Children's Illustration

Can I ask all you veteran children's book illustrators, How much control do you have on creating the look of the book, and at the much do the art directors determine on the creative aspect...illustrations, book design, ...

isn't all that what you are hired for?


The amount of control really depends on the publisher. The wonderful folks at Greenwillow let me do anything I wanted, interior and cover, then we discussed modifications or changes as necessary. Their designers took my ideas and enhanced them to make beautiful books. They've spoiled me, and I only want to work this way!

Other publishers I've worked with take MUCH more control. The last book I did was so controlled I felt as though I were simply a "hired wrist" (they actually wrote descriptions of each illustration). Really puts a damper on creative energy. The over-control thing seems to happen a lot with those publishers who happen to have work-for-hire, flat-fee, or all rights contracts waiting for you, not the major trade children's book publishers.

At least the experience has given me the ability to decide what I DON'T want to do in the future. When I first started out, I never thought there'd be a book project I'd turn down! Now, I know how much a warm, creative working relationship means to the success of a project -- especially one that demands weeks or months of your time.


Some advice...if you want it...

Never put udders on cows.
Always show all 4 legs on animals.
Always imply or show 10 fingers and toes on people
Never have a butt shot of a kid
Watch your they don't in anyway look like....well a ummmm lump in the boys pants
If you have to show the back of a kid...minimize the butt lines.
Conservative is more sellable
Current clothing on kids...but not too cool...if ya know what it mean...clean cut look.
Have a very repeatable style that your sure that you can do in your sleep.

It is usually a lot of work in a short period of time. The Style must remain consistant over sometimes hundreds of pieces. With little sleep and tight deadlines...well ....sleep drawing becomes natural.

I still spend lots of time just sketching people at the mall or park...though the parents look at you funny and move across the way if you stare at there kids to long It helps when I need to think up kids out of my head even though I use a completely different style for B/W... not sketchy.

Hope this helps some of you


Date: Sun, 4 Oct 1998 20:28:52 EDT
Subject: illustration: Rocky Mtn. SCBWI morsels

Hi gang,
I am back from Rocky Mountain SCBWI, experiencing yet another bout of "my work is so inadequate" blues...but come morning (in a few days? weeks?) I'll snap out of it, so here's a couple of notes for you...

For the greeting card makers out amongst us, Megan Tingley, exec. editor of Little, Brown & Co. (Children's book division, Boston) spoke and mentioned that she loves to look at greeting cards, as well as other venues, to find talented artists. She looks to see if the artist wrote the inside verse. Looking for humor and the creative outlook... She went to this year's NYC licensing show, "on a whim" and found things she liked. She will sometimes call artists and ask if they ever have considered doing a children's book...(Amazingly, 50% don't call back or aren't interested!) Send samples to the editors @ Little, Brown and Co. as well as the art director, since editors assign illustration for books. Art Directors assign book jackets, etc.

Another hint, she says don't be afraid to address queries and sample packets to ASSOciate editors or assistants to the Executive editor, as they are "hungrier" to find art talent and may get your work seen faster or with better results. Call the pub. house and find out their names. (Never hurts to put SCBWI member on the outside of the envelope...) This applies to the biggie publishers.

On the side, Ms. Tingley is not one of the web surfers, but thinks the art department people are much more likely to be. What a neat lady. I forgot how great publishing people can be. (I've been out of the biz for a few years, you may know, raising the world's most brilliant children, of course...ha ha.) It reminded me of the great bunch of folks out there I've known, and still do, who like to make books and magazines. I've been away from that for a few years. I resolve to renew those friendships and ties. That was one of the best things I took home from the conference!

yer reporter on the scene, in awe of the talent out there....


Date: Wed, 2 Sep 1998 01:03:46 EDT
Subject: Re: illustration: tell me your tales (not pig tales)

I illustrate children's books, YA covers etc. It's a lovely industry to work in. (doing illustrations for advertising gives you great perspective) People actually call you back, are glad to look at your portfolio, they give you reasonable deadlines... anyway, my first picture book was the most fun & the most work I've ever experienced. It was with Macmillan & they kept shifting/loosing art directors, so I had a stream of 4 art directors, one after the other making changes - and I still do think back on it quite fondly.

