Inside Picture Books - A glimpse into the picture book industry
This fascinating picture book discussion on 30 June 2012 allowed a glimpse into the picture book industry. It was a part of the NSW Writer’s Centre 7th Annual Children’s and Young Adult Literature Festival and the 2012 SCBWI Sydney Conference. The panel included [from left to right] Sue Whiting (author and publisher at Walker Books), Nina Rycroft (illustrator), Jill Cochran (agent), Frané Lessac (author) [behind Jill], Claire Saxby (author) and Corinne Fenton (author). Frané also chaired the discussion.
Describe your first publishing experience?
Frané noted that she submitted work to thirty publishers before being first published.
Claire attended writing courses and wrote short stories. She then had her first book accepted by a publisher in 2002. Due to a death in the publishing house, it took six years for the book to be released. She noted that you really need to be persistent.
Corinne had fifteen educational books published but she had always wanted to write a picture book. She sent an unsolicited picture book manuscript to Black Dog Books and to two other publishers. Then in 2003 she finally received a positive response. Sometimes it is down to hard work and sometimes it is luck.
Sue’s first love was picture books. She sent her works to numerous publishers. With no responses she went off to ‘serve an apprenticeship’- she learned the craft of writing. Her first published picture book was Taming Butterflies. She sent it to all the publishers in Australia and got numerous rejection letters. But nearly all of them had a positive comment. After it was accepted, and just before it’s release, the publisher went broke. Finally it was published through New Frontier.
Nina sent illustration tear sheets to numerous publishers. She noted that illustrating a picture book is a marathon not a sprint. After some time of persistently sending her work out it was finally noticed by a keen publisher. She was first published in 2009.
Is it hard to send your work to an illustrator? Do you give them direction?
Corinne writes short illustration briefs. Once she hands over the brief, then, for a short time, the work is not hers. Letting go and trusting the illustrator is an important thing.
Claire’s text is sparse and she has no idea how the character looks. She looks out at the world through the character’s eyes she does not look at them. She only writes illustration notes when they are essential to the plot.
Sue is a visual person and does see the character and sees them moving through the narrative. When she saw the illustrations for her first picture book she was shocked, as the character and the look of the book was not how she envisioned it. When she worked with Nina as her illustrator they spoke with each other through the editor, which she thought was a good approach. She gave no instructions to Nina and is so glad she did not, as Nina came up with a much better product than Sue could have imagined.
The Illustration’s perspective:
Nina believes that her best work appears when she is given minimal text, as she can then experiment and play. The most exciting thing for her is to build on the text and let the book grow. The reader must be able to explore the page. She tells her own story within the illustration. There are many levels to the artwork of picture books.
Sue started out with smaller publishers, this is often a good way to get started. Always be professional with publishers and if you are submitting multiple submissions (submitting the work the multiple publishers at the same time) then let them know.
Jill Cochran, an American author’s agent was in the audience. She stated that she always sends manuscripts to multiple publishers at the same time. This is what is expected in the US. If you send to one publisher at a time, then you are placing a hold on your career for the six months that they are considering, or simply waiting to find the time to read your submission.