Q: I am writing a picture book manuscript. Should I include art specs for each page?

Q: I am writing a picture book. Should I include art specs for each page? Or should I just explain the general idea in the cover letter and hope the editors will “get” what I’m visualizing for the art?

A: A picture book text is 50% of the story. The other 50% is what the illustrator brings to the table. Specifying art direction for every page of a picture book is strongly discouraged and will flag you as an amateur. You should NOT provide art direction. That’s the illustrators job to come up with something. Something better than even you can imagine. However if there is a “surprise” in your story that can’t be conveyed in the text or some other thing happening in the pictures that would be stupid to put in the actual text, then an illustration note is in order. Illustration notes should only be included if they facilitate comprehension of the story. Otherwise, let the illustrator do his job! Don’t try to tell the editor that the kid’s coat has to be red because that’s what you see in your head. Those sorts of notes are big no-no’s.

If you need an illustration note you put it beside the text where the note is relevant. Likes so.

Your manuscript text. Your manuscript text.

[Boy surprises girl with a live dinosaur as a gift]

7 thoughts on “Q: I am writing a picture book manuscript. Should I include art specs for each page?

  1. I have also written a picture book but I plan on illustrating it as well (I am a graphic designer/artist). How do you submit a manuscript in this situation? How do you explain the manuscript when the pictures will contradict the text to make a point.
    How do I know what size to make the illustrations when I don’t know what size the finished book will be?

    The book is a Christian book..this might sound silly but are there specific agents and publishing houses I should approach for this particular market?

    Thank you for all of your information and your website. You Rock!

    1. Hi Ginger,

      If you are both a writer and a professional illustrator, then what you will want to do is create a picture book dummy. I’m not an illustrator myself, but I can point you to a great article on how to make one.

      http://www.yellapalooza.com/tutorials/dummies.html

      Because you are BOTH writer and illustrator, you don’t have to worry about writing in text that’s covered in the illustrations. You make up a dummy that shows exactly what you visualize for the book. Please read the article for more specifics.

      As for the Christian market, there is one literary agency I know of that specializes in the “Christian” market.  I can’t vouch for them since I have no experience with them. (Visit http://wordserveliterary.com) There are probably more out there, too. But, in general, you don’t necessarily need an agent for this market because it is so niche. I’d consult the CWIM for listings of publishers who accept religious PB manuscripts and go from there. You might also check out your local religious bookstore and see who’s putting out books that seem to be aligned with your project. That’s a very quick way to find publishers who might be a good match.

      Happy writing and illustrating,
      Cynthea

  2. Cynthea

    Thanks for anwering my email and pointing me to yellapalooza. I hope to meet you someday. You’re the best!

    Ginger

  3. Here’s another response from a well-established children’s book illustrator for your reference:

    “Typically illustration specs are a real no no for a writer. The story should stand on its own without the need for them (except in very special cases) and editors pride themselves on finding just the right artist to illustrate the story.

    The illustrator is considered a partner in the process, bringing their own vision to the story. Authors naturally have their own ideas about the illustrations, but in the business it is agreed that art specs would hamper the artist’s own creativity. There can be exceptions, of course, such is if the words say one thing but a picture should show something else. Even then, keep the specs short and avoid descriptive details unless they are necessary to understanding the story.

    Even if the book is nonfiction the illustrations should be suggested by the words. I would think in some cases art specs might be more acceptable here, though. Still, I’ve illustrated two nonfiction books that had no art specs.” – Diane Dawson Hearn

    Thank you, Diane!

  4. Hi Cynthea,

    Thank you for this helpful information! I have a book with music (music is part of the story telling process). How would I go about including this in the manuscript?

    Thank you,
    Yael

    1. If you envision including the musical score or sheet in the book itself, I would include that as an art note. However, it’s hard to tell exactly what you mean. If you elaborate, I might be able to give you a much better answer!

      All best,
      Cynthea

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