Tuesday Writing Tip – Working With an Illustrator and Publisher

I admit it. I’m in awe of illustrators. I like to draw, but being an artist doesn’t make me an illustrator. Illustrators bring movement and life to words. They make characters leap off the page. They bring a whole new level of meaning to your text.

To see how an illustrator has interpreted your story and text, and added a whole new layer of their own, is one of the most exciting, surprising and rewarding moments of the book creation process.

1. Requesting your own illustrator

For a number of reasons (outlined below), most publishers will choose the illustrator for your book without input from you.

I knew Tracie Grimwood, the illustrator of our picture book, Reena’s Rainbow because she had already illustrated five  other books I had written. I suggested her to publisher, EK Books, and was thrilled when they agreed. But I had no expectations. I was happy that Reena’s Rainbow  was being published and was prepared to accept whatever decision the publisher made because I knew that there were so many factors about the design and illustration process that I didn’t know or perhaps hadn’t considered.

(Above are the five books Tracie had already illustrated with my text. Love her work.)

Publishers have a wealth of expertise and experience when it comes to pairing us with the best illustrator for our work. They have designers specifically trained in the area. They have marketing data and expertise about fonts and colours and styles and genre and mediums and all the minute decisions that go into deciding how to get maximum potential from the text and illustrations … how to reach more readers … how to reach the right readers.

Tip: If you plan to suggest an illustrator, do it politely and professionally. If the publisher chooses someone else, accept it gracefully, and don’t complain. There are a gazillion amazing illustrators out there and it’s in the publisher’s best interests to choose the one who’s right for your book. Publishers want to sell lots of books, just like you do.

2. Illustration notes

This is currently a hotly debated topic. Sometimes it’s necessary to tell a publisher certain information to help them understand the context of your story, but this can be included in the pitch document, email etc. If you feel the need to add lots of illustration notes because otherwise the publisher won’t understand your story, it may mean that you need to do some work on your text to make it clearer and stronger.

To tell you the truth, if I were an illustrator, I probably wouldn’t be happy to receive a swag of illustration notes. Imagine if we were given author notes telling us what words, settings and characters we were allowed to use. How restrictive would that be?

3. Leave room for the illustrator

Don’t be prescriptive in your text in relation to how you think the illustrator should depict words and meaning. When they emotionally connect with your story, they will bring a whole new layer of meaning using colour, character and setting. Telling them what to do will stifle their creativity and connection to your story. Be open minded and willing to be surprised.

In our picture book, Reena’s Rainbow, Tracie  drew sound waves and vibrations to show that Reena is deaf … and that’s how she absorbs sound. Imagine if I had insisted I wanted my character to wear a hearing aid or some other device to show she’s deaf. Tracie’s illustration encompasses all the information it needs to convey the text and meaning in a subtle and moving way.The park Tracie drew is full of vibrant colours, just like a rainbow. If I’d stipulated that I wanted a realistic park and trees, the image would not be anywhere near as effective. Tracie used talent and expertise that I don’t have to illustrate in the perfect style for the text, mood and meaning of the book.

4. Don’t interfere in the illustration process

Occasionally Tracie would run an idea past me, but it was a collaborative process and just as she never told me how I should write the text, I never interfered with the illustration process. Letting go of your text and allowing your illustrator, designer and publisher to do their job will ensure that you end up with a wonderful book and great working relationships. If you’re a collaborator not a dictator, people will want to work with you again. It’s also a wonderful experience to be able to share the promotion circuit with your illustrator, chatting about the book you both created.

5. Be flexible

Sometimes an illustration is so powerful that there’s no need for text on the page. Be prepared to ‘kill your darling’ and let the illustration shine.

6. Enjoy the surprise

I have two humorous illustrated middle grade books coming out next year and have never had any contact with the illustrator. On a recent visit to my publisher, she showed his hilarious roughs and they made me laugh out loud. I could see that the illustrator totally ‘got’ my story and character. His illustrations are amazing. A combination of factors – clearly the publisher used their expertise and resources to pick the perfect illustrator. They also chose a style I might never have thought of, but one that looks amazing. Just as we want people to have faith in us as professional writers, we must have faith in the professional publishing personnel and illustrators we work with.

As an author, sometimes it is important to speak up. I’ve seen a picture book where the text said a character’s eye colour was one thing and the illustration depicted another.  Make sure you carefully check every aspect of your book proofs, and if you have concerns, voice them in a professional and respectful way, and I’m sure they will be listened to. Any changes to your text should be run past you first. If the suggestions don’t fit your vision for the story, be prepared to explain your position and make requests in the same manner you’d expect people to treat you.

