getting published

We’ve talked a bit about getting started in the fabulous field of illustration. So, now it’s time to talk about getting published. Here is a list of common questions about getting into picture books (from writers and illustrators) and some answers...

* Do I need to find an illustrator myself?

No. Writing newcomers will usually be teamed with an established illustrator. There are lots of good reasons for this – a big one is that when book shops are ordering books it helps if there’s one name they recognise. Only submit with an illustrator if they are stupendously good and it’s a match made in heaven, rather than just someone you know.

*Do I need to illustrate the whole book?

No. Imagine if you did all that work and the publisher said “We love it, but we really think the main character should be a boy… and we only do square books”. Submit a good sample or two of some finished pages of artwork so they know how you want to approach the book.

* I’ve heard publishers like it when you write and illustrate the book. Should I?

Only if your illustration and writing are both of a very professional quality. Publishers do like it when someone can draw and write as well – but you won’t do yourself any favours if one skill is weaker than the other.

* I’m kind of out of the loop…

Do your homework! Happily, the homework is fun. Read books in the area where you want your work published. Even if you read to children all the time, take some time to read critically.  How long are sentences? How advanced is the language? How do people pace the story? How many characters are there? What do I like and why? What do I not like and why? Will my ideas fit what is currently being published? Have I got a strong ending? Have I done something new? And if you’re an illustrator – is your work consistent like the books in the shops? Is your style going to fit the marketplace? It’s good to be different but can you imagine where it might fit and what  it could be used for?

* Won’t an editor do the rest for me?

They really won’t. When it comes to picture book texts and ideas, editors are spoiled for choice and time-poor. They get masses of submissions all the time so it’s survival of the fittest. The more honed your work is, the better. That means having good spelling and grammar, checking how they want it submitted (look on publishers’ websites), and not leaving parts that don’t work for someone else to help with later. If there are parts of the story you aren’t quite happy with, you need to keep working.

* Where do I send it?

Target the right people first. Spend some time in a book shop or library seeing who publishes the kind of thing that you’ve written or are wanting to illustrate. They are the ones you should contact first. Check their websites to see when they are accepting submissions. You can always ring them to see if there is a time when they will open up or any way to get around the block.

* How long will it take?

From 3 – 9 months! You’re going to have to be patient. They have lots and lots of submissions to get through.

* I don’t want to wait. Shouldn’t i just send it to everyone at once?

Multiple submissions are not great and generally not liked by publishers. I would recommend targeting the publisher you think is a best fit for your work first and give them time to read your work. After three months or whatever they state on their website, you could give them a call or email to see how things are going. If  you’ve been waiting a long time (more than 6 months) you might like to inform the publisher that you are planning to submit to another publisher soon, but wanted to let them know first. Don’t be pushy or try to play games. These are people you really want to work with. Just be honest and reasonable. Remember they’re not being cruel or dismissive – they just have a lot of submissions to get through and everyone is in the same boat as you.

* How do I get an agent? Do I need one?

It can help to get an agent but there’s that catch 22… people often say you need an agent to get a publisher and you need to be published to get an agent… But really that’s not quite true. If you’ve only ever written one story or have never been published as an illustrator then it probably will be tricky unless your work is obviously brilliant. What agents are looking for (and publishers too) is someone who wants to make a long healthy career out of writing or illustrating. The more good solid work you have to show, and the more dedication you can demonstrate to getting into the industry any way you can (write articles, do spot cartoons, greeting cards… whatever you can) – the more chance you have of being picked up by a publisher or an agent.

* What should I submit?

Check publisher’s websites for guidelines. Generally you should submit the whole text of a picture book or chapter book, or the first few chapters of a longer work. Make it a normal serif font like Times, double spaced, 12 point, usually single sided. Generally you shouldn’t email it unless the publisher states that it is acceptable to do so. Send good copies of illustrations or dummy books (never actual artwork). Accompany your work with a cover letter. This should be one A4 page, single sided, stating – a brief synopsis of the story, where it fits in the market place and who it is for, and any relevant experience or information about yourself.

A few don’ts…

Don’t use a fancy font, colours, decorations, or say that your kids or your mum love it. Don’t run yourself down or say that your work is probably rubbish.

Do – treat yourself like a professional. Be honest and straightforward about your work. If you love the story, say so. If you had a strong theme in mind or are addressing a market gap, say so. If you have targeted the publisher because they have published work that has a similar feel or approach, name the books. You need to demonstrate that you are serious about this and that you really want to be in this industry and to work with them to make it a great book.

You might also find posts under the category of “Advice” useful – gathering together all sorts of posts that have responded to questions or given tips.


  1. Annette Fitton
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the tips – they are just what I was looking for when I spoke to you at Abbotsford Convent on Sunday!
    When I started sewing, before you arrived, I remember thinking music was missing.
    Now I know the music playing was yours, it came with your little studio.
    Thanks for the music.

  2. Posted March 12, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    This is great and useful advice. Thanks.
    p.s. I have linked to your site – under Australian illustrators – at Australian Picture Books.

  3. Donna Gynell
    Posted August 17, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    dear Elise, lovely to receive an image of your latest print on a cold rainy Adelaide day.
    Can’t wait to see the book you describe as your next project!!!! I have secretly waited for a publisher with enough sense to let you have the freedom to do what you do so uniquely .

    Best wishes

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