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 🙂