Saturday, August 16, 2008

Workin' the System -

Awhile back a very patient Hayden of Lyric Flight asked: "Would you mind explaining to me how things work in your world - are you hired directly by the publishers, or do you collaborate with the writer?"

This is a really good question. I find there is a lot of misconception about how the world of children's publishing actually works. I get emails from first-time, would-be authors on a fairly... regular basis (nearly weekly?) telling me of their newly finished manuscript and how they are now on a hunt for the perfect illustrator, and wouldn't I be pleased to be that person?

For Hayden (and these author inquiries) the short answer is that invariably I am hired directly by a publisher. A publisher who has acquired a manuscript that they are excited about. The publisher, who has experience in this arena, and is now pretty invested in seeing that this new book sells, approaches the illustrator(s) that they think is the best fit for making this book the most marketable it can possibly be. Even though it may seem counter-intuitive, at this point, the author has very little, if any, input. I never interact with an author directly. Occasionally I will get clarifications via my art director, but never directly, and not often.

(There are exceptions to this - maybe if you are already uber-published and have more cred, like say, Jane Yolen?, or you are authoring a non-fiction kind of book and you are an expert on the subject, and therefore your input becomes invaluable, but from what I hear and have experienced, these scenarios are very, very rare).

Harold over at the Purple Crayon (there are many sites and blogs out there with lots of good information) has assembled a nearly perfect list of FAQs about how the relationship between children's book manuscripts and illustrators works. When I get one of those emails asking if I am interested in illustrating a first book by the author, I send them that link, and then if they still think they want to go this route (if they are self-publishing for instance), I refer them to my agents who handle all the contractual details.

For the serious inquisitor, there are a number of resources out there that admirably describe the workings of the industry at present. The best resource for creative folks wanting to learn about and hopefully break into the industry that I know of, is The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). They are a worldwide, professional organization for writers and illustrators 0f children's books, complete with newsletters, meetings and conferences - all very informative and up to the minute with current market mores. Chances are good there is a chapter near you - look them up. They are very nice people.

My favorite book on this topic, published yearly, is the Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market. Lots of really good introductory material on all things industry, as well as pages and pages of contact information for book, magazine and novelty publishers as well as art reps and agents, etc... You can find much of this information online of course (publishers generally list submission guidelines on their websites), but it's good to have it all in one place, complete with interviews with various industry professionals and a lot of nuts and bolts kind of info.
So, spread the word. If you're writing a children's story, join SCBWI. Find a critique group. Polish your kick-butt manuscript to a shiny, reflective finish. Then you can, and should, go ahead and directly submit it to an appropriate publisher. You don't need to email me first. :-)


PG said...

Amen sister!

I had (yet another) one of these a few weeks ago. She was rather crestfallen when I had (politely and in a friendly manner) explained , at length, the situation. She actually rang me up at home after getting my number from - where I clearly state that I am only interested in enquiries from bona-fide publishers!
Naturally all her grandchildren and friends loved it. I did advise her not to tell any prospective publisher this as it would be a sure fire way of getting it sent back. (This 20 minute convo came in the middle of a valuable and busy working day for me. I'm not sure what people think illustrators spend their daytimes doing...eating chocolates? Watching day time TV?)

Eric Orchard said...

Interesting take on this Tara. I was not prepared for all the people that tell me at weddings, at the library or just about anywhere " actually, I've written a children's book..." I have a tendency to get a little insulted, thinking " Right. Writing kid's books is the easiest thing in the world and i should be grateful you took the time..." Which is pretty horrible of me. Everyone starts somewhere. I usually do what you do and point out the fact that if I illustrated your story no one would publish it because publishers just don't accept an illustrated manuscript.
It is a hard thing to deal with, you never want to trample an aspiring writer's feelings.

Hayden said...

Thanks Tara. I'd heard this, but like the others, it's hard to let the "child" go out into the world: there seem to be as many bad illustrators as there are bad writers, and the fear of being saddled with one is omnipresent. So naturally I was hoping to hear you say, "why no, it doesn't always happen that way....."

bahhh! truth wins, as it should!

janeyolen said...

Listen to her, folks. She's right on.

And as a side note, even I--305th book sold AND once an editor with my own imprint--have little say in either choosing the illustrator (though I may suggest) or advising that illustrator once chosen.


Anonymous said...

This is interesting to hear. I never knew it worked that way if you were the author. So now I'm curious to hear the other side, how did you and other illustrators come to be working with publishers. What route do you or did you go to get on there list of artists? It's always so interesting to hear about these things because for those of us not in the field it seems like some mysterious process.

Jennifer Rose said...

very helpful info, thanks :D

Gina said...

Wow that's a lot of terrific information!

Anonymous said...

And it works the other way, too. Illustrators should not contact authors! That's why professionals have agents.
But thanks for putting this into words;perhaps some first-timers will read and heed.
Now...back to those chocolates!

Koldo said...

This is a wondeful post Tara, I'm sure it will be very helpful for many people, very kind of you. I need to read it throughfully when I have the time.

Some of the books you're recommending are in my wish list for my new adventure as an illustrator in the US. I'm sure they will be helpful too!