Illustrating a children's book pre-publication?
July 10, 2018 7:15 PM   Subscribe

My grandfather has written a short children's novel and has asked me to illustrate it for him before he sends it to the publisher. Is this a good idea?

It's about 7,000 words. I think he wants to send it to the publisher already illustrated (perhaps thinking it's more likely to get published that way?). But I'm not sure if a publisher would accept illustrations by someone else other than their own team/artists. I also don't know if there's a particular format (in terms of size/dimension) that the illustrations would need to be in.

I'm a decent artist and would be happy to do some illustrations for my grandfather but I'm not sure if it would be a waste of time, e.g. if the illustrations would likely not get used or considered at all. Mostly I don't want him to put off submitting it to the publisher while I work on the illustrations, if they wouldn't be helpful in any way. As you can tell I have no familiarity with the publishing process; I'm not sure if my grandfather does either (I know he has done a lot of creative writing before, but I'm not sure if any of it has been published).

Good or bad idea? If it's a good idea, what sort of size/dimension should I be shooting for, and what else should I be considering? If it's a bad idea, do you have any sources I can give him that would explain that, and/or guide him in the process?
posted by brook horse to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators says in their FAQs that you don’t find your own illustrator. Also, he should be submitting to agents, not directly to publishers.
posted by FencingGal at 7:26 PM on July 10, 2018 [7 favorites]

If he is self-publishing, that is a different story. Can you clarify, OP?
posted by Bella Donna at 4:07 AM on July 11, 2018

I'm a working children's author, and I second FencingGal's advice. If your grandfather submits his work with illustrations to a traditional publisher, it will dramatically reduce his chances of getting published.

Also, FencingGal is wise to refer you/your grandfather to The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. It's a fantastic organization with regional branches all over the world. The single best thing your grandfather can do to increase his chances of being published is to join his local branch and start going to any workshops and critique groups they offer.

Just so I'm doing something more than repeating what FencingGal already said, I'll add a caution. It sounds like your grandfather is in the very earliest stage of learning how the publishing industry works. Unfortunately, that will make him a potential target for scammers. Here's a brief guide I found to some common warning signs of a scam publisher. He also might want to make sure he avoids publishers on this list of known scammers. And he should know that he should NEVER pay an agent up front -- legitimate agents only get paid a percentage of the money they earn for their authors.
posted by yankeefog at 5:37 AM on July 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's not easy to get a book published; publishers get a lot of unsolicited submissions. I would do at least a few illustrations because he asked for them. If they don't like the illustrations, they don't have to use them.
posted by theora55 at 7:00 AM on July 11, 2018

Just to expand a bit, it's not a question of whether or not they'll use the illustrations. The reason it will, as yankeefog says, reduce his chance of publication is that it will look unprofessional to people who are in the publishing world. It's sort of like putting your picture on your resume. Sure, they can disregard it, but it makes you look like you don't know what you're doing. And that can hurt you.

If your grandfather is serious about publishing with a traditional publisher, yankeefog is correct about getting involved with The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. There is a lot of competition, and he really needs to learn how publishing works in order to have a shot. Writing a good book is not enough.

Of course, if he wants to self-publish, that's something else entirely.
posted by FencingGal at 7:27 AM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing that your grandfather shouldn't submit illustrations with his manuscript if he's hoping to go the traditional route.

If he ends up with a smaller traditional publisher, he might have a chance to recommend you at some point. I got to do this for a book my agent sold to a smaller press -- I suggested an indie illustrator whose style I love, and they ended up hiring her. However, that's not the norm, especially with larger publishers, and I definitely wouldn't have approached her myself before I'd sold the book.
posted by QuickedWeen at 7:41 AM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I publish this kind of book. Traditionally it has a few black and white illustrations per chapter, but there are enough variations on the traditional style these days that unless he has a really specific vision for how the book will look visually (and it's really really OK for him to just be the words man!), it's best to let the publisher take the lead.

Here are some of the possible ways something in the 7-12K-word range might be presented visually:
--two black and white drawings per chapter in a standard trim size
--full color version of the above
--just chapter openers, in color or black and white
--little doodles and spot art throughout, in color or black and white
--comic interstitials
--larger/unusual trim size with elaborate illustrations by a name illustrator
--the whole thing presented as an in-world document of some kind like a journal or sketchbook of a character with heavy illustrations/design throughout
--maybe the book is really timely for a specific reason and is rushed out such that there's no time for illustrations at all other than the cover

Point being that doing any one of those on spec, when the as-yet-unknown publisher might want something or someone else, would be a waste of time for anything other than a project that is ONLY worth doing if done that very specific way. And even in that case, it's still not necessary to do it on spec.

That said, assuming your art is professional caliber, a single character illustration accompanying a submission would not put me off, nor would I assume just from its presence that if I want the text I'd have to hire that illustrator. I have, in the past, fought with an (experienced!) author who DID want to insist on a particular illustrator, told them straight out that the offer was contingent on someone else illustrating, and ended up publishing the book. I've also gotten on-spec illustrations along with a text I didn't want and hired that illustrator for a different book by a different author! So far as I know neither of those books sold very well so there's that too. Folks are right with all the info above about what's standard and professional, AND at the same time a little variation is not the end of the world. Most editors publish what they like and what they think will sell; it's not a professional presentation competition. And at the same time as that, it's best to have reasonable expectations. In conclusion, publishing is a land of contrasts.

I think what I'm saying is, there might be a compromise between saying no and illustrating the whole thing on spec, that would take into account the weight of how happy it will probably make your gramps to see your take on his character vs the likelihood that this alone will scuttle his publishing career.
posted by lampoil at 11:35 AM on July 11, 2018

All good points, and one last one: People who aren't artists generally don't have an appreciation for how much time and effort creating art entails. They often don't know how to give good feedback either. You may get along very well with your grandfather, but once his expectations start clashing with your own, it can start you down a bad road. There is a business/professional angle to this whole thing, and when this beloved man becomes your client as well as your grandfather, things can get awkward if not ugly. Just something to bear in mind.

If you do work with him, establish deliverable details, deadlines and boundaries right away. Spell it all out as much up front as you can to avoid unpleasant surprises and hurt feelings on both sides.
posted by picea at 2:09 PM on July 11, 2018

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