Bringing your manuscript to life as a picture book

Enthralled magazine Bringing your manuscript to life as a picture book

Professional Illustrator, Dayne Sislen, talks to us this month about what goes into illustrating a picture book.

So you have finally finished writing and re-writing your picture book manuscript.

You have had it critiqued and edited and hopefully read it to more than a few children of the appropriate age.

You are ready to make the next step.

Are you going the traditional publishing route or are you going to try self-publishing?

If you are intending to submit your text to a traditional publisher or literary agent (as opposed to publishing the book yourself), you do not need to have your story illustrated when you submit.

If your manuscript is acquired by a traditional publisher, they will choose an illustrator they believe will complement your story and pay them to do the job.

They will receive one half or more of the advance for the book and one half or more of the royalties. You will have little or no control over the process.

You will only need to find an illustrator and book designer if you are self-publishing

The illustrations in a picture book tell one half of the story. A majority of picture books written in the last few years are between 800-350 words. So a picture book author doesn't have a lot of words to use to tell their story. But lucky for them, they don't have to put a detailed description in the text because the illustrator will show the characters and actions on the page.

Children's book illustration may look easy and fast because it seems to be just a few simple lines and color, but the illustrator usually spends months getting everything just right by:

  • Reading your story over and over again until they can clearly see the characters and the actions taking place in their minds before they even start the drawings.
  • Coming up with ideas for a unique interpretation of the story
  • Finding reference material online
  • Pagination of the text, with special attention to suspense and surprise.
  • Thumbnail sketches of each double-page spread
  • Character design and development
  • Preparing full pencils for each spread or illustration for your approval
  • Doing color studies
  • Drawing, redrawing, redrawing, and redrawing, to get things just right
  • Final color artwork
  • If you shop wisely your illustrator may also design the type layout and format your book for printing.

What to expect:

Experience: A good illustrator doesn’t just lay down a few lines and add some color to create a cute stuffed bear or a sad donkey or a believable child character, they breathe life into a story and emotion into the illustrations through their experience and many trials.

Each illustration is an integral part of a bigger whole that tells the total story. Don’t think of your illustrator as an employee hired to do your bidding but a professional collaborator with expertise in the field of creating illustrations that enhance your words in a form that is appealing to kids and positions your book for the industry.

Payment:  Experienced professional illustrators working on self-published books, do not work for royalties. Expect to pay a deposit and payments for certain milestones.

Contract:  Choose an illustrator who offers you a contract with deadlines both for payment and deliverables. You should not work with an illustrator without a simple contract which protects you both and explains what you will get.

Price:  Start the process with a reasonable understanding of how much it is likely to cost and an appropriate budget.

The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines provides the current industry rates for cover and interior book illustration and is used by the majority of professional illustrators to price their work.

How can you find the perfect illustrator for your picture book?

Do your research. Try a Google “image” search for characters similar to yours. You might be lucky and find your illustrator right away. Other sources for professional illustrators are the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' (SCBWI) or Children's Illustrators

A Professional Children's Book Illustrator can help with sales. A book's illustrations can make or break its success. First and foremost don't forget, picture books are judged and purchased by their covers and the text and reviews on the back cover.

Trying to save money on illustration and design may very well doom your great story from the outset. Make sure you entrust your manuscript to someone who is knowledgeable about children's picture book construction.

It's not just a matter of illustrating a few cute pictures. The illustrations must carry one half the story, and create the mystery and excitement to move the story forward with exciting page turns.

Having an illustrator who also designs and prepares your book for print is a plus.

You may contact me through my website, I will be glad to answer your questions about self-publishing, picture book illustration, and design.


Please note, Dayne very kindly have us permission to publish her fabulous illustrations without watermarks. Please respect her artistic integrity, and yours, and never use them without permission.

This article appeared in enthralled magazine Vol.1 Issue 1 January 2018 - Yearly Subscriptions $2 per month

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