looking for young artists to help us illustrate the interior of Tinker (RoboTales, book 1). If you love to draw, your artwork could end up in this book!



Artists must be under 18 to enter and have permission of their parent or legal guardian. There is no cost to enter. The contest runs from May 11 to July 31, 2015. To learn more, check out the contest pages here: http://jillwilliamson.com/robotales-tinker-contest.

12 comments:

  1. I don't write books for young children, but it sounds like an interesting process! I sometimes wonder why YA books don't have a few illustrations...illustrations are fun. :) Good luck with the RoboTales contest!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They should! I love illustrations. :D

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    2. It's expensive, I think, is the main reason. Thanks, guys!

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  2. Thanks for this post! I write and illustrate children's and middle grade fiction (not professionally) so this was helpful to read. And thanks for the link to the RoboTales contest! I'll definitely be entering.
    Besides that, though, I was wondering if you have any advice for me and people like myself--who want to illustrate their books. Do you have any tips for building up a professional portfolio?
    I love it when you guys post about writing Children's Lit and MG! All the posts on this blog are fantastic, too (:

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Mia!

      I don't know much about that. You can Google it. Here are two sites for you to check out.

      On this one, it's the second FAQ: http://www.scbwi.org/frequently-asked-questions/

      And this one it's at the end of the post as well: http://www.underdown.org/picture-books-illustrations.htm

      Hope that helps!

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  3. Awesome article, and thanks so much for posting! I have a manuscript for an illustrated chapter book and I'm just starting the process of figuring out what I need to do to shop it to agents and publishers. Glad to hear it's pretty much the same procedure as any other novel. (Not that that takes away my nervousness over submitting!)

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    Replies
    1. How fun, Kat! Yeah, chapter books are treated the same as novels, as far as submissions go. It's exciting to see how an illustrator interprets your story. Best of luck with your project!

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  4. This is so cool! I illustrated the little books I wrote as a kid, but let's face it, I'm not even a decent artist, LOL. And I don't have much of an interest in writing kids' books anymore. But still, this was interesting to read. And I actually have a thirteen-year-old sister who is really getting into drawing, so I'll be letting her know about the contest!

    (I'm also trying to talk her into writing, but she's a reaaaally slow typist and hand writing is a struggle for her as well, so she's a bit hesitant. We'll see how this ends up.)

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    Replies
    1. It's good that you're encouraging her in her gifts, Amanda. That will help her confidence grow. :-)

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    2. She's going to try working on some of these chapter drawings! Whoo! :)

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  5. You know SO MUCH STUFF, Jill! I'm constantly impressed.

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