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Picture Perfect: Finding the Right Illustrator for Your Independent Children’s Book

I have spent a lot of time looking at picture books. I’ve always loved them. I bought them for every occasion for my nieces and nephews when they were small, and I have boxes of them that I bought for my daughter which I began collecting before I met her father. I pick them up in doctor’s waiting rooms and any time I see one. I’ve spent hours pulling them from the shelves in libraries and bookstores. I have always had a critical eye when it comes to illustration, and I obtained a BFA in illustration in 1987. Now that I am an independent publisher, I go out of my way to look at books produced by people who do the same. If I am to be honest, most of them need at least some tweaking, if not a lot of editing to both story and pictures. I have gone back and reedited my own books more than once: my business manager has forbidden me from doing so anymore.

I either see books that have a great story but weak illustrations; great illustrations and a weak story, or both. Sometimes it’s just small things, like font choice or placement. I saw a great book once that had a unique concept, cool illustrations, but the illustrator didn’t really plan for the placement of the words. What they ended up doing was erasing parts of the illustration, so it looked like the words were sitting in a hole in the image. It looked like an afterthought and to me, and it hurt the design of the book and distracted from the books concept. If you do not have a keen eye for illustration or design, then I highly recommend you find someone you know who does. Find an artist friend or relative. Talk to a local art teacher. Someone you know, knows someone who is a graphic designer. Find them. And if you think you have a keen eye for art and design, find someone in the field anyway and get second or third opinions. Take it slowly, do it right. Don’t go to print until you are 1000% sure you have created the best book possible and always be open to critique.

Now, finding your illustrator. There are great local resources that you may not even be aware of. Most communities have some type of art center where art classes are offered. Most often they also have local exhibitions. I happen to teach at a couple of them in my area, so I go to a lot of these art shows. There is at least one artist at every show I see where I think, “This style would be great for a kid’s book.” Get their information from the art center and approach them. You never know.

Another common local resource is author’s associations. I joined one in my area and began networking. The one I belong to happens to very serious and organized. It’s run by a local independent book seller who lives, eats, drinks and breaths books. Go to meetings and ask those folks how they went about finding an illustrator. There will most likely be illustrators among them.

If you want to draw from a larger pool of illustrators, you can turn to the internet. www.Thumbtack.com is a site that will hook you up with professionals in any field. I know a local children’s author who used thumbtack. She wrote a synopsis, and when people responded she asked them to create a specific sketch. Once she chose her person they negotiated and got busy.

The SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is another great resource. They have a gallery of illustrators as well as networking and training opportunities for writers. www.scbwi.org.

Don’t forget your local college art departments or art schools, if there are any in your area. Student’s are always looking for work to create a professional portfolio and obtain experience, and they are always computer savvy. Contact the art department and ask about job listings. Most colleges have an online page on their website where student’s can look for part time or freelance jobs. My advice if going this route, is to be patient and very clear about what you want and what they will deliver and when. They are inexperienced so be sure to communicate clearly. In any case, use a contract and always ask for sketches to review.

Don’t forget about social media. I follow many other children’s illustrators, authors and independent publishers on Instagram. If you see a style you like, contact them. You have nothing to lose.

Feel free to message me at missmacbooks@gmail.com or comment here with questions or suggestions for a topic you’d like me to cover. In the meantime, keep writing, keep drawing, keep dreaming.

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