Children's bks don't pay that well & my work takes a lot of time. First book took a year. 2nd took 9 mos. & was quite tiny (approx. 5 X 5) and I've hovered around 6 mos. Just for info. to file away for the future, try to get as much advance as poss. (most children's bks don't ever get to a second printing & that's when you start making royalties)

Do you know about SCBWI (the soc. of children's bk writers & illustrators)? A GREAT association w/newsletters, workshops, conferences, etc. and really reasonable membership fee.

Also, the Graphic Artist's Guild is a great source for business (classes, newsletter, hotline, try to set up good standards, publish a book - Pricing & amp; Ethical Guidelines which gives ranges of prices members have received for various types of jobs (only a guide - they are a bit inflated - on purpose to up the industry standards - they surveyed & found that illustrators were still being paid what illustrators were paid 30 years ago! They lobby against work for hire etc. A bit costly, but they do have a student rate.

Hope some of this helps.

Good luck.



is there anything in between illustrating an entire book and having nothing in the children's book area??

Yes, but not in the picturebook arena. If you sign on for a picturebook you almost always do the whole thing. Outside of picture books there are many illustrations purchased for book covers and separate interior illustrations for early readers, workbooks and chapter books. Don't forget magazines and Sunday School papers, which are great ways to get started.

what do you feel is the most effective way for a starting out illustrator to promote himself??

Mail color copies or printed samples of your very best illustrations of kids and animals to publishers (after you've done market research) or buy a sourcebook ad and mail the tearsheets that you get as part of the deal. I've gotten the majority of my assignments from direct mail and referrals from A.D.'s happy with my work. I've gotten some less than desireable requests for work from my web site. I'll have my first sourcebook ad in Picturebook Sourcebook coming out soon so am waiting to see if it generates any results.

Here are some other questions that others have posed that I thought I'd try to answer. There are many other children's illustrators on this list, so please step on up and add your 2 cents.

Should one query before sending samples to children's publishers?

No, but absolutely find out what they publish so you know if your work is suitable for them before sending anything. Don't waste their time or yours and help keep the slush pile manageable. Send for their catalog or sample magazine issue. The library also has some sample magazine issues and the children's librarian would probably let you look at her catalogs. You can also just look through the books at the library or bookstore. I always get distracted by the great art and stories and forget who the publisher is, so this doesn't work well for me.

What form should samples take - photocopies?

Photocopies are fine or color printouts from a high-quality color printer. Slides are frowned upon. They don't want to get out the slide viewer and you want to make their lives as easy as possible.

Is there an appropriate number of samples to send at a time?

For an initial mailing I sent 5 samples, 3 of which were from the same story so the publisher could see consistency of character and how I tell a story in pictures. Subsequent mailings could just be one piece, like a postcard. If you send an entire portfolio don't send more than 12 pieces and NEVER send original art.

Are there different procedures for magazines and book publishers?

Not that I've noticed.

What do you recommend for a first time mailing?

Some nice color reproductions of kids and animals in action and showing emotion. Adults, objects, architecture, landscape are other good things to include, but kids should be first and foremost. You can send B&W work too.

Don't send anything you wouldn't want to do. If you hate drawing bicycles, don't send a sample of one.

I send my samples in a folder. Every sample has my name, address and phone number on it. I also enclose a cover letter, resume, response card and SASE.

How do you go about selecting the publishers?

I choose those who look like they have some kind of a budget to print a good catalog and buy quality illustrations and who use work similar to mine in subjects that interest me.

Where do you get their names, addresses and contact names?

Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market book (CWIM), Literary Market Place (LMP) in the library reference section, Children's Writer's newsletter, Children's Book Insider newsletter and SCBWI newsletter.

Do you include your resume?

Yes, with a list of published work, but I doubt many publishers look at it. It's the work they're interested in.

Do you send off the entire package unsolicited and hope for the best?

