on getting published...

I often get emails from people wanting some advice on their work or on the publishing industry, so here is some general info on getting published as a picture book illustrator.

What's the best way to get started as a picture book illustrator?

First, you need a portfolio of of 10-12 strong illustrations, of course! For advice on putting together a portfolio, see my previous blog post.

Once you have your folio in hand, or a web folio in cyberland, one way to get started is with educational publishers. There are always textbooks or instructional books that need illustrations. This can be a good way to break into the market and get a few publishing credits under your belt. In Australia, think Pearson Education, Cengage, MacMillan, or just Google 'educational publishers' in your country.

Don't want to do educational work? Try getting in the back door at conferences or local talks. Often you can pay for one-on-one portfolio assessments with art directors at conferences... and who knows, they might be looking for your kind of work! At the least you will get some great advice and good direction. Join your local chapter of SCBWI for some ideas of where to start.

Or, you can get a literary agent who will submit to publishers for you, but this can be as difficult as finding a publisher!

Then there's always the slush pile. That is, submitting your portfolio (either hard copy or electronic) to a publishing house directly. Research the publisher to make sure they publish books in your style, and check the details for submission guidelines. Some accept unsolicited submissions, some don't, and some will open their doors for a limited window.

I have written and illustrated a book, how can I get it published?

If you have your own book that you really want to get published, the best way to submit it is as a dummy – that is, submit rough sketches, with one final quality illustration. DO NOT submit a fully illustrated book. Publishers will be reticent to take it on -- if they want to make changes to text or illustrations, it is much harder to tackle when a finished product lands on their desk!

how do you find books to illustrate?

Now that I have illustrated with a few different publishers, I generally will get a call from an editor commissioning me to illustrate a particular manuscript where they feel my style fits well. So the editor pairs me up with the writer. But surprisingly to most people, I have little or no contact at all with the writer. It actually works well this way, because it means I get to bring my own ideas to the story, without being influenced by pre-conceived ideas the author might have formed during the months (or years) s/he was writing the book.

How long does it take to illustrate a picture book?

A common schedule for a 32 page pb is about 6 months: 2-3 months for storyboards/roughs, 3 months for final illustrations. 

How do you find your style/voice?

The best advice I can give here is practice, practice, practice. Experimentation at first is great to discover what it is you love, what gets your juices flowing. When you find that thing, keep going with it! This is the seed of passion. As you keep doing it, you will refine it, and without you even realising it, your style will emerge. It's easy to look at other people and think "I wish I could paint like her" - but mostly likely they have spent years honing their craft. Everyone is always evolving, just as your style will do. Enjoy the journey!

Feel free to ask me any other questions and I can post an answer here :)

Kim was a fantastic help to me when I first started illustrating children’s books. Her guidance was positive and encouraging. She gave me some very clear directives towards navigating the world of freelance illustration.
— Karen Erasmus
Kim has not only provided me with constructive verbal and visual comments, but she has also provided solutions to all the questions and hesitations I had about my work. Kim has been incredibly supportive, friendly. Thank you so much!
— Natasha Farrar