May 7, 2012

April Pitch Pick and Oh Susanna - Can I Acquire Illustrations To Help An Editor Understand My Intent?

Good Monday, everyone!  (Doesn't that sound like something Shakespeare would say?)

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling the need for an extra dose of cuteness this morning, since things have not been going according to plan of late, so how about this?

and this...
...and this

I feel much better now!  You?

I could do this all day, but that would probably not be considered productive :)

Now then, I hope you're all going to take note of how efficient and brief I am today, so that I can get to work finishing my gakawful mss for NaPiBoWriWee.  Ready?  GO!

First, it's time for the April Pitch Pick.

Here's the refresher:

#1 Delores

Working Title:  Dustin The Dragon
Age/Genre:  Early PB (3-6)
The Pitch:  April's room is VERY dusty but what can you expect when a dust breathing dragon lives in your closet?  Too bad April's mom doesn't believe in dragons, that is, not until Dustin catches a cold.

#2 Rebecca C

Working Title:  Broomstick Rodeo
Age/Genre:  Picture Book (4-7)
The Pitch:  The Thistlegulch Sisters have thirteen trophies between them and they’re determined to win another. They practice for the rodeo until they’re chapped under their chaps and have calluses on their warts. But when a buckin’ broomstick charges towards their youngest sister, Myrna, they realize there are more important things in life than winning trophies.

#3 Kirsten

Working Title:  Out Of This World Opposites
Age/Genre: Non-Fiction PB for ages 5+
The Pitch:  Space is a place of opposites. Burning stars and icy comets. Roaring rockets and silent stillness. An ancient universe and newborn planets. Everyday scientists discover something old, new, near, far, wet, dry, dark or light as they learn more about the cosmos. Come along and explore our amazing universe.

#4 Anna

Working Title:  A Bug Who Needs A Hug
Age/Genre: Picture Books (ages 2-7)
The Pitch:  A Bug Who Needs A Hug is about a fuzzy little bug that goes out into the forest looking for someone to hug. The vivid and colorful illustrations in the book emphasize the importance of friendship and leave a positive message for children at the end of the story.

Please vote below for your favorite by Wednesday May 9 at 11:59 PM EDT:

The winner's pitch will go to editor Erin Molta for helpful comments :)

Now then, today's Oh Susanna question comes to us from Tracy and actually has a couple of layers to address.

Here is her question:

My children’s book manuscript (early reader) is one where the characters are kids who also happen to be food. (You may remember this from my Would You Read It pitch in October). There’s Pizza, Juice Box, Cake, Waffle, Cereal, Bratwurst (he’s a bully), Lemon Chiffon (fashionista with an attitude), Cinnamon, and Apple. I’m working with a book coach who is suggesting that I grab pictures of food to include with the MS so that an editor understands that this is not a joke and takes my submission seriously. I looked online and I don’t like any of the illustrations and while I still need to look in magazines, those images will not have arms and legs and look like kids. My question is: I’d like to sent out a tweet or blog post request to illustrators in my online community and ask if anyone wanted to make some rough sketches. I can’t promise or offer any compensation or even promise that those comps would be used in final production. Is it fair to ask illustrators to help?

In answer to the main question, "Is it fair to ask illustrators to help?" I would say, yes, it is fair to ask as long as you are up front with potential illustrators about what the project is and exactly what is involved.  I think you might have a hard time getting anyone to do it, though.  If an illustrator is going to work for you, she/he should be paid for their talent, expertise, and time - it's not professional to ask them to work for free.  If by helping you out their work is going to be seen by an editor, potentially opening some doors for them, that might be enough payment for some, or it might help reduce the payment for others.  But I think if you want someone to provide you with the kind of custom illustrations that are going to help  you sell your work, you should offer to pay them something.  It can be work-for-hire, you can make an agreement as to who owns the rights, but I think you should at least offer some payment.  (Please see Oh Susanna - How Do You Find And Pay For Illustrators? for a further discussion of getting illustrations.)

That said, your question raises some other questions for me:

First, why wouldn't an editor take your work seriously in the first place?  If you've done a good job writing your story, it should be clear that you've personified food as characters.  Your dialogue and story problem should help make it clear that the food characters are children.  Editors have good imaginations.  They read picture book and early reader manuscripts all the time and they are accustomed to visualizing what illustrations would be like.  If your story is strong, the editor shouldn't need visual cues.  If it's not strong enough, visual cues won't save it.

In addition, unless you are a professional illustrator yourself, I think you'll find that most editors react negatively to an author sending art with their manuscript.  To my knowledge, editors want to read your manuscript and envision the type of art they think would suit it, and then choose the illustrator themselves.

I'm not a book coach, but I'm not really sure what you would accomplish by following this suggestion.

