I recently revealed the cover of an upcoming picture book of mine, titled “The More You Give.” As expected, people have ooh-ed and aah-ed over the cover, which was created by the amazing Francesca Sanna! I’ve been in love with Francesca’s art for some time, since her very first book, “The Journey.” Take a look at her work here.
People often ask me how I “find my illustrators,” and I thought I would take a moment to explain that process. Many people assume that a picture book sells as a complete package, with words and art already done. Beginning children’s writers often ask friends with art skills to illustrate their stories, thinking they need to send a complete book to an agent or publisher. Don’t! It’s a sure sign that you haven’t done your homework about how the industry works.
A writer like me, who does not do her own illustrations, sends a manuscript to my agent and if/when he feels it’s ready to send out, it goes to a list of editors that he feels would be a good match for it. We cross our fingers for a sale! If the book sells, it’s just my words that are purchased.
Then, within a few weeks or months after the sale, my editor at the publishing house presents me with a list of artists she’s considering for the book. She would have put this list together with the art director at the publishing house and others there, based on the “look” they are envisioning for the book. If I have a strong preference for how I want the book to look (or how I don’t want it to look), I might weigh in right after the sale to help guide the creation of this list.
I imagine some authors are very hands-on at this point. I am not. I’ve been fortunate that the illustrators who’ve been considered for my projects are some of the very best. I’ve been fortunate that my editors have a vision for the book that coincides with mine!
That said, once I’m presented with a list of options, of maybe up to a dozen illustrators, I have occasionally added or subtracted one or two based on the look I want. As I get deeper into this business, I’ve also become more familiar with various illustrators and have put many on my wish-list for future projects. Each book has a different style that “seems right.” A lot of this is based on intuition! And, as I said, all the artists my publishers have considered are at the top of their games, so any of them are going to do a great job.
With my approval of the list, the folks at the publishing house then rank the illustrators they’d like to pursue and start at the top. They’ll have to go through the illustrator’s agent. The illustrator needs time to consider the manuscript. If they like it, can they see how they might approach it visually? What is their schedule like? Do they have room to complete this project in a timely manner? Most artists have to allow a year to complete a book, but they may not be able to start it for a year or more, depending on how many projects are in their pipelines.
There will be “no’s” based on schedule or based on the illustrator not having a clear vision for how they would approach the book or based on them just not really being into this particular manuscript. That’s okay! Just like I want my agent and editor to love my manuscript, the illustrator should love it, too. And not every book is right for every person, of course.
Eventually, my editor will tell me we have a match! An illustrator on our list has agreed to take on the project and a very rough deadline has been established. I’m not privy to all the benchmarks set out between the artist and art director (nor do I want to be!) but they will give me an anticipated date of publication, likely two-three (or more!) years away! At some point, I will see some rough sketches, but this won’t be until the illustrator and her team have already done quite a bit of work. Publishers don’t want authors interfering in the illustrator’s business while she’s figuring out her own creative approach, just like I wouldn’t want my illustrator copyediting my words while I’m still in drafting mode.
Once a draft of all the art is done, it will be time for me to weigh in on any issues I have. There is always a little bit of back and forth on a few spreads. For example, in the opening scene of “Adrian Simcox…” we see Adrian at a lunch table separated from other kids. In the first version of that spread, the back of his head was facing us. I wanted him to be turned around, so we could see his face. It was important to me that the reader know he was simply lost in thought and not sad. So, that’s a change we discussed quite a bit before Corinna Luyken created a new drawing.
I’ve heard horror stories about authors who didn’t know what their book would look like until it was already printed, and they weren’t happy. This doesn’t happen with major publishers. In fact, it’s right in my contract that I get “meaningful consultation” on the art. The little peeks I get along the way help the time to publication move more quickly. And when the book is finally printed, I can say it’s not just my story anymore, but a real work of art.