Saturday, January 29, 2011

Does the Gold Medalist in Swimming Need to Know Gymnastics?

Do you think editors and agents have different (lower) standards for writing that's submitted by an author-illustrator as opposed to someone who's "just" an author?
As you can imagine, I am a writer who can't draw a cube.
Some of the feedback I get from my agent has really challenged me to reach for something a lot higher with my writing. Then I see some books that are being published, and it's like they got some kind of pass. I feel like if I sent my agent a story like that, he'd send it right back to me and wouldn't even consider showing it to publishers.
Are the standards different for an author-illustrator if the art is good enough to sell an otherwise lackluster story?
If a submission wins me over partly with writing and partly with art, should I think less of it than the submission that won me over solely with writing? Both verbal storytelling and visual storytelling are talents, and both are strengths in a book.

So the answer to your question is yes, in some cases it's ok that the writing isn't as wonderful as in other manuscripts since there's such strength in the art.

It's not ok to feel these people got a pass-- they still had to submit something powerful. Just like you do. If you sent me a manuscript whose development of setting was non-existent but whose plot-development and characters were wonderful and made the manuscript worthwhile all by themselves, it would be ridiculous for me to reject it, right? Just because your strengths aren't what some other people's strengths are?

Don't think of yourself as being in the same race with author-artists-- think of yourself as being in the same Olympics. If you both end up on the winners' stand, it will be for different skills, but your accomplishments will both be worthy of the honor.

15 comments:

Rosalind Adam said...

An interesting discussion. I have often wished I could illustrate my mss. I have such clear pictures in my head but I appreciate that I can't allow my illustration guidelines to be too prescriptive.

My main frustrations are with those celebrities who do indeed seem to have a 'pass' to produce children's books of a dubious quality.

Deirdre Mundy said...

It's not worth being angry at the celebrities. Look at it this way... the people who BUY those crummy-written horrendously dull idiotic celebrity books are NOT GOING TO READ YOURS ANYWAY. Too completely different Genres.

Carin Bramsen said...

Well said, EA. Though the underwater balance beam is my favorite event.

Catherine Stine said...

An author/illustrator needs to be good at both art & text. There are artists who are very fine writers; Cornelia Funke for one. I just bought Mark Teague's heavily-illustrated middle grade novel, Doom Machine. Looking forward to checking out his writing in that. Then, there are classic guys like Ray Bradbury, who illustrated some of his covers.
As a writer who is also an artist, I take slight offense to the assumption that one cannot do both really well. This "issue" will be more in the spotlight as it becomes more common for middle grade and YA novels to be art/text hybrids.

Melinda Szymanik said...

Even if some folk do get a 'pass' the bottom line is I cannot draw/paint/illustrate and I must focus on writing a story that wins the publishers over. I cannot do anything else and dwelling on any injustices is time away from the task that will get ME published (although I do reserve the right to have the occasional whinge about it).

christine tripp said...

Rosalind, I share your wish, in reverse. If only I could put down words to go with my illustrations:)

Ah to be a double threat:)

AE said...

True, EA.

Writing and illustrating a dummy book is a really different way of working from writing all by itself. We often do the two simultaneously or write, then dummy up the ms and then go back and edit the writing. And often the beauty of the project is in the dummy itself.

(Carin, I LOVE your art!!)

Anonymous said...

As a veteran illustrator with over 20 years in the children's publishing industry, I can tell you that most illustrator's turned author-illustrators do not take on the role of author any less seriously than they do their job of illustrator. I am now actively pursuing the author-illustrator title, and before submitting anything, have taken years of writing classes, joined and participated in critique groups with other published authors and author-illustrators, attend conferences and pay for critiques with editors, and read everything I can about the publishing industry...like this blog. I don't know many author-illustrators that just randomly decide they will whip out a manuscript in fifteen minutes. So...while some books by author-illustrators may seem less worthy of publication, I think that can be said of all published picture books...some are gems and some, well, they leave you scratching your head. I just wouldn't assume that all illustrators turned authors have no clue about writing, many have worked as hard as any other writer to get something published.

Anonymous said...

anon 5:00 said -

"So...while some books by author-illustrators may seem less worthy of publication, I think that can be said of all published picture books...some are gems and some, well, they leave you scratching your head"

I also haven't noticed that author/illustrators seem to have any kind of "pass" in terms of writing quality. Seems the same range of quality as everything else to me.

melanie said...

this is an awesome blog - so glad i found it :)

Carin Bramsen said...

Thank you, AE! And I agree with your comment. Author/illustrators have some advantage in making a picture book organic. (That said, there are writers and artists who work brilliantly when paired by editors. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes is as perfect in its way as The Snowy Day.) Anonymous, I second what you say.

Ishta Mercurio said...

This is a good discussion, and one I needed to hear this morning. I'm often tempted to feel that I have the short end of the stick as an author-not-illustrator, but then again, illustration is as much a craft and an art as writing is. And getting my knickers in a twist about a PB that I don't think is as well crafted as I thought it should have been isn't going to help anybody; I just have to focus on making my writing as good as it can be.

Thanks for the reminder.

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