Should Authors and Illustrators Be Allowed to Collaborate?
This past Saturday I held a Children’s Literary Salon here in Evanston on the topic of writing children’s books, common mistakes made by newcomers, where to go for advice, etc. (you can view the talk in its entirety here). At one point I asked my panel to say one piece of advice they might offer to people who want to write children’s books. And in time, one person mentioned (as I had hoped that they would) that it is always a mistake to send in a manuscript with an illustrator already in place.
Now this a commonly held belief in the world of children’s book publishing, and it’s true. Editors would much rather pair your manuscript with an illustrator than have you walk in with one. The sole time I recall seeing an exception, when it came to a debut author and a debut illustrator, was when David Letterman’s nanny wrote a picture book and a buddy of hers illustrated it (Harry and Horsie, in case you’re curious).
It goes above and beyond merely submitting your book, though. Once a manuscript has been accepted the author is not to have direct contact with the artist as they illustrate the book. There are a lot of good reasons for this, of course. The last thing an editor needs is an insecure author badgering an illustrator who already knows their stuff.
The flip side of this is that the author has no idea what they may get in terms of their art. Naturally the recent conversations surrounding A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George Washington come to mind. In both cases the authors and artists were kept separate. This may explain too why in both cases the authors made public statements alone and without their illustrators. They didn’t feel that they were in this together, because they never had been together. They were purposefully kept apart from the beginning.
Exceptions always exist, of course. I heard a rumor that Last Stop on Market Street was partially inspired by Christian Robinson telling Matt de la Pena this story from his youth. Regardless of whether or not it’s true, I do believe the two had a fair amount of contact during the creation of the book. Other author/illustrator pairs have worked in much the same way. Mac Barnett, for example, appears to be buddies with every single one of his illustrators, to say nothing of his co-writers.
But by and large, if you write a book, you do not really have contact with your artist. Them’s the rules. It leads one to wonder if we would have a stronger body of picture book literature if more collaboration occurred. How many Caldecott winners consist of author/illustrator pairs where the two were collaborating? I suppose it helps if the author is married to the illustrator (I’m looking at you, Steads). What are the benefits and do they outweigh the potential problems?
Food for thought.
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
SLJ Blog Network