Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's Writer's Wednesday and today I'm answering a frequently asked question about picture book illustration. I'm ready to submit my story to a major publisher. Do I need to send artwork with my picture book manuscript?

In a word: No. If your manuscript is accepted by the publisher, it will be your editor's responsibility to match your text with an illustrator. You can trust your editor on this.

Remember, the editor's goal is to produce the most successful book possible. The publishing house will want to use an illustrator they are familiar with -- probably someone they've worked with before who understands the process, deadlines, production values, etc.

It is your job as a writer to create a story that is illustratable. Before you declare your story finished, break the text down using a picture book dummy. A finished picture book is 32 pages long, and a dummy will allow you to visualize the possible ways your story could breakdown for illustrations. You won't submit a dummy to the publisher, but the readers or editors who look at your story usually have a keen eye for the way a story does or does not fit the picture book format.

Does the story contain enough active elements to make the illustrations interesting? Look at your writing. How much thinking, talking and action appears in the pages? Is the story active? or passive? It is your words alone that must inspire an illustrator to "see" your story and want to take on the project.

You will not direct the artist. Although, if there is some sort of visual joke where the illustration is providing story elements that are not in the text you can make a note of that in your submission. One of my favorite examples of this dichotomy is Caldecott Medal Book, "Officer Buckle and Gloria,"by Peggy Rathmann. Officer Buckle visits schools to give safety tips and is a huge hit, but isn't aware that his popularity is owed to his police dog, Gloria, who is acting out the "tips" for his audience behind him on the stage.

Your illustrator is selected not only for their artistic talents, but also for their imagination and visual storytelling abilities. You want to provide them with great material on which to use those skills. Look at a variety of picture books and study the way the text and pictures complement each other. Notice the single and double-page spreads.

You'll find numerous examples of picture book dummys on line. Most of the articles are aimed at illustrators, but the samples will help you understand where the story text fits into the book along with copyright, title, acknowledgement pages, etc. Use that information to create your own dummy layout to use. As a writer, you want to assign text to the appropriate pages and then ask yourself: "What's the picture?

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