Author Ellen Jackson

Finding An Illustrator

Are you a picture book author who’s looking for an illustrator? Here’s my advice:

Don’t.

It’s not necessary. In fact, it’s counterproductive.

When an editor buys a manuscript from a writer, that editor is buying the right to produce the work in the manner that he or she chooses. That right includes determining the look and layout of the final product.

You as the writer have little or no say over that process. You may be asked to suggest some names of illustrators–or not. If you really, really don’t like the style of the person that the art director eventually chooses to illustrate your story, the editor may respect your feelings and choose someone else. Or not.

What about husband/​wife teams? It’s true that Janet and Allan Ahlberg have created more than 30 books for children. And one of my books was illustrated by Leo and Dianne Dillon, a very successful husband and wife team who always wrote and illustrated together.

But these are exceptions. It is almost never a good idea for two unrelated people to produce an illustrated version before the manuscript has been acquired. It doubles the chances of rejection if the two are a package deal. An editor might like one person’s work, but not the other’s.

Some beginning authors have a clear vision of what their book should look like. Should they describe the illustrations to the editor when they submit the manuscript? In general, no. The story needs to stand on its own.

You can append a few notes to a prospective illustrator if the story really requires it–with the emphasis on the word “few.” Here is one way to do that:

Note to Illustrator: The “little house” described in the text is a dovecote.

(The above note is for a story told from the point of view of a cat and it really required the additional information.)