Yes. Some publishers respond in the first week, others straggle in over the next 3 months, a few up to a year later. Some never respond. I always include a response card and an SASE so hopefully I'll learn whether they like my work or not. I keep track of what I sent and when and their responses. On the response card I ask them to check the appropriate boxes:

I like your illustration samples;
Please send me a full portfolio;
I'll keep your samples on file;
Please send me new samples periodically;
I'm returning your samples. They're not appropriate for our current needs;
Other comments.

I also ask them to update their address info on the label I've attached to the response card.

How do you submit picturebook manuscript/illustration packages?

I've never done this, but the common advice seems to be to send the manuscript typed to conform with manuscript standards. Also send a dummy with text in place and rough sketches on the pages with at least one page done as final art. Enclose an SASE.

There are many great books about how to get started in the children's market. If you haven't yet, do join SCBWI and go to the conferences. SCBWI is a wonderful organization.


Date: Sat, 27 Feb 1999 10:10:33 -0500
From: "Stephanie Stussman"

I'll just add that queries for children's books are usually only wanted for chapter books or non-fiction. Also, Peter has a very complete listing of books on writing and illustrating children's books on his website.

Steph:0) (fellow writer/illustrator)

SCBWI member Sandra Cook has created a useful Web site which contains links to all children's publishers with sites on the Net. You can find it at:

Date: Fri, 19 Feb 99 15:08:33 -0500
From: Mark Cable
Subject: Re: illustration: advice!

i have recently been contacted via email, about illustrating a children's book.. the book would require 14 pages of color illustration (all digital images).. i would be the only artist, teamed up with the author of the book (which is already done and awaiting art)..

this is his first book, and he has already established an agreement with a publisher.. he has offered me 10% of the royalties from the book.. with no money up front (says he is using the money he has to pay for the printing of the book) he is willing to draw up a contract stating all payments, etc.. (i would also be given 50% ownership rights of the characters designed)

how does this sound to everyone? i am worried about getting no up-front money.. but would the 10% make up for it? (and character rights)

In a word:


This smells really bad to me. On my wife's contracts, the illustrator and writer get EQUAL royalties and advances, from the publisher. And in fact, if the writer is paying for the printing, he or she IS the publisher. This sounds really suspicious.

- -Mark

Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 06:00:56 -0800
From: "Nancy Barnet"
Subject: RE: illustration: advice!

Chad, you are being asked for your valuable illustrative services for free. The author is asking you to work on spec -- never a good idea. He cannot guarantee that any of the printed books will ever be sold, meaning you could end up with 10% of nothing. If the author has to spend all his money to get the book printed, what does he plan to use to market the book? That takes money too.


I'd only agree to work for an advance ....($4000 / $6000). It's the rare book that actually earns royalties.

I notice that once my site was listed at Yahoo I've been receiving similar online offers. Most of them are from writers who think the next step is to find an illustrator. It's always amazing who's out there writing children's books. I was sifting through the postings of a stock group I read... and wouldn't you know... one of the Wall Street stock analysts had written a children's book that she wanted an opinion on! What a hoot!


Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 17:05:59 -0500
From: Claudia Sargent
Subject: illustration: advice!

Chad, I wrote a long & detailed post about precisely this kind of situation last week when Linda ran into it-- I'll send it to you under separate cover (unless others want to see it again.)

The short version of advice is: DON'T DO IT. It's called "working on spec", and professionals avoid it. The Graphic Artists Guild dicourages its members from doing it, and for good reasons.

Keep PARAMOUNT in your mind that people tend not to value that which they get for free-- if you want months of misery, then work for this guy who is self-publishing his book. You will do a thousand versions of EACH AND EVERY SPREAD, and he won't like any of them; and you are the ONLY one providing work on this project who won't be getting paid.

Do what you want-- but, if it were me, I'd run like hell---

Peace & joy,


Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 14:57:31 -0800
From: "Jessica Schiffman"
Subject: Re: illustration: advice!

