Getting Published: Illustrators
Are You Ready to Submit?
Do you have a solid portfolio of work to send out? Have you received feedback on your work and made changes? Like all creative art forms, it’s crucial that you take the time to build up your skills and creative output.
Take your time and get your work to a high standard before sending it anywhere and develop a clear sense of your own style. Attend a workshop or course to help increase your knowledge and skills and immerse yourself in the local illustration community to gain a deeper understanding of what other work is currently out there.
Take your time and get your work to a high standard before sending it anywhere and develop a clear sense of your own style
Submitting Your Work
Be aware of the market you’re creating work for and get a feel for what publishers do. Certain publishers are looking for highly commercial illustration and you might not feel your work is suitable for them, so do your research carefully.
If you’re creating less commercial but more artistically challenging work, there are publishers who will be sympathetic to what you’re doing. Covers and endpapers often give a good insight into a publisher’s approach. An ideal publisher will have a balanced list, combining marketability with quality and an emphasis on creativity.
All publishers have their own styles and typical themes they approach in their books. A good way to find out about them is to visit a library or the children’s section of a bookshop, where you can familiarise yourself with their range of books. Check publishers’ catalogues and websites and subscribe to their newsletters. Get a firm idea of what they do before you contact them.
Find out the names of editors and art directors at publishers – the people who shape the character of their individual lists. Be aware though that people in publishing tend to move jobs frequently.
Additionally, children’s books bought in from other countries are of growing importance to publishers. Have a look at books originally published in Scandinavia, for example, to get an idea of the types of work being introduced to the UK market.
Developing Your Work
Understand What You’re Trying to Create
Decide the best kind of book to suit the work you’re doing and think about the age of child your work is intended for. Though largely text based, children’s chapter books don’t necessarily deal with more challenging subjects than picture books. With their combination of art and words, picture books can be used to approach complex emotional themes in a way that children relate to.
A strong sense of character is essential in children’s books and publishers will look for appealing characters that they can actively promote and that may lead to a book series.
Remember that in addition to your artistic talents, you need commitment, patience and resilience.
A strong sense of character is essential in children’s books and publishers will look for appealing characters that they can actively promote and that may lead to a book series
Get to Know How the Process Works
The acquisitions process at larger publishers is rarely handled by a single editor. When contacting publishers keep in mind that staff in marketing and sales departments have a large amount of influence and can prevent publication from happening if they feel a book is unlikely to sell, no matter how strongly the editor argues its case. As publishers listen to the market, you should try to as well.
Remember that creating a picture book is a collaborative process that can involve an artist, a writer, an art director, an editor and a graphic designer. For this to function well, you have to be open to compromise throughout the process.
Look for Other Ways to Support Your Book Work
Picture books sell well compared to many other types of books but work as a children’s illustrator or writer remains financially challenging. More than 50% of illustrators earn less than £600 per year from their book illustration work, so consider other outlets for your work.
Non-fiction illustrative work is a growing market and worth exploring. Much of this work is commissioned out to illustrators and will involve working to a tight brief.
Children’s book apps can be engaging but the high cost of producing these means that publishers are creating less of them than a few years ago. Instead, they are looking for more advanced and creative apps of greater value.
Consider creating work for the vibrant greeting card and gift market, but be aware that retailers will expect a large cut (as much as 50%) of the price of what you create.
We don’t advise working for unpublished writers under any circumstances. Always go through a publisher or agent.
Showcase Your Work
You’re strongly advised to maintain a website where you can showcase your illustrations. Ensure that your site is coherent, up to date and user friendly. An excellent example is the website of the writer and illustrator Catherine Rayner.
Maintain a sketchbook and make sure you bring it to any meetings with publishers or agents, along with your more finished work. Your sketchbooks offer insight into how your work is developing and a publisher may spot something unexpected.
Finding an Agent
Choose an agent carefully. A good personality match is essential for what can develop into a long-term partnership. Take your time to get to know anyone who would like to represent you and don’t rush into a decision.
Always check over an agent’s client base. Make sure that they are not already representing illustrators who work in a similar style to you as this may lead to a conflict of interest.
An agent will represent you and your work in many different ways, including liaising with book publishers and arranging financial settlements. Your agent may present your work to publishers and set up face-to-face meetings for you with editors and art directors. An agent may also help with finding an appropriate writer for you to work with.
Balance Your Work
When working as an illustrator, be careful to manage your publishing schedule. If you are creating work for more than one publisher, it’s strongly advised that this is spread out evenly across your schedule so that you don’t end up with more than one book released at a time.