Most “How-to” books for picture book writers tell us that after our book is contracted, it is the editor’s job to find the illustrator. In most cases, these books say, the writer is not consulted.
Harold Underdown’s Idiot’s Guide is my go-to reference book for every stage I have not yet been through. So when I got The Call after years of submitting, I read ahead.
All right, it’s not my role. Let’s hope for the best. Regardless, I will respond in a professional manner.
The editor sent samples from three artists. I had a strong preference. My preference turned out not to be available for some time. The editor sent links to six other illustrators. Again, I had a preference. Yet again, this artist was not available.
But I kept reminding myself that I am being consulted, and this is more than I had the right to expect. I thanked my editor at every stage of consultation.
One of the main characters in my story is a turkey. I was anxious that the artist be up to the task- a lovable turkey any kid would want to hang out with is not a simple matter. I shared my concern with the editor, who then informed me that an artist was working on a sample of the main characters right then. Niles, the boy, and the turkey, will soon enter the formal realm.
Only days later, the Email arrived. What do you think? It said. I could feel my temples throbbing as I opened the attachment. I stared, and Niles and his turkey stared back at me.
The turkey was likable enough, but Niles the kid looked like Niles the brat. The colors could have been done better, and the feeling of the illustration had the effect of deflating my balloon.
Breath, I thought. Let the editor know, using the most positive language you can muster, why this isn’t right. Remember this is not your decision.
The editor responded almost immediately, agreeing that we needed to look further. I felt that I have dodged a bullet, and again thanked him for caring about my opinion.
“We want you to like the illustrations,” he said. I thanked the powers that be for the umpteenth time for giving me this opportunity, and putting such a caring editor in charge.
So when the second illustrator’s sample of Niles and his turkey showed up, I was not quivering anymore. But I did take a deep breath before opening the Email. Reactions? The editor asked.
This one was a monumental letdown, making the first artist’s rendering shine. This Niles looked positively stupid, (I know, we’re not supposed to use this word) and his turkey was the stuff nightmares are made of. I longed for the first artist. At least there the turkey was all right. How can I use the sandwich method and reply to this? The ship was going down.
Once again I thanked my editor for consulting me, and I told him the first sample was better than the second. I tried to keep Underdown’s advice and sound professional, not emotional.
I shared my feelings, but not the illustrations, with my kids. “Mom,” my son said. “You’d better accept the third one no matter what, or the publisher will not like you anymore.” Don’t think that hadn’t occurred to me. I could just hear the publisher in my mind: “Go away, you ungrateful, picky, who-do-you-think-you-are.”
And then the third sample came. When I opened it, like in a movie, a symphony of harmonious sound burst from the page. Like in a good story, the third one was the climax. And the charm. And the answer to my prayers. I was in love.
I could not have done a better job of the illustration. It was, simply put, right.
Like a classic story there was one more obstacle to overcome.
“I hope we get this artist,” I wrote to the editor.
Less than a day later the Email came. Ms. Sonya Hallett agreed to take the project.
Of all the happy milestones of a first-time publication, it was not The Call, or getting the contract, or the first part of the advance. It was the match with the right illustrator that has made me the happiest.
When I shared my surprise at this with a multi-published picture book colleague, she had the perfect explanation. “It was the first time you no longer dreamed of, but could actually see your book.”
Sadly, the project was canceled on the eve of publication. The small publisher, feeling the squeeze of financial contraction, aborted all new titles. But I am not bitter. I feel fortunate to have had the amazing experience of seeing my scenes come alive with art. I am more wedded than ever to creating picture book stories.
And happily, my novel for middle grades, VOICE OF THUNDER, is slated for release in mid-2012.