I'm wondering about the order of events editors go through when acquiring a picture book manuscript. Do they talk to illustrators before they acquire the text?Very occasionally.
Is identifying possible illustrators part of the acquisitions package they present to the powers that be, or does all of that come after the manuscript is acquired?Sometimes.
What do editors think about as they try to make a good match between the text and pictures?Audience, first. This might be a consideration along the lines of 'this manuscript is going to appeal to baby shower gift-givers, so the art had better be soft and sweet' or 'nobody knows who this author is, so let's get someone with a name to illustrate.'
Then you think about the stand-out qualities of the manuscript and try to find good visual translations for them. Some texts have a lot of leeway in the way they're interpreted by the artist--they could be a match for a number of different art styles. But a historical topic probably won't be a good match for a very modern artist. A book about watching the incremental changes in nature will support lovely but static art, whereas a book about dance asks for art that is dynamic and has a sense of drama. As many different kinds of manuscripts as there are, there are that many different ways for art to partner text.
Do they consult with the art director?Depends on the editor and the house.
How do they approach illustrators? Do they show them the manuscript and ask for an few sketches before committing?Mostly we just show them the manuscript. We can tell from the artist's online portfolio that they could do a fine job. If we happen not to be sure, we may ask artists for a sample piece, for a small fee.
It seems like an exciting, yet really difficult process to come up with the perfect combination. But maybe that is why you guys are the editors, and why the writer, in general, should just stay out of the way.Without putting too fine a point on it, yeah. If you go to a publishing house that does its design work well, then you're going to people who have more experience than you do in determining what the strongest parts of your manuscript are, how to articulate those qualities, and how to find the artists who will make those qualities stronger still--who will make the book shine.
This is an understanding lacking in the many people who send us manuscripts illustrated by themselves or their close friends or neighbors. Some people in possession of an uncut diamond would take it to a jeweler, and some would take it to the first person they can think of who owns a hammer.
These are people who think that art is no more than the clothes a story wears, and since they happen to have the literary equivalent of a supermodel on their hands, this book will look good in anything, even if the illustration they can manage is the artistic equivalent of a shag carpet muumuu.