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Dr. Seuss did it, other authors in the past have done it, but I've heard that publishers like working with specific illustrators and would rather have the words written by the author and then they'll match an illustrator they think will fit.

Is it harder to sell a book to an agent/publisher if you're also trying to sell the illustrations along with it? Would it be better to let the words speak for themselves or go ahead and spend time on my illustrations thinking that maybe they'll pay off.

5

But why is it ‘harder’ to sell a book if you submit both text and illustrations? Why isn’t it more of a ‘can’t hurt, might help’ sort of scenario?

It's a common misconception that editors/agents 'need to see' the pictures to 'get' the story. Actually, good editors can bring a lot of imagination to what's possible based on their years of exposure and professional analysis of audience,themes, trends, and market. Imagining the 'right' illustrator plays a role in this. I believe one of the reasons I was able to sell my first children's book was, in part, that the editor imagined it in the hands of a certain up and coming illustrator, and it 'fit' perfectly. Why should I art block that?

You want text finalized with the editor before you do much illustration work (another reason editors prefer to see the text first). Sending illustrations with text that may require some work (removing a redundant character, extra verbiage, etc) makes the whole project seem like a huge, unnecessary headache.

Sendak had his story submitted before he started illustrating. His original title was "Land of the Wild Horses" until he realized he couldn't draw horses. It was his editor that suggested changing horses to 'wild things'.

(Speaking of which, If you really want to get into the head of a children's book editor and what it looks like to work with authors, illustrators and author/illustrators, read the delightful and insightful Dear Genius, The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.)

That's why experience counts. Geisel (Dr. Seuss) spent 10 years establishing himself as a cartoonist and illustrator before he wrote and illustrated his first book. Maurice Sendak was best known for illustrating Else Minarik's Little Bear series long before he wrote and illustrated Where the Wild Things Are.

Still, neither of these fellows breezed into publication.

So yes, IN GENERAL, you're going to have a greater chance of selling your book with text only, or getting a gig for a different book with illustration samples only, because submitting text and illustrations as an entwined unit greatly increases the chance of imperfections here or there being perceived as all wrong.

As an aside: as a writer, I would never, ever, hire an illustrator to illustrate my text and then submit it to a children's book publisher (unless it's a self-publish, in which case you're the publisher and that's a different story). I can't begin to tell you how may things are wrong with that.

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  • Thank you - this makes a lot of sense and is some great information and background that I didn't know about Sendak. Very good point especially about not doing the pictures when the text itself might still be fluid and subject to edits. – DoWhileNot Jan 13 '16 at 21:09
3

It depends.

I met unfortunately quite some aspiring authors who tried to make up for the lack of story quality by adding graphics or illustrations.

In the end, neither the story nor the illustrations achieved a professional standard.

But: there are some incredibly talented people, for example, Jenny Dolfen, nicknamed "Gold-Seven" on Deviantart who creates watercolor illustrations to die for and who has a great writing talent, too. (While still working as a teacher and not as full-time writer or illustrator.) Or Henry H. Neff a YA writer who created the illustrations for his book series. (I just don't like his drawing style very much. But that is a matter of personal taste.) Or Mercedes Lackey, who wrote some cool songs about characters and events in some of her books. Or Seanan McGuire, who is a published writer and a great (filk) singer.

Yet, for the majority of us mere mortal writers, the rule goes as following: Don't try to disguise weaknesses in your story with illustrations. Use every minute you would spend on the illustrations to improve your story instead. Both art forms need a lot of time, practice, and patience. Try to look for a publisher with a really good story or try to be a really good illustrator. Don't try to sell a mediocre story with mediocre illustrations.

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1

My thoughts as an author needing an illustrator... is that it depends.

Keep in mind that a publisher's goal is to profit on the work, so if you come to them with a great story and tremendous art that only needs minor touch ups, great news! But if your art is so-so, it might kill getting the story read and published. Let's look at my case though.

Let's say I privately hire an illustrator and not "for spec", meaning that they artist is not being payed full rates and won't sell you all rights to their work. Usually, that means I will end up paying 50% of my royalties for the picture book to the illustrator, in addition to whatever I payed in advance to get the work done to begin with. [don't expect an illustrator to work for free.]

A larger publisher, on the other hand, may have "house illustrators" that they can pay once "for spec", and if your BIG HIT BESTSELLER!! is wildly successful, they get to keep the illustrator's cut for themselves, paying out half as much over the life of the book, and simplifying other accounting practices.

That said, about 80% of the current profit in books is e-books. So there's a lot more room for exploring different art options with friends, etc. before a publisher even steps in to help assemble the final epub document(s).

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1

In my experience, most author/illustrators need to first establish themselves as either an author or as an illustrator, and then move towards doing both. The reason is that publishers like to pair a known quantity with a beginner, a big name with an unknown. Once they know you can sell, or have developed a following, then you can pitch yourself as being able to handle both.

I'm sure there are people who have achieved such a perfect marriage of text and illustration that they can sell them both together, even as a first-timer, but the common misconception that one must provide both words and text in order to sell a picture book is completely wrong. The plain truth is that even many of the big name hyphenates are clearly better at one side of things than the other.

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0

Do publishers like authors who are also illustrators?

Yes they do!

I've heard that publishers like working with specific illustrators

Yes, but only if they want a specific outcome.

and would rather have the words written by the author and then they'll match an illustrator they think will fit.

Generally yes, most writers are not great illustrators. This does not mean an author cannot request and/or debate a choice. Publishers generally have ideas on how to sell the most books but want to please the author at the same time as well.

Is it harder to sell a book to an agent/publisher if you're also trying to sell the illustrations along with it?

Yes. unless you know what you're doing.

Would it be better to let the words speak for themselves or go ahead and spend time on my illustrations thinking that maybe they'll pay off.

It is better to let the words speak for themselves.

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