5 tips to become an author-illustrator power couple

August 6th, 2019

Little Steps’ publishing model gives authors an unusual measure of creative control over their books compared with other publishing houses. Nowhere is this more pronounced that in the illustration phase.  

While traditionally, picture book authors who aren’t already working in partnership with an illustrator have little to no say in the illustrations and cover design of their books, Little Steps involves the author at every stage of production.  

This is great news for many authors but, for those who are new to working with an illustrator, it can also introduce some unique challenges.  

In the creation of a truly great picture book, 50% of the storytelling should be done through the illustrations. A great illustrator with bring nuance and depth to a seemingly simple story and, given the creative freedom to do so, they will often come up with something incredible you never anticipated. 

So, here is Little Steps’ beginner’s guide for working with an illustrator! 

1. Try not to overprescribe content. While the book has been written and characters created by you, there is a necessity for trust in the artist’s representation of your story. Directing every single aspect of the work will constrict the process for the illustrator, and the book won’t end up with the best work they could do for it.  

2. Style guidance: If you have chosen the artist based on a certain style in their portfolio, refer to this so they know what you want. It is important to avoid steering an artist away from a style they are comfortable with ... this will almost always end badly for both the book and the creative relationship!  

3. Giving feedback and notes: Send your notes directly back to your editor with all your thoughts, not the illustrator. This way, they can go through with you and make sure that both your notes don’t clash, that you get the look you are going for with the book, and anything that could be even better is made clear. They can also be the one to pass on the notes to the illustrator, as certain wording like ‘his paws look a bit funny’ or ‘the mum needs to be standing there instead’ can be unclear for the illustrator and may clash with other content. Sorting this out with the editor first will allow you and the illustrator to keep a positive relationship. 

4. Once decisions are made, it’s good to stick with them unless it’s unexpectedly something technically incorrect. Changing content late in the process or going backwards and forth about options will make inefficient use of the illustrator’s time and strain the process. It will also delay the production of your book and leave your publishing team racing to meet printing deadlines! Unload all your thoughts and wishes with the editor and they can sort it out with you earlier in the process. 

5. Lastly, the key to successful illustrations is trust and an openness to change. The illustrator might create an image that is completely different from that in your mind (remember, they can’t mind read!) This is almost always going to feel a bit shocking and strange at first sight. So, if this is the case, stop and sit on the image for a few days before reacting to it. If after a while of open consideration, you still don’t feel the illustration portrays your idea correctly, then it might be time to speak up! 

The illustration process can seem a little daunting at first, but it’s an exciting and collaborative process that your editor and designers can guide you through. Check out our catalogue of talented, professional illustrators to see who you might want to collaborate with on your next book!  

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Tags: author, art, artist, drawing, Illustration, indie author, Kids Lit Art, publishing

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