OK, I’m not sure how to get published yet. I’m working on it.
I’ve been a graphic designer and illustrator for the past 20 years and I’ve come to realize that what I really want to do is write and illustrate children’s books. How hard can it be? Of course there are some great books out there, which is what I strive to create, but we all have seen some pretty lousy books too– poorly written and badly illustrated. I think of myself as creative. I have some skills. I’m sure, at the very least, I could do better than the worst of them. So one would think that in order to get published I simply need to write and illustrate a book, send it to a publisher, and there you go. However, I’m finding that it isn’t so simple. As it turns out, children’s books are a huge industry with a huge infrastructure — agents, editors, publishers. You need to get noticed by each of these and have them believe in you and your project in order to get anywhere. This is going to be a journal of my journey into this world. Maybe as I go along I’ll have some helpful insight for somebody else who wants to get started.
How I started:
Liz, a friend of mine, wrote a short story and asked me to illustrate it. I had thought about illustrating books for a long time and thought this would be a great way to get going. I took on the challenge and after about a year of work, finished it, kind of. Here’s a picture from that book. The illustrations were all done on the computer using Illustrator and Photoshop. For the most part, I was pretty pleased with them.
Once I finished the pictures and had designed the book, Liz and I decided to look for a publisher. We found one that we liked and started trying to figure out how best to present our work. Unfortunately, we came to learn that, unless you’re an author/illustrator (you wrote and illustrated the book), publishers don’t want the illustrations with the text, they just want the text. If they like the text, they’ll choose the illustrator. As a writer, if you insist on the illustrations, your chance of getting published are reduced dramatically. In addition, many publishers will only accept manuscripts from agents. Needless to say, this book hasn’t been published. However, even if it never gets published, it wasn’t a waste of time. Illustrating this story was a great exercise in learning the process of book illustration. In addition I learned that it’s something I can do and love doing.
At the same time I was working on Liz’s story, I also wrote my own and started illustrating it. The pictures were also drawn on the computer. I loved the way it was coming out and imagined it as the next best thing to Where the Wild Things Are. Here’s a picture from the beginning of the book. It took about a year and half (illustrating on the side takes a long time!), but I did eventually finish it – 32 pictures in all.
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Then I found out about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This is a fantastic organization that almost every children’s book writer and illustrator you can think of belongs to. They’re international and have hundreds of regional chapters. I’m lucky that the Western Washington chapter, located in Seattle, is very large and active. I just have to get more involved.
This past February I went to the SCBWI Winter Conference in NY and that was a big eye-opener. About a thousand people attended. Not surprisingly, many of them are unbelievably talented. Before going, I thought my work was really good and unique. After seeing the quality of many of the portfolios displayed, I realized a couple of things — first, that the quality and creativity of my work were right in the mix — second, that I could be better . Being there helped me better understand the industry and helped me get a grasp on reality — that I can do it, but it’s going to be a lot of work. I met a lot of people, had some good feedback and compliments on my portfolio, got some leads on who I should send my work to, and heard this line of advice over and over again – don’t give up.
Many of those who have thriving careers as children’s book authors and illustrators had uphill battles. They sent their work in to many agents and editors over and over again, and got rejection letters over and over again. But always, finally, somebody liked what they saw and a career was born. You just never know what’s going to appeal to whom. It seems the key is to keep improving, send in only your best work, and don’t stop.
If you’re at all serious about getting involved with writing or illustrating children’s books, then I highly recommend joining SCBWI.
What I’m Doing Now
At the SCBWI conference I received a list of agents and editors to whom I can send my work. And that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s a slow and involved process. I’ve sent my book to about 30 agents and have only received rejections. But that, I guess, is to be expected. I’ll keep sending it and maybe something will happen. More importantly though, I’ve been improving my skills. At the conference I met EB Lewis, an illustrator who has more than 60 books under his belt — you should check out his work www.eblewis.com. He’s amazing. For the past few months he’s been helping me find my style and improve my work. I’ve been learning what really good illustration is about and my work has grown dramatically. In my next post I’ll show you how he’s been helping. I think things are moving in a positive direction.
Until next time.