This past weekend I attended the SCBWI conference “Uncovering the Picture Book,” where I met lots of fabulous new people and learned a ton about self editing (thank you Judy, Stephanie, and Laurie!!). Yet the one thing I found very interesting was the amount of questions surrounding the issues of art notes to the illustrator. Should you, as an author, put art notes in your manuscript when sending it to an editor? And if so when is it appropriate to do so? Now, a majority of the SCBWI members attending this conference were picture book authors, in fact I only met one other picture book author/illustrator, so it is understandable that this question was a hot topic. So I am going to clear it up.
NEVER EVER EVER PUT ART NOTES IN YOUR MANUSCRIPT UNLESS IT IS IMPERATIVE TO UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT!
For example, say you are writing a manuscript where the text is supposed to be opposite of what the images are showing, or you intend there to be a character hiding on each page that is not mentioned in the text, and so forth. You get the idea. This would be an appropriate time to insert an art note.
Melissa Manlove, Editor of Chronicle Books for Children, put it best this weekend “…if your text on page one says ‘Boop, Boop’…then yeah, I am going to need more…”
However, if you are inserting art notes left and right in your manuscript that look like this then you need to start using your delete button:
“Pelly and Mr. Harrison jumped into the tub.” (Art Note: Pelly has blond hair, a helmet, and bunny slippers on. Mr. Harrison is spotted dog)
I hate to break this to you, but as an author you don’t usually have a say in every detail of how your character looks or the setting they are in. You can give sensory clues with your word choice as to what you want to infer about the character, setting, and so forth, but don’t spell it out in art notes listed throughout the manuscript. As illustrators, it is our job to interpret and come up with a visual solution for the text that will marry the two together seamlessly. Great books are the combination of text and illustrations that enhance each other!
So for future reference, let go of the perfect image you have in your head about what the illustrations for your book should look like. If an editor offers publication of your book, know that they are going to make it the best book they possibly can. They have to fight for you in acquisitions. They are your cheerleaders, for lack of a better word. Editors, art directors, book designers, copy editors, and everyone else who will have a hand in your book along the way are wonderful people who believe in your book just as much as you do. And they know what they are doing. So have a little faith.