I think you would be better off writing the best story you can write, trusting your editor's intelligence and judgment, and letting your submission stand on it's own merit.  If you feel your story is strong but it's still not clear, put a brief explanation in your cover letter.

I would really like to hear from readers, though, as to what they think about this issue.  Do you agree with the book coach, or with me, or do you think something else all together?  Collectively, there is a lot of experience with submission in this readership, so please share your thoughts to help Tracy out with her dilemma!

Have a great day, everyone!


  1. As a reader, I have no problem seeing the food items as children in your story. There are lots of PB writers, who don't illustrate, so I don't understand why you need to submit illlustrations. While I know it's fair to ask an illustrator to provide work for free, I wouldn't do it. How would you feel if an illustrator asked you to write a story for free? Those photos are cute. I'm ready to write No. 7 for NaPiBoWriWee.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Stacy, and congrats on being ready to write #7! I've got my work cut out for me! :)

  3. thefeatherednestMay 7, 2012 at 6:47 AM

    The cuteness was just what I needed this morning.

  4. Glad to be of service! I hope you voted :)

  5. Love the cuties! You could write about them today that way you get to look at them more :)

    That was hard to pick just one pb for Erin and great answer for Oh Susanna. I've never heard of getting a book coach, but I agree about asking for help without payment. It's as much about time as anything. Don't most publishers like to find illustrators separately anyhow?

  6. I had a hard time moving on from the cuuute animals, Susanna, then I hard a real hard tie voting as all those pitches were so good.

    I think your story stands strong without needing to get illustrative ideas at this point. And as one who has sought an illustrator for an eBook, I think you may well find your suggestion hard, as all we creatives are pushed for time (and money)!

  7. I could! Maybe I will! :) I know - this month was quite a tough pick... although they always are! :) And yes, I don think publishers like to find illustrators separately unless you the author are also a professional illustrator.

  8. I'm glad you enjoyed the cuties :) And thanks for voting - I know it was a tough choice!

  9. OK first, AWWWW what cute pictures!
    Ms. Hill makes a great point that I never thought about before. The story shouldn't have to rely on the pictures.
    It was hard, but I voted for my favorite pitch.

  10. I placed my vote, hard as it was. Your answer is perfect, as always, oh Susanna. You are so good at this! A story needs to be strong without the pictures.

  11. Thank you, Iza :) both for commenting and for saying I answered right :)

  12. Great answer! (You answer machine, you!) Susanna keeps on tickin'! *wink*
    I wonder why one needs a 'book coach' in the first place. Just make sure that MS is all sparkly and send it out. If it is all shiny and purty, then you have done your job. If you wonder about its readability, then take it to the local library this summer and try it out on the kidlets there. You'll soon find out. Good luck with it.

    I voted. NC has to vote tomorrow too, so I'm gettin' a lot of practice. Phyll should be on her way soon. We had a problem. Rain! Smooches to you and to Iza. She's right before me.*waving* :-)

  13. Thanks for the comment love, Robyn :) and thanks for voting. I can see why you might want a book coach - we all have things to learn - I just don't understand this particular bit of advice and I'd very much like to! Sorry about the rain - I hope you'll still be able to post on Phyllis!!!!!!!!!!!!! You can keep her as long as you want because you're the last on that list so no one is waiting :)

  14. Penny KlostermannMay 7, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    Awwww! So adorable! That bunny is huggable...I just know it!

    I agree that there were really great pitches this month. Although I would want to read everyone of them, I did have a fave.

    Very nice information for the Oh Susanna question. It's so nice to have this feature on your blog. As beginning and growing authors, there are so many things we need to know. I think your answer addresses professional etiquette. I know I have had questions in my mind throughout this process, that had I asked...would've seemed like a "duh" question to those who have been at this a long time. That is why this is so great for beginners. We get to ask "those" questions. Also, I have learned so much about professional etiquette from reading blogs and information posted on the 12 x 12 FB page. What a wonderful community for getting us on the right track!

  15. Great pitches, was hard to choose. :)
    Regarding the book coach's advice, I think it's just like parenting books...if you read 100, you will get 100 different approaches. But I do agree with you, from everything I have read and heard, editors will visualize their own illustrations and have their own illustrators they like to work with.

  16. Thanks for the comment and for voting, Vivian! :)

  17. Wow! Thanks everyone for all of your thoughts and comments! Susanna, your answers are so helpful and totally make sense. I so hope I didn't ask a "duh" question. :) To answer just a couple of comments out there- my book coach is an agent and published author. Since she can't be everyone's agent, she offers book coaching sessions to new writers. I have had no traditional writing training so she has been very helpful in teaching me how to build a story and creating a strong narrative arc. She also guided me toward the early reader genre as that may be a better area for a new author to enter the marketplace. As there are not many stories out there where the main characters are food, I believe her thought was that images would help people see its seriousness, although Susanna, and many of you, make a great point- if the story is strong enough, no visual aid should be necessary. Additionally, while the final piece wouldn't be picture heavy I am aware that editors and publishers prefer to choose their own illustrators so unless I self-publish it's difficult to offer much in the way of compensation to anyone who would want to help.
    Thank you all for your feedback. So glad I asked Oh Susanna. Oh, and voting was tough, but I did pick a pitch. Good luck to the contenders!

