Where does she start? How does she work with an author?
If you're reading this then that means you have an avid interest in children's literature and how picture books are made. To that I say, "Welcome!" Children's literature is not only a fun creative avenue, but it is also very rewarding. You probably already know at least one person who works in children's literature. It might be yourself. Or if you don't know someone, then you know me! As such, you'll know how seriously we take children's literature and how much work goes into making books for young people.
Ever since I started working on picture books, I've had a few inquires from pre-published or published authors. Some of whom I had the pleasure of working with and illustrating their books.
Very recently, I had another inquiry into my work from an author interested in working with me:
This might sound a little familiar to you! I can imagine that it's a bit hard to know where to start if you're working with an illustrator for the first - or even the second, or third- time.
For this author, I sent back a fairly thorough response so that they could have a better idea of my process, what I expect from them and what they can expect from me if we are to work together. I realized that there is so much information to consider, that it might be a good idea to create a resource for authors to have a better idea of the book making process. Thus this blog post was created!
Protip: It's a good idea to know where and how you're going to print your book before contacting an illustrator. A lot of the time, he or she will ask you the final size and format of the book (i.e. 8 x 8 inches, 9 x 11 inches, etc.). Most printer/publishers will have specific set sizes for the books that they print, so you'll want to make sure that you've had a look at those and decided on the sizing in advance.
An illustrator will also ask if the printer/publisher has printing guides. These guides are in place to make sure that important information, such as a face or text, doesn't get cropped out in the final print. The guides usually include a safe area, a trim, and a bleed. By obtaining this information from the printer/publisher in advance of your illustrator asking will streamline your book-making process!
Now, with all that being said, here's an idea of how I work on a book:
1) I get a sense of what the author is looking for.
- What is the book's content/themes?
- What is the age group the book is written for?
- How many illustrated pages?
- Do you want double page spreads, full page or vignette illustrations?
- Who are you printing/publishing with?
- What size of book are you looking for?
- Do you have someone, either a graphic designer or does your publisher provide someone to add text to the book?
I'll often request a copy of the manuscript. I definitely like to know what the story is before going further on the project. That way I can see if I'm a right fit and if the story brings imagery to my mind that I could illustrate. Of course, if authors are nervous about me reading their manuscripts, I'm happy to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
2) I like to get a sense of what the expectations are on delivery.
- Do you have a date in mind for when the books are going to be available to purchase, i.e. a release date?
- Do you have a timeline on the printing process which you've factored into the release date?
Generally, I like to work on a book for as long as I can (within reason). There are illustrators who work on books for a minimum of one year before sending it to their publishers. On the quick end of things, I'll compete the illustration work on a book at around three months, depending on the factors listed in the first step.
Here's an example of planning out your production timeline: You have a book about the Holiday Season that you would like to come out in November in time for shopping and gifts. You'll want to factor in how much time it will take for the illustrations to be made, for the book to be formatted, for the printer to print the book, and for those books to be shipped. My advice is to plan early and not to rush things!
Any marketing plans, like publishing a book in time for the Holidays, are also of interest to me as the illustrator. I invest a lot of time and passion into making the books I work on, and I'd like to see it be a success just as much as the author!
3) I like to get a sense of the author's marketing plans.
- Do you have plans on marketing your book?
- Is this a book for you and friends and family to enjoy? (If so then that's awesome!) Or would you like to get your book out to a wider audience?
- Would you be interested in my participation in the marketing of this book?
As an artist, I am intrinsically also a business person. And someone who wants to see her work in stores and on bookshelves just as much as any other picture book maker. If an author is unsure of how to get their book out there to the public, I'm more than happy to be involved. While I'm not a marketing expert, I do have experience with marketing and have useful insight into the children's book industry.
4) Making and signing the contract.
From here I can start to get a better sense of what the project is. Then I can give you a price point as well as a contract, which includes a payment schedule and due date for the illustrations.
Once the t's are crossed, and the i's are dotted, I begin my work on the illustrations.
5) Here are my steps to working on a book:
- Thumb-nailing - working out the flow of the book and making rough sketches of the illustrations based off of the manuscript.
- Sketching - based off the smaller thumbnails, I work on fleshing out the sketches further.
- Book Dummy - I compile the sketches and add text and format it into a “dummy” book to get a sense of how the final product will appear once published. This is also the stage where I like to send it off to the author to review. I'd prefer to avoid completing all of my illustrations without the author ever getting to see them. That can make for a real headache down the road!
- Full colour painting - Once the final sketches and book layout are approved, I start painting. I work in gouache and paint the final illustrations. This is the last step before sending the images off to the author. Once the illustrations are painted, I rarely make any further requested changes to them.
6) The paintings are then scanned and the high resolution images are sent to the author.
Generally I'll scan the images at 300 dpi, unless the author and/or the printer ask for otherwise. It's at this time that the illustrations are now in the author's hands. Now they'll need someone to format the book and add text. This can be done by an independently hired graphic designer, or on occasion, a designer who works for the printer/publisher that the author is working with.
Because I'm an illustrator not a professional graphic designer, I tend to avoid doing this step of the process. However, I can work on this step for an additional fee, but keep in mind that formatting is not my strong-suit.
The process of making a children's picture book is a collaborative one. At least 50% of a picture book is the pictures, and illustrators put a lot of additional storytelling into those images. As an illustrator, I'm passionate about making art that is interesting to children of all ages. I love how picture books can so deeply resonate with young people, that they want to read them over and over again, and maybe one day read them to their children.
There you have it! My whole process, minus some of the more specific details. Let me know if you have any questions about the illustration process or the children's book industry in general!
You move just a finger, Say the slightest word, Something's bound to linger, Be heard ~ Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods