Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Quick Answers

I am a professional illustrator, and I've just started writing my first children's book, which I plan to illustrate as well. I've seen different advice on how and what to submit to publishers and agents as an author/illustrator. Some say you should submit a dummy book, and others say you should submit a standard manuscript with a few example illustrations included. If a dummy book is the way to go, do you prepare it as closely as possible to what you picture the final book to be? (layout, typeface, design, at least mock-up illustrations on each page, etc?) And if it is preferred to submit a standard manuscript, in what manner do you include the illustrations? Do you just include a few prints paperclipped to the manuscript, or do you try and show where in the story they fit, by laying out some text with them?
I would recommend manuscript pages, a sketch dummy (don't spend time worrying about type and design), and a couple samples of finished illustrations.
My first question is, as an editor, what do you want to see in a cover letter from an illustrator? I've seen plenty of advice for writers on how to structure a query letter, but there seems to be little advice for the illustrators. Is there anything specific that should or should not be in an illustrator's cover letter? Does the illustrator need a cover letter at all?
Not really. If you're just sending illustration samples, most of those come labeled with the artist's contact information and that's it.
My other question is about formality. In sending out packages of art samples/cover letter to publishers and their art directors or editors, how important is it to have typewritten addresses or address labels rather than handwritten?
Again and again I find myself reading a book which I bought based on reading the cover blurb, only to find that the story, and sometimes even the genre, has been completely misrepresented. For example a book I bought last year had a blurb which described a story about an archeologist finding an ancient sword in Jerusalem which may have been the sword of Mohammed and that finding it may change the world, the title was even Sword of God. The sword appears on the first chapter but immediately after finding it (as in still down in the tomb covered in dust) the character is drawn into a (rather cliched) espionage adventure in which war crimes in asia are uncovered. I spent the whole book wondering when and how the sword would be worked in and it never was.
Now, perhaps this happens because, like cover artists, blurb writers read only the first chapter, but I think it has to be a deliberate marketing ploy - after all, you can't return books after you've read them (at least not in Australia) so perhaps some publishers don't care about disappointing/lying to their readers as long as the purchase is made.
Seems awfully stupid to me. I mean, sure, a publisher might farm out its covercopy needs to a freelancer, but then how does the editor not read the copy and realize it's wrong for the book?
That's sloppy, sloppy publishing. In this country, people can and do return books, but if you don't have that option you can at least stop buying books from the publisher who can't reliably tell you about the books they print.
Do you know of any mainstream publishers that accept electronic submissions? Very few do currently. Why do agents want to go green and publishers prefer snail mail?
Do you mean mainstream publishers that take electronic submissions from agents? That's everybody. But if you mean mainstream publishers that are open to unagented manuscripts and take electronic submissions, no.
Agents get a lot of email in the way of submissions. People at publishing houses get a lot of email simply generated by the rest of the company they work for. Both agents and publishers battle a stormtide of incoming email, but if publishers had to deal with the email they already get and an ocean of submissions emails, we would be sunk. (Also our computer servers can't take it.)


Anonymous said...

I do so love your quickies.

working illustrator said...

To the illustrators, I'd add this: have a website.

Every editor and art director I've heard in the last half-dozen years has said that the best method of contact is to send a mailer - small enough to tack up in an office with a really, really strong image and the address of an online portfolio.

Here's the thing: they don't know you. They don't know anything about your work but the little postcard they're holding in their hands.

They want to be able to see, as quickly and easily as they can, that the image they're so struck by is not a lucky one-off, but part of a whole, consistent body of work.

This is a huge advantage we have over writers: someone can assess our work very quickly, just by looking at it. You can dazzle them in under a minute. You can win them over in less time than it takes to brew a pot of coffee.

But only if there's a place where they can go and look at your work in the minute and forty-five seconds they have between now and the next interruption.

Have a website.

Jess the Reader said...

I'm an Aussie too, and I worked in bookshops for years. You actually have a pretty good shot at getting your money back on that book - so long as it's not soiled or obviously read, I would have accepted it.

The only two conditions that may apply are if the bookstore had a sign up stating they would not accept books back that had been read (but you may be able to exchange for something else, or get a credit note to spend another time) or if you bought it ages ago.

A nice clean book, within 30 days of purchase should be fine.

Another reason to read book straight away once you purchase them!

Finally, just as an FYI, if I did still work in a bookshop and had accepted this book back, I would also be calling the publisher and asking some questions. There are some books that are marketed as "Great read, or your money back". I'm guessing this book wasn't one of those, but if one customer complains, you have to wonder how many others are peeved and haven't said anything.

You could even send the publisher an email yourself.

Good luck!

Steve said...

I don't think the problem with cover blurbs is deliberate decption, but I do suspect that in some houses there is a corporate culture that regards blurbs as an afterthought.

My experience as a reader is dated, but I recall for a number of years that when reading science fiction paperbacks in particular, the blurb would often show clearly that the blurb writer's familiarity with the story was minimal (or virtually none).

Of course, that could have also been a corporate culture of disrespect for the SF genre and its readers. I noticed things changed for the better with the rise of publishers such as Baen and Tor founded by individuals with a strong background in SF.

Hope this sheds a bit of light,

Unknown said...

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