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to be an author/ illustrator or not to be

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Hello, I am new to the children's book world. I am dabbling with writing and illustrating picture and early reader books. I have recently queried some agents. I am a little confused because as I do more research, it seems like the agents I query want author/illustrators, but editors are only looking for authors because they want to pair the book with an illustrator themselves. Looking for clarification and guidance on this subject. Thank you.
#1 - January 13, 2021, 12:12 PM

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A lot of agents say they don't rep picture books unless  the client is both an author and illustrator. My understanding of this is that picture books aren't always the most lucrative for agents -- the author and illustrator split their share of royalties, which also reduces the agent's commission. If the same person does the text and illustrations, this issue is avoided.  In my experience, many agents will also  represent picture books for clients who also  write for other age groups. For example, you might sign with an agent based on a middle grade manuscript but then also work with the agent on your picture books. And some agents are open to picture book authors who aren't illustrators.

Publishers are generally willing to work with one person who is both an illustrator and an author, as well -- as long as both the writing and the illustrations are up to a very high standard.

Publishers don't typically want to see partnerships between authors and illustrators, though, and neither do agents. As you said, they would rather pair the author with the illustrator. I've seen a couple of very small publishers that welcome partnerships, but  this is not the way it's normally done.  Unless they're planning to self-publish, authors shouldn't worry about hiring an illustrator.

If you're an illustrator and an author, you can submit your work as both, but make sure you're equally strong in both areas. If you're writing is stronger than your art, you might just want to focus on writing at first, and vice versa.

If you're a picture book author only, you can look for agent representation, but it is difficult. The good news is that some picture book publishers accept submissions directly from authors, so you can try  that route, too.
#2 - January 13, 2021, 04:34 PM
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Hi Allison,

Are you a professional illustrator? If so, great! As Laurel mentioned, then you'd get both the author's and the illustrator's advances and royalties. If you are not a professional illustrator, the best advice I have is to work on just the craft of writing, and leave the illustrating to someone else.

Many agents want author/illustrators, you're right, but there are plenty who represent just authors, too. Keep digging!

Are you in a critique group? They can be a huge help to those just starting out (and to those NOT just starting out). Read hundreds of picture books published in the last five years. Study the themes, the way the stories are told, the voices, the word choices. Then send out your submissions. Craft first!

Good luck!
#3 - January 13, 2021, 05:09 PM
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Just chiming in to say if you are not a professional illustrator, I agree with Jody: focus on your writing. Yes, there are agents who prefer or only want author/illustrators but there are plenty of agents who rep just authors., too I'm a PB writer and I found an agent. Most of my published PB friends are authors only and they have agents. It can be done.  It's tough, but it can be done.

Best of luck!
#4 - January 14, 2021, 08:43 AM
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I'm an aspiring children's book author (as a writer and illustrator) and when I see people saying 'are you a professional illustrator?' on this forum, my heart sinks a little. I'm not a professional illustrator... but I do think my illustration work is to a professional standard (and have worked very hard at it), and would hate to not be considered by publishers because I've not illustrated professionally before. For me, anyway, the reason I want to explore writing children's book is because I want to marry writing (for which I do have lots of professional experience - albeit in the slightly different medium of television) with illustrating (which is something I've always been keenly interested in, but have never done professionally). For me, *this* is my attempt to do some illustration professionally, but I get a little put off by the attitude of 'stick to the writing and leave the drawing to the professionals'. Either way, good luck to you from a fellow aspiring writer / illustrator...
#5 - January 15, 2021, 01:08 PM

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It's funny but I know lots more illustrators who eventually got to write their own books than the other way around. I wonder why that is.
Still, it's wonderful to chase dreams.
#6 - January 15, 2021, 01:26 PM
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I'm an aspiring children's book author (as a writer and illustrator) and when I see people saying 'are you a professional illustrator?' on this forum, my heart sinks a little. I'm not a professional illustrator... but I do think my illustration work is to a professional standard (and have worked very hard at it), and would hate to not be considered by publishers because I've not illustrated professionally before.

Everyone has to start somewhere! To me, the real issue is whether you're (1) producing professional quality illustrations and (2) presenting yourself professionally with a professional portfolio, etc. 

(I'm not an illustrator, professional or otherwise, so take this with a grain of salt.)