For what it's worth: I illustrated a book for royalties only ($200 advance actually, very close to nothing). The book, to my knowledge, never went to press, and the company doesn't exist anymore as far as I know. If they don't pay you anything up front, they have no investment, and no qualms about walking away from the whole project.


This is my standard response to authors looking for an illustrator:

I'm sorry, I only work with publishers. It's not necessary for you to find an illustrator before submitting your manuscript to publishers. They will do that for you once they purchase the manuscript. A good organization to join to learn more about the process is SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). They have a site at

Best wishes,

Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 06:08:50 -0800 (PST)
From: Glenn Bernabe

I run the 'Pictures for Kids Books' messageboard. Like this listserv it is an excellent forum for illustrators and there are a lot of people who subscribe to this list who already have benefited from this messageboard. It is a valuable resource so here is the URL for those of you who don't know it:

From: "Meredith Johnson"

So my humble advice on children's book publishing is....for illustration only, produce a self promotion piece, sit down with a list of publishers you glean from either Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market and/or Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators that you think might have an interest in your work, and mail'em.

Meredith...very well written. I think you gave a pretty thorough response here.

I've been doing kids books for 5-1/2 years but it took 5 years of freelancing before I got that first book. So the 'day job' IS important. Most illustrators won't fall into lots of work right away even after they've been 'discovered' by some publishers. Having faith in what you do and your goals is also very important. And then being able to stick with it under the stresses of rejections.

Meredith, I did what you did with the 'booklet' thing in the beginning and it was very expensive. And even with the SASE included I didn't always get them back when they weren't filed. So, after awhile I also just sent out color copies that I put into one of those glassine pocket folder things for binders.

Quinn...another thing to include is an SASP...a self addressed stamped postcard - with check off boxes for them to fill out and return to you either on their own or with the samples if they return them. Include choices like :

___We filed your samples. Please continue to update your file.
___Please send additional samples for our review.
___Your style is not approproate for our current needs. However, keep us on your mailing list.
___Please remove us from your mailing list.
Comments, if any_________________________(I include about 4 lines for them to fill in here if they have any comments. Some do add little blurbs.)

I can't tell you how important it is to send the return postcard. Some won't bother and some return them MONTHS later (I've gotten them as much as 8 months later). I started to include the line "However, keep us on your mailing list" and I've had that boxed checked a number of times. Apparently, they like the work but don't want a full sample package...or whatever their reason.

And also equally important...keep EXCELLENT RECORDS of what you send to whom and when you sent it, etc. Seems like you'll remember in the beginning but by the time you send out samples a 2nd, 3rd, 4th time they will all kind of blur into one image and you won't remember most likely who got what as you add new publishers to you list.

Also...the SASE that Meredith mentioned is very important. Publishers get upset if you don't include them.'s okay NOT to include them if you say in the body of your letter that these are 'non-returnable' samples. This way they know that you don't expect them back if they don't file them. In other words...they know you know that if they don't want them they will throw them out.

Another option for mailing is to 'whet their appetites' by sending just a postcard with one image and your contact info and a statement that additional samples are available upon request. Some people get these postcards professionally printed and that works if you have quite a few publishers you plan to send to. me now that I have a scanner and a good color printer...produce our own 'postcards' (in my case its mailers that are 8-1/2 x 11 sheets folded and placed into a 6x9 envelope with my SASP.) I don't have a long list of publishers in the kids marketplace that I send to so postcards are a bit too costly for me. (I also send to card markets images specific for that market.)

But you have to have the other artwork ready to send out for those that respond with 'send additional samples' and that's where the range of 8-12 samples ready to go comes in...(and/or your book dummy).

There is no one right or wrong way to do your mailings. The idea is to get samples in front of them in a professional looking way and be able to follow up with additional samples if requested. And to keep your name and images 'in their face' so to speak with continued promotional mailings every few months. Promoting your work needs to be as much a part of your regular work load as the artwork assignments themselves. Without continued promotion they won't know you are there.

Another good idea is to send those kid book samples to all the kids magazines that are out there. They will add to your group of samples and give you real world experience in doing assignments...and they pay faster because of the short deadlines.

HTH. Good luck.

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