Illustrator’s Day: From the Eyes of a Picture Book Author

This past Saturday, May 19th, the SCBWI CA North/Central had their 1st ever Illustrator’s Day in the Sacramento area. It was wonderful, definitely worth the 2-hour drive for me each way. (that part wasn’t quite so much fun, the California sun streaming into the car kept enticing me to fall asleep)

This event was unique in that it had a two-fold audience, not just PB illustrators but also PB authors as well. This was a great opportunity for me to learn about the marriage between art and text. Below are the highlights of what I learned.

Patti Newman (co-regional advisor, author of Nugget on the Flight Deck and Jingle the Brass)

– Good to write what you know, but sometimes it is better to write what you want to know. She frequently takes on topics she knows nothing about, and digs in and interviews folks. One of her special writing traits is being able to use the jargon for the subject.

– Road to success isn’t a straight diagonal line to the right but a squiggly road. There will be slow periods, and fast periods.

The panel’s response on the question of “Leaving Space”, advice for PB authors.

– A Picture Book story should be 1/2 done by the author and 1/2 by the illustrator

– Too specific text or art notes restricts the illustrator’s ability to create their art, hence making them less passionate about your manuscript.

– the final PB may not be what you envisioned

Rotem Moscovich (editor from Disney/Hyperion)

– The picture book is greater than the sum of its parts, art and text. It is a unique collaboration that only comes alive when being read out loud.

– Think of a picture book as a lap-sized theater.

Book Examples:

One Special Day by Lola Schaefer and Jessica Meserve – only the picture conveys the animal of the characteristic. Ex: “He was as strong as a –” art show a beehive – page turn – art show a bear. This book probably had art notes listing each of the animals associated with each of the lines. This is okay, as it is critical to the story.

Eddie Gets Ready for School by David Milgrim – the text is straightforward, down plays the story. The pictures convey the upbeat and humorous part of the story. Ex: “Pack a snack” art shows him packing a watermelon into his backpack. This book was done by an author/illustrator.

Question: I asked what if this story had been done by an author, how would he/she convey that the humorous part of the story in the manuscript without putting art notes everywhere.

Answer: Put the synopsis art note at the beginning of the manuscript with an example. (this is advice is specific to Rotem, as I have heard from other sources to put this type of info in the cover letter. Rotem doesn’t read cover letters and often goes straight to the manuscript.)

Question: If an author/illustrator submits text and you like the text but not the art will you still consider it or reject it.

Answer: If the letter indicates that the art and text can be separated, then yes she will consider it. Otherwise she will reject it.

Mary Kole (Senior Literary Manager at Movable Type Mgmt, formerly was at Andrea Brown)

– Takes a long-term view on her clients, wants to help develop their careers. (hence make sure you have a portfolio of work to show before querying her)

– More, more pressure to be commercial and have a book off to a running start. Most sales of a book occurs from 3 months before a release date to 3 months after.

– Most board books are done in-house,  are about licensed properties, or a scaled downed version of a best-selling hardcover PB. Board book are expensive to manufacture but have to be at the price-point of a paperback, hence they have to be a high-volume book.

– Think of “hooks” as articulate sales tools.

Thinking Like a Writer

– “First line of a story teach us how to read it” by John L’Heurex

– Read your story out loud (I have heard it is a good idea to record yourself reading, and play it back)

– Shorter sentences, easy syntax, and words accessible to your target audience

– Readers mature differently from Pre-K to 3rd grade. Avoid complex sentences with lots of clauses, keep dialogue simple

– Avoid long scenes with talking heads. Hard to illustrate.

Ashley Wolff (Author/Illustrator of Baby Bear Sees Blue)

– Characters and Action on a page should move from left to right.


20 Comments to “Illustrator’s Day: From the Eyes of a Picture Book Author”

  1. Excellent info. Thanks for sharing. I was interested in the thought about putting the art description at the beginning. I have always put mine at the end so as not to detract from the ms, but maybe that has been a mistake!

    • Thanks Susanna. I think where to put in the art could really depend on who is reading it. I had liked your answer in “Oh,Susanna” of putting it in the cover letter. But since Rotem doesn’t spend much time on cover letters, she prefers to it at the beginning of the story. This makes sense since if you have some over-arching art note which will affect the tone of the story you want that upfront as opposed to reading the entire text, seeing the art note, and then having to re-read the text again to get into the proper mindset. But once again my guess is this varies from person to person.

  2. This is great! I like “think of a picture book as a lap-size theater.” All the information is so helpful. Thank you, Darshana!

  3. Sounds like a great day! Lots of pertinent nuggets in here for a current WIP I am nooodling.

  4. Lots of useful tips here.

  5. Thanks for sharing your notes! Excellent advice…pb are 1/2 produced by the author and 1/2 from the illustrator and the quote about a lap-sized theater!!

  6. Great info! So glad you shared. 🙂

  7. That is interesting, I would have put an art note at the end of the page it was refering to.

  8. Great info! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Sounds like you had a great workshop and I do appreciate you sharing all this cool advice with us, Darshana!

  10. Excellent notes here. Thanks, Darshana!

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