Hello all writers! This page is dedicated to those wordsmiths out there with a book shaped itch to scratch. Here writers can find some advice from an illustrator’s point of view. You may wonder why, but as it often takes two people to create a picture book, it would be useful if there was a bit of information about it. Often there are some misconceptions on how it all works too.
I get contacted now and then asking for advice on how to write a book and get it published, and I always like to help as much as I can where possible. As an illustrator I can’t help you on how to write a book, though I do have a few nuggets of gold to pass on that I have learned from editors over the years which I am more than happy to share.
Before we start I would like to put self publishing to one side for this article as I have already written about it previously which you can read by clicking here. I have no real experience of self publishing, but I have had the fortune over the last few years of working with a number of publishers and agents with differing degrees of success.
With respect to a writer purely approaching a traditional publisher there are two approaches, first look at the publisher’s website and find their submissions policy. Some will accept direct from authors. For publishers that do not accept direct from authors the next best way is to find a literary agent and submit your story to them instead. The main reason for using an agent is they act as a filter and sort out the wheat from the chaff so to speak. Publishers often prefer this as they get inundated with submissions and they literally cannot cope with the volume. Plus an agent will have established relationships with publishers and know what they are looking for or who best to approach. Not forgetting they can probably get you a far better deal than if you negotiated on your own. This does not exempt you from doing your homework and getting to know what a good contract looks like, and more importantly what a bad contract looks like. Don’t just accept anything as it could have a big impact on your earnings.
My main experience is with children’s picture books so I can tell you that they normally consist of a minimum of 12 spreads or 32 pages including front cover, end papers, title page and back cover. As the writer you just need to worry about the 12 spreads making up the 24 inside pages of images and the written word. Again publishers and literary agents should be able to provide you with more guidance on the type of book you are writing so that you have a rough idea of what they might be looking for. My advice is when you are putting together your submission before you do anything read as much as you can about the publishing industry and any and all their advice, it could make all the difference.
I have spoken to the odd editor over the years and they are often surprised by how many spelling mistakes and typos are in the text of some submissions. It is a fast track to being thrown in the bin. If you are blind to your own work then get others to proof read for you. I have no idea how many spelling mistakes there are in this article but I can assure you it has been proof read a few times and there are less in here than there wear!?!
Think about how your submission is presented, neat, tidy and professional looking is a good start, but also allowing space between each line of the story for them to scribble notes. Also think about pagination which means breaking up the text into 12 parts for example if you are working on a picture book. As mentioned above, in picture books a very common format is 12 spreads (sometimes longer), so you need to think about which bit of text is on which page and what is happening on each page. This can sometimes reveal plot holes or boring bits that are not moving the story along.
Next thing is to keep your introductory letter short and to the point. No life story or long rambling explanations as the editor will have another hundred or more to read through and their time is precious.
Once you have put together your submission, make sure you are submitting to either the agent or publisher in their preferred format and delivery method. Also make sure you have researched your chosen agent or publisher carefully. They like their ego stroked as much as we do. Be wary of sending it to too many at one time. I did hear of an author who got into a bidding war between two publishers. The publishers got extremely fed up with the author so much so that they were dropped and lost both deals.
When you have sent off your submissions there comes the nerve wracking wait. Do not expect a response for many months, it could be up to 6 months. If you are accepted no doubt they will call you and ask you in. If you are unsuccessful you are likely to get a standard letter. Do not hope to get any reasons why or advice as they simply do not have the time to do so.
Then you are free to contact your next batch of agents/publishers. You keep going until you have exhausted all options. Though any career author will not stop there because the chances of your very first story being published is unlikely. Many authors have to try multiple times with different stories until they strike lucky. Persistence and being in it for the long haul will win the day.
The next question that many authors of picture books ask is “Do I need to get my book illustrated before submitting it?” To get the answer to that question you will have to read part 2 of my advice to writers by clicking here.
Best of luck to you all and when you secure that publishing deal if you felt the need to request a certain illustrator to work with then I would not mind it at all 😉