  18. Of course you didn't ask a "duh" question - I told you, there's no such thing :) And we have all learned a lot. Thank you for explaining in more detail how you arrived at this question in the first place. If your book coach is an agent and published author, she should certainly know what she's talking about, so perhaps there is a place for this type of thing in the right circumstances. Oh, and thanks for voting!

  19. "you would be better off writing the best story you can write" I think what you said here is key.
    It was not easy picking one of those pitches, they all had something I was drawn to!
    And those cute animal photos? I could look at those all day. How about I go look some up and then we can email them back and forth? :) Ha ha.

  20. Gosh, those baby animals were cute! They do cheer me up. :)

    And I agree with you. I'm no book coach either, but the suggestion seems counter-intuitive to everything I've read. Amen about writing the best book you can.

  21. That sounds like a VERY productive use of both our time! Shall we lie on the couch and eat bonbons while we're at it? :)

  22. Yes - counter-intuitive is exactly what I feel. And yet Tracy explained in the comments that her book coach was an agent and published author - so maybe there's something i don't know... :)

  23. I agree that you'd be better off just writing the best book you can. Agents/Publishers have their own ideas and it could hurt you in the long run. I understand your wanting to have a glimpse of what it might look like.

    Great pitches this month. Had trouble choosing.

  24. Thanks for chiming in, Pat, I appreciate your thoughts. And thanks for voting! I'm going to be very interested to see who wins!

  25. I voted but let me add a vote for bunnies in every post! I am a big bunny fan.
    I know such a little, but I do know everything I hear and read advises against including any sort of artwork with a ms. In addition, I would be afraid they would detract from all my hard work of writing the best possible story. Just my 2 cents.

  26. Susanna, thanks for the helpful comments for us author-onlies. I'm saying the mantra, "I will let the illustrator tell half the story. I will let the illustrator tell half the story..."

  27. Stina LindenblattMay 7, 2012 at 6:52 PM

    Those pictures are adorable!!!!

    And you nailed that answer, Susanna. That's exactly what I've heard agents and editors say. You NEVER include pictures unless you're an illustrator. And even then, it's no guarantee the publisher will want you to illustrate your own book. They usually have illustrators they prefer to work with.

  28. I"m with Stina, she said what I would have said.

  29. Thank you for making me feel like I gave the right answer Stina :) And those pictures are so cute I can't even decide which one is my favorite! :)

  30. Thank you Clar :) There will be an extra donut in your paycheck this week :)

  31. Bunnies are so cute, aren't they? :) Thanks for the 2 cents! :)

  32. Thanks again everyone for your feedback. I am thinking that taking out the illustrations (no matter how rough) is a good idea. Perhaps it's time to strengthen the query even more so there is no need for anything visual before getting to the manuscript. Susanna- you're a goddess among women. Thank you!!!!

  33. A goddess yet! I'm moving up in the world! Not an hour ago I was lower than dirt according to one of my children :)

  34. Enjoyed the various pitch ideas. The comments have already been filled to the brim with excellent advice and very helpful opinions. No need to rehash so wishing Tracey the best of luck with her submission :-)

  35. You are so right, Susannna! As a struggling illustrator, I don't understand how anyone could even THINK it's fair to ask an illustrator to work for free. (That is WHY I'm struggling!)

    Tracy, your book coach may be a published author, but she is giving you bad advice here. Most editors and publishers won't even LOOK at your MS if you include art that isn't yours. They say that's the true sign of an amateur. So your "promise" to the illustrator of getting their work noticed is really a mute point since the submission will most likely stay in the slush pile (or even worse, the trash!) Plus, a promise doesn't put food on the table, and contrary to popular belief, artists need to eat, too. ;–)

    Check out this video to see if this would fly in other situations

  36. LOVE the video, Lynn! Thanks for sharing!

  37. I am so glad if you find Oh Susanna helpful, Penny. And I really and truly believe there is no such thing as a "duh" question (unless it's one I ask :)). We all have to learn. We all have to start somewhere, and what's obvious to one person isn't necessarily obvious to another. Also, everyone comes from different backgrounds and has different knowledge to start with. So I am always glad to answer ANY question, no matter how small or insignificant-seeming or obvious-seeming. And I'm so happy to have readers chime in with their knowledge and experience because everyone in this wonderful community has something valuable to contribute!

  38. I"m with Stina, she said what I would have said.


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