Tuesday, November 15, 2011


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.


  1. This is certainly a twist on the great book sunk by a crummy cover story we've heard so much about lately. I'm sorry this happened, Mirka...here's hoping your agent can sell it again.

  2. Wow Mirka, what a story! You had me rooting for you, practically holding my breath, and then so relieved when I saw that amazing cover. How wonderful. But then - cancelled? No!!!!! How sad. I hope you find another venue for this story and I wish you all the best with The Voice of Thunder!

  3. Thanks for sharing your journey. It helps me keep things in perspective when I am grunting over doing my own illustrations and they do not look quite like how I want. It also helps me to be more patient as I deal with others when I am illustrating for them,

    I look forward to the release of both of your books, and many more to come. Gobble Gobble

  4. The story about the story is always fascinating, and yours is no exception, Mirka. I'm so glad you got such a wonderful illustrator in the end. And I'm so sorry the book got canceled. I hope you find another publisher for it. I'm really looking forward to The Voice of Thunder! Congrats again on it!

  5. Oh, how incredibly frustrating! But I love the positive spin you put on it. It's all about the story, isn't it? And good to know there are illustrators out there who can help us express this. Looking forward to your MG release!

  6. OH, Mirka, I remember when you shared on the BB that the PB was canceled. That is heartbreaking, but I hope you will find another home for it. I've had that happen to one PB as well -- fell through the cracks during reorganization of the company. But you have Thunder coming out and I am looking forward to reading it.

    I write a lot for magazines and although I've never been consulted on the illos, I am always delighted. Illustrators make the story jump off the page and into the imagination.


  7. Hi Mirka,

    Oh, I SO understand this. I had two really frightening experiences with illustrators before BOOSTER BOGG was happily published (with a great illustrator). Thanks for sharing this story.


  8. Dear Mirka:

    Another great experience you have shared. I have seen many stories and illustrations mismatch PBs. I'm very glad and proud that you got to "dress your baby."

    Whether it's published or not, it's your book and your dream child. Just enjoy reading it whenever and to whomever it's possible

  9. What a fun--and then heartbreaking--experience. I love that you got to see your characters come to life (I checked out some of the sneak peeks on your website, how fun!) And I'm crossing all my fingers and toes for you to find another house for your project!

  10. Okay, you had me go through so many emotions here. I give you a lot of credit for being okay with the project being cancelled. I hope you see it in print one day. And good luck with your novel!

  11. So glad about your novel to somewhat ease the pain about the PB. Amazing that you had such input into the art. I've also had all sorts of different experiences with cover art for novels, so the general industry wisdom doesn't always apply.

  12. You pulled me through all those emotions too -- I was on tenterhooks waiting for number 3 to be the perfect illustrator for you, and so glad that she was! But what a let-down that this project was cancelled.

    As a child, I hated it when the illustrations in a book weren't as good as the text, or when they clearly didn't support the text, showing different details, or getting the main character all wrong. I'm so glad that you hold out for the right artist.

  13. Interesting post, Mirka. It had a happy ending yet not. Wishing you all the best with The Voice of Thunder but wishing I could read the turkey book too and see the illustrations!