You’ve spent months, maybe years, developing your book. The actual writing is nice and polished, but there’s still some tremendous work to be done. Work that goes beyond the realm of writing. Here’s the thing, you could learn how to do all these nuanced parts of the publishing process and it wouldn’t be a bad idea if you did. The trick is that now might not be the best time for you to learn all that. I’ve been trying to improve in my sketching, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m ready to illustrate my next book. If that were the case you’d best be prepared to look at a lot of stick figures…
Whether you just need a cover or your looking to have your book full of images that pop off the page, you are going to be in need of some artwork. That brings us to our star professional to trust in your book: illustrators! If you know an illustrator give them a hug next time you see them. They work harder than you could possibly know. They’re geniuses. I love them. Please don’t ever leave me, illustrators!
So how did it look for me working with an illustrator?
I chose to search for freelancers to get my book illustrated. My father and business manager took the helm for the search, making the start of this process particularly easy for me. I just had to sit back and take what I thought was a well-deserved break. Employing several different freelancers for cover artwork tests, my dad would send me the possible covers as each one was ready to get my thoughts on it. It was my job to report back on if I liked it, what was working for me, and if I could see myself using this particular style for a final product.
Confession time: I cried when I saw the cover artwork from the artist we ended up going with.
I knew the second I opened that email attachment that this was the one. I wasn’t just looking at an idea of Captain Acorn, I was looking at Captain Acorn right there, popping out of my computer screen just the way I’d always seen her in my mind. I was absolutely sold on this artist’s style and the cover image for my book is actually the same artwork that I saw that first time! Once we pulled the trigger though, I had more responsibility than ever in the process. Illustration hour is no time to start slacking! Here are the things that helped my illustrating process run smoother and come out with fantastic results.
1. Give your illustrator as much information as you possibly can.
It follows that the more information you give your illustrator about your book the closer the illustrations will be to what you envision. Here’s a good rule of thumb, if you’re on the fence if you should or shouldn’t tell your illustrator a bit of info, tell them. They’re insanely talented, but they're not mind readers. They don’t have some magical connection to you that they can pull from and intuitively discern what it is your wanting for the image.
Practically speaking how does this look? I prepared a whole document just for what I was looking for in the illustrations and I tried to be as clear as I possibly could. The document included:
Quoted text from the scene being illustrated
A detailed description of what I wanted to see in the image
The character description sheet was exactly what it sounds like. I went through each character and described the mental image of their appearance along with their personality and mannerisms. Since I was writing a book about anthropomorphized animals, it was also important to make it clear how the animals would appear and function, whether or not they would be wearing full outfits or just accessories, etc.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
This might just be the most important point. You can give your illustrate all the information in the world when you hand your book over but if you just turn radio silence after that you are going to be dead in the water. You absolutely have to communicate or you are going to end up with an end result you’re unhappy with and it’s not going to be your illustrator's fault.
It made me so unbelievably uncomfortable to ask the illustrator for the change, but I put on my big girl author pants on and did it. And of course, the illustrator had absolutely no problem with making the change. That was what that stage was for after all. She made the corrections and the second time around it was absolutely perfect, just like all the other ones. And I’ll tell you what, every time I look at that illustration in my book I feel grateful all over again that there was so much communication on the artwork.
3. Trust them and be grateful
When I did musical theater in high school, my mom would volunteer to costume the shows. She always did her best work when she worked with a director who told her clearly what they wanted and then stepped back and let her do what she did best. There’s not really anyone who enjoys working in an environment with a boss breathing down their neck and watching their every move. So don’t do the same to your illustrator. You hired them because you liked their work. Trust them enough to do it. If something needs to be fixed see step two, but don’t hover around waiting for something to go wrong.
As for being grateful, I know that’s not a groundbreaking statement by any means, but I just can’t go without saying it. Illustrators are amazing and they absolutely deserve your gratitude. Tell them how much you appreciate them. Showing gratitude always, always goes a long way. Think of how much you doubt yourself as a writer sometimes and know that illustrators do the same thing. We’re all in the same boat in the creative arts, make sure you’re supporting each other.
Working with an illustrator or designer is always going to come into play in the production of your book. The better prepared you are to partner with them, the happier you will be with the result. Know your book, communicate clearly and gratefully, and you’re already halfway there. And trust me, you might just cry when you see the finished picture. No shame.
Let’s find some joy,