I wrote a great children’s book. Maybe you could make the pictures for it!
I often speak at libraries, schools, conferences and signings and inevitably someone comes up to me and utters those words. I love their enthusiasm, their joy in sharing something they’ve created and their eagerness to publish a real book. My first response is to give them a little bit of information on how the publishing process works including commissioning art. There are no magic shortcuts. Most new authors just want to see their work in book format, that’s when it becomes a real thing to them, a true accomplishment.
An Illustrator’s Perspective on Manuscripts
As an illustrator I tend to see a manuscript as well as read it. I mean that I see what the words will look like in pictures. I get a vision of the characters and settings immediately and each new page or chapter should present me with something visually interesting. If I can visualize it then I can show it to others in my illustrations. When I read a story I look for visual clues to the characters, settings and action. Working with experienced writers and editors usually ensures that I’ll get what I’m after because the text has been crafted in such a way so that it presents a balance of text and art. I’m given enough information to develop characters and scenes while using the visual space to show things that words are not needed for.
Most authors who are new to picture books, especially self publishing authors, tend to use too many words for a variety of reasons. You might feel it necessary to describe the type of day it is in your story but you can just as easily show that in the artwork. The value of good editing cannot be overstated and that doesn’t mean changing your story completely, it just means seeing where an illustration can accomplish something for you instead of text. Since you usually have a word limit, being able to distinguish between the written and visual aspects of your story enables you to use words where and when you need them and replace some with pictures.
In traditional publishing you will usually not have a role in creating the art, that’s the illustrators job working with the art director and editor and rest assured they will select the right artist for your story. Your word choice here is crucial because you want the illustrator to understand what you want them to show without telling them outright. If you are self publishing you will sometimes choose your own illustrator and in this case I caution you not to be too direct in telling the artist exactly what to draw. That defeats the purpose of what an illustrator does, which is more than just making decorative pictures.
Odds are that If you know what your words look like, the person reading your story will too. So write away but don’t forget to go back and see your story.