Publishing 101 : Putting the “Picture” in Picture Books


And we’re back with another entry in my Publishing 101 series! This question is one that picture book authors probably get asked a great deal, because picture books really are all about the pictures!


As the name suggests, pictures are a pretty big deal when it comes to picture books, and a book can succeed or fail based on the quality of its illustrations. When done well, a picture book’s text and art blend together so naturally and so seamlessly that you’d swear they were crafted by a single mind.


“Snappsy the Alligator” by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Tim Miller, is a perfect example of text and images working together seamlessly. 

In reality, most picture book authors have very little input into how their texts are illustrated. I had no contact with my illustrator at all, and didn’t even see the artwork until it was completed!

Keeping writers and illustrators separate allows artists to look at a text with a fresh perspective. When meddling authors are kept out of the way, illustrators can interpret texts in their own way, and bring their unique approaches to the story.

That’s not to say that authors are entirely powerless. Editors and art directors will often work with their authors to finalize and fine-tune artwork to ensure that nothing important is missed. Picture book texts are often very brief, and they can rely heavily on illustrations to convey meaning and to fill in any gaps in the text. In this case, authors might include notes for their illustrator in the manuscript, describing scenes that are important to the story.

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In my own example, my picture book Wild One is about an active, imaginative child, but the text doesn’t specify the child’s age, gender or appearance. I secretly hoped that my wild one would be a little girl – girls are so often portrayed in fiction as sweet, girly and princessy, but as anyone who has ever worked with young children will tell you, little girls can be just as wild, bouncy and active as any little boy! I was thrilled to see a confident little girl bounding across the cover of my first book – she was just perfect!

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My wild one going for a swim!

My illustrator also captured quiet moments absolutely perfectly – there’s one scene (I can’t wait to share it with you!) in which my wild one reluctantly crawls home from the park like a snail, and her mother watches her with such a lovingly bemused smile, a real mixture of resignation and affection that all parents will be able to to relate to!

The illustrations in Wild One also made me feel so very Canadian by stealthily including the ultimate Canadian references – if you’re not from Ontario you might not recognize it (it’s not a thing here in B.C., but maybe people in other provinces buy their milk this way?), but it’s so incredibly and utterly Canadian. It’s a tiny little detail that isn’t referenced in the text in any way, but it’s a fun little homage to my illustrator’s home province, which happens to also be my birthplace.

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A little bear from Wild One!

Of course, not all authors are as thrilled as I was with how their stories are illustrated. I remember hearing about an author who had based her protagonist on her young son, and was horrified when the characters in her story were turned into anthropomorphized animals!

I will admit that I was very anxious about how my text would be illustrated. I have read more picture books than I could ever count, and there have been art styles that I loved, and art styles that I most certainly did not. Not having any input into the illustrations was nerve-wracking to say the least, but again, that’s just the nature of the game! If I had had serious concerns about the artwork I’m sure my publisher would have taken them into account, but as it was, I had faith in my team, and I can’t wait to share Wild One with you in November!

And there you have it – once again, I hope this was helpful, or at least interesting! And as always, please leave any publishing questions you might have, and I’ll do my best to answer them from my own experiences!

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  • Reply annettepimentel

    That girl in your illustrations! Delightful.

    September 27, 2017 at 3:40 pm
    • Reply Jane the Raincity Librarian

      Isn’t she just adorable?! I couldn’t be happier. 🙂

      September 27, 2017 at 7:57 pm

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