If you’re considering using your own children’s book illustrations in your picture book, you’ll find that it’s tougher to break in by just submitting illustrations — rather than going in with an author illustrator dummy.
Barriers to Using Your Own Children’s Book Illustrations
Breaking Through Layers of Consideration
The basic rub with illustrating your own children’s book illustrations is that a lot of houses have hordes of illustrators that they already work with. So when a manuscript that needs an illustrator comes in (text only), an editor goes through the following thought process:
1) Did we pay enough for this manuscript and is it a big enough idea to give to one of our “famous” stable illustrators? We need to keep them happy with projects. If not…
2) Are there any other house illustrators that would be a good fit? Let me ask my colleagues about their stables, too. We want to keep these guys at our house. If not…
3) Here’s a stack of postcards for illustrators that I’ve been dying to work with but haven’t found a project for. Might this work for one of them? If not…
4) I’ll poke through the submission pile for any new postcards that have come in. Maybe there’s someone in there.
At this point, as a newbie illustrating your own children’s book, you’d be starting at the fourth (outermost) layer of consideration. Sure, you can definitely catch an editor’s attention, but her mind is going to be in a million other places when considering an illustrator. It’s a very tough road. There are a few agencies that deal mostly with illustration, like KidShannon, but even they would prefer to launch you in front of editors with an author illustrator full book project. (Check out this post for more info on the picture book author illustrator and literary agent relationship.)
Competing with MFA-trained Illustrators
You also need to consider that you’d be competing with the hundreds or thousands of MFA-level trained illustrators who are out there looking for projects. These are visual artists who have oftentimes done years and years of study in just illustration.
I’m not trying to crush your soul by listing all these barriers; I just want to underscore the fact that illustration is highly competitive. It isn’t the easy secret backdoor to publishing that some might imagine it to be.
You Need a Strategy
At least for your first project, focus on your strength. If that’s children’s book illustrations, great — put together an illustrator portfolio. If it’s writing, put together some manuscripts (more on how to write a children’s picture book here). If you’re handy at both, put together a dummy. But all routes are quite difficult, and there’s no real shortcut to any aspect of children’s publishing, including children’s book illustrations.
Hire me as your picture book editor and I’ll guide you through the process of creating an author illustrator dummy.