Monday, February 1, 2010

Two Children's Publishing Myths

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine (let's call her Annie) contacted me. Annie has this other friend (let's call her Marge) who's written a children's book and is looking for an illustrator. I told Annie what I tell everyone who asks, "You don't need an illustrator to submit your manuscript to a publishing house." Then I added that if Marge is self-publishing she might need an illustrator, but I ask an hourly rate.

Myth #1 - You need an illustrator.
Myth #2 - Artists work for the joy of art.

Let's tackle the first one. This one comes up a lot.

Let's face it, a lot of people have ideas for children's book. A lot. And that's great. Some of them actually sit down and write out their story. (This is the group I'll be addressing this myth to, but let's come back to that.) Further still, some people read books on the craft and business of writing and publishing children's books. Then there are those who are serious, get a critique group, and put their stuff out there. From that group you get the ones who will be published.

After writing the story and before doing any research on the business, authors think they need to have illustrations to submit their story to a publishing house. MYTH! In fact, it's a horrible idea. Publishing houses have a ton of illustrators they like and have worked with. They want to play match-maker to your fabulous story and put it with an illustrator who's style matches the story's tone. Sometimes they put a well-known illustrator with a newbie writer to boost the book's fan base. But they will do it. And if you do attach an illustrator, it could cost you a contract because A.) It shows the house you did not do your homework, and B.) what if they like your story but not the illustrations? It makes them feel awkward and they might as well go with one of the other stories they have on the table.

But this is good news for writers, because it's one less thing you have to deal with!

The exception to the rule is if you're an author/illustrator. (Like me.) Then you can go ahead and do the whole shi-bang. It's awesome if you're a control freak. (Like me.)

Myth #2 - Artists work for the joy of art.

A day after my email with Annie, Marge sent me an email saying she was, indeed, self-publishing and she wondered if I would do the art in exchange for a percentage of the book sales. Short answer: no. Long answer: no freakin' way.

Let's think of it like this, shall we?
I'm a leg doctor. I have a patient who comes in and says, "Doc, if I could only run I know I'd win the Olympics and get a fabulous endorsement deal with Wheaties. So what do you say you fix my leg in exchange for a percentage of my endorsement deal." The doc isn't going to go for it. It's bad business and, quite frankly, insulting to the doctor who has professional skills and professional bills.

Marge wasn't trying to be insulting or even disrespectful. She just didn't think things through.

It takes a long time to illustrate a book. I kept track while making Wink and it took me about 100 hours to do the color illustrations. (That's not counting the dummy book or sketches or layout. Just the finished illos.) How much does an hour massage cost these days? $65 - 85? (That's kinda how I figure a fair hourly rate.) Let's rate me low and say I'd be willing to work for $60/hr for Marge. After 100 hours, that's $6000.00. How many books would Marge have to sell (and I'd only get a percentage) for me to make back $6000.00? A freakin' lot. It's not a good deal.

And how long would it take for Marge to sell those books after they are produced? A year? Two years? Three years?

So this is what she was really asking: Will you spend three-four months of your time now on a project that you may or may not be fully compensated for in maybe three years time?


Although, to be fair, I did say 'yes' once. When I was in high school I illustrated a book of poems that my English teacher, Dr. McBrayer, wrote. She was my favorite teacher. She was more like a mentor to me and I adored her. But even then, it was a lot of work. I didn't get a dime from that, but I didn't care. I did it for the experience and because she was close to me. Plus, I lived at home. I had no bills. I had no child. I had no mortgage.

Let's sum up:
Writers, you don't need your own illustrator to submit your manuscript.
And, if you're self-publishing, an artist who has no bills and a strong affection for you might illustrate your book for free. Otherwise, be prepared to pay them.

BTW- The book of poems was called, Mom, I Don't Want To Get My Hair Washed (and other poems) by Brenda J. McBrayer, Illustrated by Julie C. Phillipps.


cynjay said...

Long answer! LOL.

And what if the house likes the art but not the words? Then you're really screwed.

Chicklebee said...

I feel ya. Instrumentalists are almost ALWAYS paid fairly (unions help!). Singers.... not so much.... and alot of the time expected to do much of the work gratis! Why didn't I study the viola...

Did I tell you I saw Wink! At our town library the other day. Thing 2 saw it and got VERY excited! YAHOO!

LOVED Shiver! Have her Fairy book on hold.... chomping at the bit to get the call that it's arrived! Life doesn't get much better than knitting and reading!

Julie_c said...

I don't know how you can knit and read at the same time. Who holds the book open?

Chicklebee said...

It's even harder to knit and drive ;-)

Kristin said...

So happy I found your blog!!

Julie_c said...

I'm happy you found it too, Kristin!