Ask Tania: How Do I Become an Author/Illustrator?

Monday, 30 June 2014

Dear Tania,
My dream is to become an author/illustrator and I'm not known in the industry at all. The concern I have with submitting to publishers is that everyone tells me publishers only want manuscripts--no pictures. I'm inspired and motivated, but lost. Any advice on how to go about this?

Hi Rowan,

Becoming an author/illustrator is a wonderful goal to have. Alas, asking how to get started and get into the industry is like asking 'how long is a piece of string'! But I will try my hardest to offer some helpful advice.

When you’re only just starting out, it can seem overwhelming, but honestly? It’s all about taking that first step. From there, things quickly fall into place. It's almost miraculous how things unfold when you just put one foot in front of the other.

So--the first thing to do is write. Illustrate. Do it a lot. It doesn't have to be perfect, so long as you're practicing. I live by two wonderful sayings--'you can't edit no words' and 'writers write' (similarly, illustrators illustrate).

Along the way, reference as many picture books as you can. Study them. Examine the flow, the dance between text and image, the way the text is written and how it allows the illustrations to shine. Examine the layout and design and the way image and text fit rhythmically across 26 - 28 pages. Absorb and emulate.

When you feel you're ready to begin creating a solid piece of work, just do it. Don't worry about what publishers might want. Never worry about that. When we do that, we don't create from our heart--we don't do what WE love, and the work simply won't shine or touch someone else, let alone a publisher. Good publishers can see the passion and idea behind any manuscript (or illustration) proffering. Be unique and true. Find your own voice.

When you feel ready to approach publishers, spend time looking at their submissions pages. Keep a spreadsheet of their submission requirements so you can see it at a glance--their requirements, when they accept unsolicited subs, how long they take to get back to you, whether they also accept illustrations, etc. Some will accept illustrations and manuscripts separately.

With regard to sending both story and image, some publishers are more strict that others, usually out of necessity. This is because they are consistently inundated with subs, and many non-illustrator writers send their own imagery or create book mockups with unprofessional imagery. This can absolutely impede even the best texts.

If a text relies heavily on illustration, the best bet is to add succinct Illustration notes, but only if lines need explaining. As much as possible, text should be note-free, and open to interpretation by the reader (unless it relies completely on image).

When you're ready to submit, do it to their specifications. Include a succinct cover letter saying you are also an illustrator and can provide image upon request. Better yet, provide an easily-followed link to your work.

Another option is to send a query letter to the publisher or publishing assistant, if this appears possible from the publisher submissions page. Just make a quick introduction and a very brief outline of what you're doing--asking them if they would be willing to see both text and image of this fabulous book you've created. If they say yes, ask them the best way to send it--electronically, by mail, mocked up or as separate text and image. (Never send a book mockup unless they've said it's okay).

I'd be more likely to recommend a query letter once you've finished the work, once you've organised solid web presence, and once you've started networking within the industry (see dot points below on this).

Publishers are consistently swamped, so keep things succinct, never pester, always thank.

It's absolutely true that having some industry presence will develop the relationships and notoriety and credibility that helps secure a positive response from publishers. The following will help get your name out there:

· Have strong web presence--blog, website, online gallery of work--all clear, quickly navigable and professionally done

· Network in the industry so your name gets known and you can develop REAL friendships and beneficial connections; this is great for publishing but also for collaborations and recommendations

· Have facebook, twitter and LinkedIn profiles; strongly suggest pinterest for your artwork

· Enter writing/illustration comps

· Subscribe to Pass It On e-zine and also Buzz Words for news on industry opportunities

· Join organisatons like SCBWI, CBCA and the Australian Society of Authors

· Attend workshops, events, book launches, conferences, writer's and book festivals; meeting publishers at these events is priceless but you need to be VERY careful you don't stalk or pester or act desperate ... allow contact to naturally develop and IF you do manage to engage a publisher, don't talk 'work' with them--just chat and get to know them, then follow up later with them, if appropriate

· Contact local schools and libraries about hosting illustration/writing workshops--libraries love hosting these in schools holidays

· Be generous; share what you know and what you have learned with others; what goes around comes around

· Frequent publisher websites and get to know what styles they publish; and which ones your work might appeal to

· Read picture books to better understand their layout design and flow

· Join my 52-Week Illustration Challenge! Several members have already begun book collaborations and some have even secured contracts

My biggest advice is to have patience and tenacity. Most people have to ‘earn their due’ with publishers, so it could take years to be published, but if you give up, it will never happen.

Never take rejection personally; it’s one person’s (or a very small team’s) subjective opinion, after all, and many rejections come from reasons other than your work not being 'good enough'.

I wish you the very best of luck!


See all the questions so far ...


sally fawcett said...

Great Answer Tania

jen storer said...

Awesome advice, Dot. I'm loving your Q&A posts, they're not only spot on, they're fun to read! x

Tania McCartney said...

Thanks, Tottie! That is v sweet of you. xx

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...