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Everything I have read or been told, and every guideline I have seen regarding submitting a picture book manuscript to a publisher has indicated that illustrations should not be included in the submission. This makes sense to me for the commonly stated reason that the publisher generally sources the illustrator themselves, but does this rule also apply to simple illustrations that are not intended to be published in the final work but to communicate an idea or concept?

I have seen it written that publishers/agents "know" how to read a manuscript and "see the story" without illustrations. But are they really that clairvoyant? I have a hard time believing that for the following two situations.

  1. A particular event in the storyline is simply not part of the text but must be communicated through the illustration. Taking the context of the surrounding text is not always sufficient. This seems to be a relatively common phenomenon in picture books.
  2. An illustration is required in order to understand the meaning of the text without making the text excessively verbose or expository. For example where a character interacts with an inanimate object in a way that must be seen to be understood.

In both scenarios, I could see widely divergent visions of the story appearing in the mind of various publishers/agents based on their own personal background or level of creativity. Or perhaps even no vision at all without some prompt outside of the text.

In these cases it seems that it is simply a roll of the dice that some sort of vulcan mind meld occurs between the author and the person reviewing the manuscript.

What should an author do in a submission when illustrations are an integral part of communicating the concepts of a story?

  • I'm not much familiar with picture book publishing, but in my mind story and illustrations are hardly separable. Imagine if "Grinch" or "Curious George" were assigned to some random artists to illustrate. – Alexander Jul 17 '18 at 22:28
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    I have no sources to back it up, but it seems reasonable that actions done outside of the text could be annotated in parentheses or in italics, almost like a screenplay. The answers here seem to suggest that as well: writing.stackexchange.com/questions/16410/… – MidwestIsTheBest Jul 18 '18 at 16:40
  • @MidwestIsTheBest I had seen the answer to that question you linked as well before I posted. While I think that it may be good advice, and possibly the best option at the moment, it seemed to be more speculative than from an authoritative source. With the highly competitive and finicky nature of the publishing biz it would be nice to have an established guideline. – SolStack Jul 18 '18 at 23:22
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    @Alexander Being very familiar with picture book publishing, I can state with authority that this is in fact very much the norm among big publishers. The books you name would be exceptions, since they have the same author and illustrator, but even "double threats" usually need to establish themselves first as one or the other. – Chris Sunami Jul 19 '18 at 13:00
  • @Chris Sunami you are shattering my world! :) So the author can deliver a picture book without having any visual concept, and even if he/she has it, the illustrator's concept can be entirely different? – Alexander Jul 19 '18 at 16:56
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After doing some digging, it would appear that illustration notes are a matter of personal preference for both authors and publishers. This link, this link, and many others on other blog sites run by authors and editors debate the use of illustration notes. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that illustration notes appear to be a hotly debated topic in the children's book publishing sphere.

So, unfortunately, the answer appears to be it depends; and more unfortunately, it depends on the personal preference of the person reading the manuscript. There is no guarantee that a particular publisher will find your illustration notes valuable or if they will find them distracting. The best course of action might be to contact the publisher you plan on submitting to and inquiring their opinion on illustrator notes. Even further, having a copy of your manuscript with illustration notes and another without may save you time when submitting to multiple publishers.

I will comment on the debate of illustration notes by partially agreeing with the against-notes side. As authors, it is our job to tell a story using thoughts and ideas we create in a written medium. If it is important, it should be implied or said. However, there will exist cases where words are simply not enough, as in the case of visual irony intended for comedic value. In these cases, a short, concise note that does not limit the creative process of an illustrator may be beneficial to a manuscript.

  • There's the rub. Personal Preference. lol. And, as you point out, it is indeed widely debated amongst authors without any clear resolution. And without input from actual publishers. I've found that asking publishers questions about submissions generally seems to get fewer replies than the submissions themselves! The links you cited were useful, especially the second one. Most helpful though were the comments by Jonathan Emmett and subsequent discussion. link – SolStack Jul 23 '18 at 17:30

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