Tuesday, September 12, 2017

How Do Publishers Find Their Illustrators? Editorial Director Amy Dean of Blue Manatee Press Shares Their Publisher-SCBWI Success Story!

As an illustrator, you have probably felt the worry of trying to find new projects from publishers; wondering when and how you will get your artwork matched with the right book project. If it helps, I can assure you that at times, we publishers have this same worry in reverse. Sure, we often have a bevy of illustrators that we have worked with in the past that we may reach out to for a specific project, but what happens when a project comes along for which we don’t already have a match? 

Pairing an illustrator with an upcoming board or picture book project is of the utmost importance. The text of a project is always key, but finding the right illustrator can really bring the words to life. And while it’s great to find a talented illustrator (and to my mind all of you are crazy talented—anybody want to see my sad stick drawings?), as a publisher, when pairing artists to projects, we are mostly looking for that illustrator that really “gets” the new project, and in doing so, can bring that extra magic to the book.

Happily, we have had such luck with SCBWI by posting call-for-artists on the job thread of the SCBWI Blueboard. Allow me to share with you a little behind the scenes of what this looks like from my perspective as Editorial Director for blue manatee press. First, we start with the text. I’ll select passages from the text and I’ll make them available in our call-for-artist posting. I ask for illustration submissions based on the provided text. The passages I select are typically either passages that are essential to the heart of the story, or have some tricky element to them that I am curious to see how an illustrator might approach. For example, here is a post for what became our picture book, Sleepy Solar System:
Project 2: A children's picture book on the Solar System, that will serve as an introduction to the planets as they get ready for bed. We're looking for something blending accurate portrayals of the planets with gentle whimsy. Below are three lines from the book, anyone interested should do his or her best interpretation of how he or she would illustrate the book based on these three lines. Candidates need only provide a single illustration for the line of their choice:

It’s been a long, busy day in the starry Milky Way. --> Opening Spread (2 pages)
Sleepy, setting Sun whispers, “Bedtime, everyone."
Saturn brushes rainbow rings with a bubbly toothbrush thing. --> a single page later in the book
Next, we wait. Waiting is tough. Soon enough though, the submissions start pouring in, and my Inbox is filled with delightful artwork.

For the next step in the process, I’ll let you hear directly from the selected artist for this project: Doug Cenko:
“What illustrator wouldn't want to draw the planets getting ready for bed? It's such a great idea for a book and I knew right away that I wanted to work on it. Once I submitted my artwork, it seemed like an extremely long wait before I heard back from them. [They] let me know that they narrowed the submissions down to me and one other illustrator. Fortunately, [they] gave me some feedback on what they liked and didn't like about my submission. I took that feedback and created an entirely new piece which ended up sealing the deal.”
Yes, yes, remember all that delightful artwork I mentioned earlier? Well, it often takes a long time to consider each piece and reach out to the illustrators we’re considering with additional feedback. Again, waiting is tough, and we’re often working on numerous projects at once. We do try to be as quick as possible.

Finally, the moment comes when we have selected an illustrator and everyone is on board with the project. It’s a happy moment. From this point, it becomes a straight forward editing process of sketches, feedback and approval progressing to final artwork.

For us, using the SCBWI job board resulted in an adorable picture book: Sleepy Solar System (yes, I’m a little biased, but look at it!).

Sleepy Solar System was a 2016 Foreword INDIES Finalist, and recently we were honored when it won the 2017 Gold Medal in the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards.

Furthermore, in reaching out to the SCBWI community we were able to connect with Doug Cenko, who has since gone on to illustrate two more projects for us: Dogs! (April 2017),

and its follow up, Cats!,

which will release this month. All three of the books that Doug has illustrated for us were written by Dr. John Hutton—a pairing of words and illustration that has been a fruitful one and we look forward to future collaborations.

If you’re not doing so already, I absolutely encourage you to make use of the SCBWI job board. I will certainly continue to do so. As Doug says, “It’s pretty amazing when you first get to hold your own book.” This is very true. The first step is submitting to a call-for-artists. Perhaps, I’ll next see your illustrations in my Inbox—I hope so!

Amy Dean is the Editorial Director of Blue Manatee Press.

The SCBWI Blueboard Discussion Boards is a benefit of membership, and can be found here.

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