This blog post is dedicated to all the amazing illustrators who bring our text and concepts to life, and don’t always get the kudos they deserve. 

Whether you’re an author or an illustrator, please feel free to share your experiences and tips in the comments section of this post.

Happy creating 🙂






Sorry,  but there are no tips this week.

I have been busy  launching a new writing venture that I’m very excited about.

As well as writing for kids and teens I also love mentoring young writers.

I run weekly and school holiday writing programs for kids and they’re so much fun. But unfortunately, I get heaps of enquiries from people interstate and all over Victoria who can’t make it to the classes.

So now I’ve set up a place where writers from  8 to adult can do free and affordable classes and activities online.

Writing Classes For Kids will focus mostly on helping young writers but new and emerging adult writers will also find the teen tips and lessons helpful. I plan on making them a mixture of theoretical and practical tips like the ones I post here at my DeeScribe Writing Blog.

Here’s what will be happening at  Writing Classes For Kids :

  1. Free Writing activities
  2. Free basic lesson plans
  3. Free Writing tips
  4. Detailed lesson plans to be used at home or in the classroom – can be downloaded for $5 As well as writing activities these will include extension and reflection activities
  5. Free Competitions where you can win free books and writing services
  6. An online assessment service offered
  7. E-books to come
  8. Lots of visits from published authors who will be sharing tips too
  9. Lots of great ideas for your own author visits to schools and festivals

Some topics to watch for include:

Teen to Adult

  1. Heroes & Villains part one – Create great Characters
  2. Heroes & Villains part two – Create a story for your Hero & Villain

Writers 8-12

  1. Writing For Fun – Picture This
  2. Writing For Fun – Pets & Animals
  3. Writing For Fun – Old Character, New Story

Future Lesson Plans

Lesson plans on the blog will be updated regularly. Here’s a sneak peak at some of the topics to be added as we go:

  • Mindmapping
  • Plotting
  • Writing Anthology Pieces
  • Grammar & Tense
  • Essay Writing
  • Story Pyramids
  • Character Collages
  • Setting
  • Dialogue
  • Non fiction beginnings
  • Fiction beginnings

If you’d like to see a lesson plan developed on a particular topic for a particular age group, please feel free to email me at: mailto:Dee@deescribe.com.au


If you’re a published author who’d like to be profiled to our worldwide readership, you can also contact me at the above address.

So if you’ve got kids who love writing or you think you might enjoy the activities and tips I’d love you to visit my new blog Writing Classes For Kids.

I will continue to provide my Tuesday Tips at this blog. If you have any ideas of session plans you’d like to see or things you or the young writers in your house would like to know, feel free to comment in this post.

Happy writing:)


PARALLEL IMPORTS DEBATE – What’s the Difference between an Author and an Economist?

AN AUTHOR (that’s me) stands on the platform of a country station at 6.00am, temperature around 2 degrees, waiting for the train that will take her to Melbourne for the Productivity Roundtable Discussion.

AN ECONOMIST flies first class from Canberra, perhaps stays in a first class motel for the night, and arrives refreshed and breakfasted at the Productivity Roundtable Discussion.

AN  AUTHOR operates within a world of competition. She competes with other authors not only to get published, but to earn a place in bookshops and in readers’ homes. Yet she has great friendships within her author community. She takes her book on blog tours visiting competitor blogs where other authors help promote her work, and she in turn helps to promote their blog….and later on, hosts them and their new books on her blog.

AN  ECONOMIST doesn’t get that authors care about the ‘whole’ world they live in. They don’t understand why established authors like Tim Winton and Morris Gleitzman would care if PIRs were removed.  They don’t get that these are caring human beings who haven’t forgotten how hard it is for authors starting out, who care about their country and making sure that our culture is reflected in our literature. They don’t get why large publishers like Penguin would stand up for their smaller counterparts…..their desire to protect the publishing industry in its entirety.

AN AUTHOR cares about the fact that removing parallel import restrictions will have a devastating impact on the environment with a massive carbon footprint being caused by books being ‘flown’ in from overseas. The author cares about the loss of printing and publishing jobs, and the reduced opportunities for her colleagues to have their work published in this country. The author cares that book readers will have less choice and will be denied the opportunity to read some fabulous overseas books that won’t be brought into Australia because the publishers won’t be able to afford to. The author cares that there will be less income for those in her profession and that her children will have fewer career opportunities in the industry.

AN ECONOMIST doesn’t care as long as ‘discretionary spending’ is directed away from the thriving book industry to make the economy ‘more balanced’.

Vote for the author who DOES care, and her industry, by signing the online petition at http://savingaussiebooks.wordpress.com

Dee White

(the author)