Wednesday 29 September 2010


This question was posted on the Contact page above, where anyone can request a blog post from me. I thought I'd put the request here, answer the question, and make an extra, unasked-for, comment. For clarity, I am only reproducing this here because the writer put it publicly on the blog; I would never do this to something sent to me as a personal email.

Greg said...
Hi Nicola, I'm a new writer in the States, although screenplays are my game. Coincidentally, I'm currently adapting the biography of Robert Stanford-Tuck (Battle of Britain Ace) for the big screen. Well, that's where I hope it ends up, anyway. Having said that, my kids and I came up with a concept for a children's book based on an word game we invented. We laugh almost constantly while we play, and virtually anyone within earshot laughs too, whether they like it or not. I plan to follow your sage advice and, once this movie business is out of the way, have a go at our game in book form. The book will need illustration in my opinion. What's the protocol for submitting a manuscript to a publisher in such circumstances? Need one include illustration? Or simply the promise of illustration? Thanks for a great site.
So, here's my answer to the important question about illustration.
Do NOT include illustration. The only time you should include illustration is if you are actually an illustrator and you are approaching a publisher as such. Not if you are the writer. The publisher will find the illustrator. If you wish to add some illustrations just to give an idea, then there's nothing to stop you, but you must make it absolutely clear that you are not expecting or wishing the publisher to accept them. So, don't promise illustration either.

If you have an illustrator friend whose drawings you'd love to use, forget it. If you admire some illustrations and wish to use that artist, forget it. Leave the illustrating side to the publisher. (If, on the other hand, you plan to self-publish an illustrated book, for crying out loud get a professional illustrator. Please! But that's not what Greg is doing.)

And my extra comment? Unasked for. It's cautionary advice.  Greg said, "We laugh almost constantly while we play, and virtually anyone within earshot laughs too, whether they like it or not." Already, I am cringing. I just hope that Greg is not going to use this line, or anything similar, in his query.

Kids laugh when someone breaks wind. It doesn't make it worth putting in a book.

Seriously. I don't mean to sound snarky. I just want to make this point: never tell an agent or publisher about anyone else's reaction to your book, idea, words, anything. It's one of the biggest turn-offs, means nothing and marks you out as a newbie. There's nothing wrong with being a newbie - we all were once - but you must not sound like one.

So, Greg, I'm really glad you came here because I hope to set you on the right route. You'll find stacks more advice about submitting your work, but I want you first to think about the idea for your book. Does it really work as a book? Sounds to me as though it should perhaps stay as a game? Or am I just being very unimaginative? Screenplays, games, books, illustrations - four very, very different things. I know you know that, but just make sure you know exactly in what ways they are different.

Good luck!!


Cornelia Grey said...

What if a book project has been developed by a writer and an illustrator working together?
Is there no chance of finding a publisher interested in that?

Dan Holloway said...

Cornelia, from what I know of the manga industry (more than you might imagine - I had many brushes with insiders whilst working on my last book), manga publishers often look for writers and mangaka who work together. I don't know if this is the field you're working in, and I have no experience of the western graphic novel tradition other than Warren Ellis being a friend of a friend and even less of regular illustration, but what I've heard is exactly what Nicola says.

Nicola Morgan said...

Cornelia - it's as Dan says. (I have no knowledge of the manga industry, though.) I can't say that a project developed by an illustrator and writer working togeterh would have NO chance of finding a publisher. I'm just saying that this is not the recommended way to do it. Thing is, a publisher needs to fall 100% in love with the text AND the writing, and the chances of both these being true are less than the chances of him falling in love with one or the other. So, it's a statistical thing and a risk assessment.

If you can be as sure as possible that you have acheived double perfection, go for it. But the quality and suitability of both illustration and writing would need to be right.

If you are looking for GOOD publication, that's the situation. On the other hand, there are some bad publishers out there who will take on projects where the standard is lower. I obviously don't recommend that, because you won't acheive good sales or critical acclaim.

BUT I haven't seen your project and you MIGHt both be geniuses and it might be stunning!

Cornelia Grey said...

Well, I don't have a project, actually :).

I was asking because I always believed that that's how children's illustrated books were born - I often see the same author and artist paired together, so I was assuming they'd pair up, prepare the work and then submit it. I am very surprised to learn this isn't how it works!

Plus, I was thinking - sometimes, children's books only consist of a couple of lines of text per page. Overall, just a few hundred words. I would think it would look fairly lame submitted 'on its own', without the accompanying illustration...

Thank you so much for the very interesting post. I was picturing things in a completely wrong way :).

Nicola Morgan said...

Cornelia - oh phew: I was a bit worried I had just destroyed your hopes in a pet project!

The regular pairing of an author with an illustrator - such as Julia Donaldson with Axel Scheffler - comes about because the publisher finds the best/right illustrator for that story, and then when it works they get the same illustrator again, and again. It helps create a brand because the books will have the same feel to them.

And you're right about picture books having very little text and that it might seem that the text on its own would look "lame" - but that's one of the reasons that pic book writing is so much harder than people think: the words absoultely have to sing. Believe me: when you see brillant words without the picture, you KNOW when you've got something good.

Thanks for your interest - glad it's opened your eyes!

Linda said...

Thanks for your post and to all who commented. I read regularly - and have seen many things to consider. I have a small story floating about but had never considered publishing because I am not an illustrator. Perhaps now I will research how to submit it - MAYBE ...

Melinda Szymanik said...

As someone who has successfully submitted picture book manuscripts without even a hint of an illustration or suggestions for how they should look, thats exactly how it works. I just send in the words (even a 101 word story). A good editor/publisher will see the visual potential in a good story.

lovelyjune said...

I just read your Blog about how to publish a book without illustration including.
My husband is a writer, we have 2 illustrator. 3 projects done with the illustration.
We can't find any publisher yet, and maybe its difficult for me to find an agent too.

Like you said that don't do illustration, just give to the publisher and let the publisher take care about it.

We almost have 4 projects done.
I really need some advice how to open the opportunity to publish a Children book.


Nicola Morgan said...

LovelyJune - it really is a matter of writing a good enough book and following the advice and rules already given. If you have a good enough book with a good enough market, and you research publishers to find a good match, that's all you need to do. However, I suspect you have not followed the advice given in so many places - for example, the point about illustration is, as i said, that publishers want to fit their own illustrator/design to the text, so it's much better to send the text without pictures. Also, you say your husband is the writer but you yourself want an agent (I think) - that's a bit confusing. I am not sure exactly what you need to know but it's all here in the blog!! Good luck. TBH it sounds as though you will need to self-publish as publishers are unlikely to fit with your predetermined ideas.