Lorena Carrington ~
As an illustrator, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working with extraordinary writers. I’m here today to answer some of the most frequently asked questions I hear from writers new to the collaboration process. I’ll focus on picture books and illustrated fiction with a single author and illustrator, and mostly look at the expectations of trade publishers. Please note that the answers to these questions might be slightly different if you’re hiring a commercial illustrator for a magazine article, multiple illustrators for anthologies, or an artist to design visual content for your website.
I’ve written a picture book. Should I provide my own illustrations when pitching to an agent / publisher?
The Rule: This is a common assumption among new writers, but never fear – you don’t need an art degree to pitch your book. In fact, the answer to this question is almost always an unequivocal no. Focus on making every word count, ensure the correct layout for presenting your picture book manuscript, and do what you do best. Publishers don’t need (or usually want) finished illustrations, or even sketches of what ‘should’ happen in the illustrations. They are very good at deciding whether a manuscript will translate well to a book. It’s their job.
The Exception: If you are very confident in your skills as a professional author / illustrator, and you have a very clear vision of your book as a whole, then you may like to present a complete package. When submitting a picture book manuscript as author / illustrator, include a dummy book with rough sketches, along with perhaps one or two full illustrations to show your style. But be aware that if publishers love your text but not your illustrations, they may simply reject both, especially if you seem committed to presenting the work as a whole.
Will I need to source my own illustrator? Or, if my book is picked up, can I request someone?
The Rule: Most of the time, no. If you’re seeking publication with a trade publisher, finding your story the perfect illustrator is their job. They know the market better than anyone. They know how to choose an illustrator who will best bring your words to life, and one that will help you sell as many copies as possible! And you might be pleasantly surprised: publishers often like to pair new authors with well-known illustrators (and vice versa). Having one recognisable name on a book cover is certain to boost sales, and it’s a good way to bring new names into the industry.
The Exception: My own road to publication followed precisely the opposite of the above advice. Kate Forsyth, a well-established author, and I found publication with our first book, Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women, by working together first, then hunting for a publisher. We had a strong vision of what we wanted to create together, and we were lucky to find a publisher who trusted us with it. You may find that small publishers are often happier to take a risk on a passion project like this.
Can I tell my illustrator what I want them to do? Should I send them sketches? Pages of notes?
The Rule: As an illustrator, let me take a deep breath… Please don’t send us sketches as a ‘guide’. Don’t send pages and pages of instructions on whether your character has pigtails, or the dog has a patch over one eye. Those details may seem important, but unless they play an unspoken role in the story, we don’t need to know the images you’ve imagined. Let us surprise and – even better – delight you. Our job is to weave a connected visual narrative throughout your story. It may turn out differently to what you imagined, but that’s ok. That’s wonderful, in fact. An illustrated book is a partnership between two creative minds – not decorated words.
The Exception: A few short notes on a separate page to the manuscript can be helpful, but only if something unspoken in the text is absolutely vital to the story.
If you have commissioned an illustrator (see below), then you can negotiate a little more in what you would like to see in the final illustrations. Feel free to discuss overall feel, possible themes, etc, and ask to see sketches before the final illustrations are completed. But agree on a limit to changes and redos, and be prepared to pay more if you change your mind or ask for extra work.
I’m self-publishing my book. How do I find an illustrator?
The Rule: This is one situation in which you will need to commission an illustrator yourself. You can find us in many ways: you might discover us on social media, or have a friend or colleague recommend our work. You can go through an agency or find our listing at places like ASA Style File or the SCBWI Illustrator Gallery. We will likely be thrilled to hear from you, but not so thrilled if you offer ‘exposure’ through your publication, or $20 a page due to your ‘limited budget’. Certainly don’t ask us to pay you in order to ‘share’ the cost of production! If you take on the investment of self-publishing your book, truly invest in it. I also recommend doing your research on contracts, mutual expectations, and payment rates through a resource like the Australian Society of Authors. And make sure your contract is watertight before starting any collaboration. No one wants to get burned.
The Exception: There’s not really an exception to this question, but perhaps you will mutually agree to collaborate with an illustrator, or they will approach you to work on a book together. Again, make sure you have a contract. Have lots of conversations about how you both envision the project (this applies to the answer above too), be brave, and talk openly about financial expectations to make sure you’re both (ready for it…?) on the same page.
If I’ve commissioned you, do I hold copyright of your work? Can I use it for promotion?
The Rule: Under the Australian Copyright Act, the illustrator will always hold the copyright to their work, while you, as the publisher, have the rights to use it for an agreed amount of time. During this time, you have the rights to publish the images and use them for promotion, but the illustrator can still make prints, cards, etc of their work to sell for their own profit.
The Exception: Sometimes, if you commission an illustrator, they may agree to transferring copyright to you, but do expect to pay more in compensation.
I hope I’ve helped light some lanterns along the path for those embarking on the glorious adventure of author / illustrator collaboration. It’s the kind of work I live for, and there’s nothing more exciting than seeing something extraordinary grow from the meeting of two creative minds.
– Lorena Carrington
Lorena Carrington is a photographic artist and book illustrator based in regional Victoria. She is published in Australia with Serenity Press, and internationally with Kane Miller (US) and Wydawnictwo Tadam (Poland). Her latest book is French Fairy Tales with Sophie Masson. Previous publications include the Long Lost Fairy Tales collection with Kate Forsyth and Sightings with Jennifer Lehmann.
Lorena exhibits regularly in galleries including the Stephen McLaughlan Gallery in Melbourne, Grace Cossington Smith Gallery in Sydney and The Art Vault in Mildura. She presents at literary and arts festivals around Australia, and visits schools and libraries to give talks and hold workshops on illustration, books, and story. She is the recipient of the 2020 Australian Fairy Tale Society Award, for her “outstanding contribution to the field of Australian Fairy Tales.”