#7 - January 15, 2021, 02:28 PM
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I think professional in this case is a short-hand for professional quality. Someone just starting out would also be hard pressed to state they are a professional, but that person could have a degree in the field. And frankly even some self taught artists produce beautiful work that is well suited to the medium. I think the writing being theirs helps that too. Not every style of art goes with every style of text after all. Go for it if you believe your work fits together and the art is at that level.
#8 - January 15, 2021, 06:05 PM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
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I'm an aspiring children's book author (as a writer and illustrator) and when I see people saying 'are you a professional illustrator?' on this forum, my heart sinks a little. I'm not a professional illustrator... but I do think my illustration work is to a professional standard (and have worked very hard at it), and would hate to not be considered by publishers because I've not illustrated professionally before. For me, anyway, the reason I want to explore writing children's book is because I want to marry writing (for which I do have lots of professional experience - albeit in the slightly different medium of television) with illustrating (which is something I've always been keenly interested in, but have never done professionally). For me, *this* is my attempt to do some illustration professionally, but I get a little put off by the attitude of 'stick to the writing and leave the drawing to the professionals'. Either way, good luck to you from a fellow aspiring writer / illustrator...

I agree with everyone else that it's about "professional quality", not "are you currently making a living off your art?"

If you want to check out how well your art would fit publisher expectations and push your art skills further, I recommend taking a look at Society of Visual Storytelling: https://www.svslearn.com They offer a free 30 day trial that will give you a really good idea of what they offer. They focus on developing art skills as well as offering business and marketing guidance. I highly recommend their classes for any artists who are interested in creating picture books and graphic novels, especially if you are questioning whether you are ready to dive in to querying yet or not.
#9 - January 16, 2021, 08:44 AM

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HD, that's great... just been on the website and it looks like a really good course, and I'm sure it would teach me a ton! Have you done it? One thing that's not clear on there is whether you can do it on your computer? My preferred programs are Photoshop and Illustrator with a drawing stylus... but is this course a pencil and pad kind of thing?
#10 - January 16, 2021, 03:02 PM

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I'm an aspiring children's book author (as a writer and illustrator) and when I see people saying 'are you a professional illustrator?' on this forum, my heart sinks a little. I'm not a professional illustrator... but I do think my illustration work is to a professional standard (and have worked very hard at it), and would hate to not be considered by publishers because I've not illustrated professionally before. For me, anyway, the reason I want to explore writing children's book is because I want to marry writing (for which I do have lots of professional experience - albeit in the slightly different medium of television) with illustrating (which is something I've always been keenly interested in, but have never done professionally). For me, *this* is my attempt to do some illustration professionally, but I get a little put off by the attitude of 'stick to the writing and leave the drawing to the professionals'. Either way, good luck to you from a fellow aspiring writer / illustrator...

Please do not let this discourage you! I think that most new picture book writers come to the table thinking they have to sell illustrations along with the text, so either they stress out over trying to hire someone to draw for them, or they try to do stick figures and don't know what they're doing. So it is actually a great relief to them to find out they don't have to worry about that at all. However, if you are an artist and you want to do your own book completely, it can feel very discouraging to hear this. Just realize that this advice is aimed at non-illustrators. You CAN do both. You don't have to have a degree in it or be working in the field already--the defining feature is your art. Is it ready? Can you do sequential art with the same character? Is it child-friendly? (From a child's perspective I mean, not just "about" children.) So please do not be discouraged! Someone is going to write and draw their own picture books. Why shouldn't it be you?
#11 - January 16, 2021, 05:26 PM

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Please do not let this discourage you! I think that most new picture book writers come to the table thinking they have to sell illustrations along with the text, so either they stress out over trying to hire someone to draw for them, or they try to do stick figures and don't know what they're doing. So it is actually a great relief to them to find out they don't have to worry about that at all. However, if you are an artist and you want to do your own book completely, it can feel very discouraging to hear this. Just realize that this advice is aimed at non-illustrators. You CAN do both. You don't have to have a degree in it or be working in the field already--the defining feature is your art. Is it ready? Can you do sequential art with the same character? Is it child-friendly? (From a child's perspective I mean, not just "about" children.) So please do not be discouraged! Someone is going to write and draw their own picture books. Why shouldn't it be you?

Those are very kind words.... thank you very much!
#12 - January 16, 2021, 06:53 PM

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