Friday, January 7, 2011

Choose-Your-Own-Illustrator! or Don't. No, Really, Don't.

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?
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.


Tiana Smith said...

I love the last two paragraph of this. The examples really help and I'll probably steal them for the next time someone asks me if their niece (who is trying to build up her high school portfolio) could do the illustrations for my book. :)

As someone who keeps up with industry news and guidelines, I always find it hard to explain to outsiders why I've chosen to do things a certain way, so thanks!

L.A. Colvin said...

I'm not a picture book author but this is something I've wondered about often. What about the pay? Who technically pays for the illustrations? Does the pub house cover that or does it eventually come out of the author's paycheck?
Great info!

Leslie said...

First person with a hammer! LOL!!!

Ishta Mercurio said...

LOL! Thanks for this - both the informative, this-is-how-the-industry-works part at the beginning, and the humorous, why-am-I-still-telling-people-this part at the end.

Welcome back.

Michelle Cusolito said...

Welcome back, EA. I've missed you!

Christine Tripp said...

It's great to see this Author writing in with questions other then how do I find an illustrator. She/He has obviously done some homework. There are still so many new writers still contacting Illustrators and Illustrators spend a lot of time explaining how the industry works to them. So glad you have posted this.
L.A,, publishers pay the Illustrator an advance (typically higher then the one to the Author) and then the same percentage of royalties as the Author gets. Usually 5% and 5%.
While the advance may be higher for the Illustrator (because they are being asked to work for months up to a year) it all evens out between the two creatives, as this just means it will take longer for the illustrators royalties to kick in.

AE said...

"While the advance may be higher for the Illustrator (because they are being asked to work for months up to a year) it all evens out between the two creatives, as this just means it will take longer for the illustrators royalties to kick in."

Thanks, Chris. Never thought of that... silly me. Got my head stuck in a tune of gouache.

And great to have YOU back too, Ms. Tripp!! You rock!


Jonathan Walker said...

It may not be worth mentioning, since picture books and adult comics are totally different markets, but the practice for comics is the opposite to that outlined here.

Independent comics publishers will not look at an unsolicited script by a writer working alone; they will only consider submissions with finished artwork; whereas at Marvel and DC editors commission scripts as part of their in-house production process, so they don't really look at unsolicited scripts either.

Like I say, it is a completely different section of the publishing world, but I find it interesting that the underlying assumptions are totally opposed: on the one hand, writers can't be trusted to choose / collaborate with / oversee illustrators; and on the other hand, 'It's not our job to find an illustrator for you' (the submissions guidelines at Drawn + Quarterly and Fantagraphics state this principle explicitly).

Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli said...

If the editor doesn't always consult with the art director, should illustrators be sending their work to the editor instead of the art director? (Some publishing companies state exactly where to send illustration samples, but I'm wondering about the ones that don't).

AE said...

For dummies (writing and illustrating), every editor I have met has said to send to the art director and that they will pass it around.

For art, send postcards to EVERYONE.

I highly recommend meeting ADs and having portfolio reviews. They will tell you exactly what they want from you. And not.

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