Here’s how the picture book publication process usually works.
It’s oversimplified, and it’s not true of every book- but should be useful as a guide.
1. A writer writes a picture book manuscript.
A picture book usually has 32 pages. Sometimes a writer keeps this in mind, and divides their text into sections for each double-page spread.
In most picture books, the text tells part of the story and the pictures tell part of the story. The best writers ‘leave room’ for illustrators to add to the story. If a text is too prescriptive then there’s not much for the illustrator to do: e.g. “Johnny put on his lucky red hat then walked outside of his big blue house and jumped on his shiny green bike” will make for a pretty boring illustration.
2. The writer submits the manuscript to a publisher.
But not too soon. Let your manuscript stew before you send it off. I’ve ignored this advice on many embarrassing occasions. Leave your manuscript in a drawer for a week, two weeks, a month if you can. It may need a year. Come back to it with fresh eyes and read it again. Read it out aloud. How does it sound? Smooth? Clunky? Does it make sense? Be prepared to spend many months/years writing and rewriting your manuscript.
Once you’ve sent your manuscript off to a publisher, be prepared to wait. It can take many months for a publisher to get back to you. If you are planning to send the manuscript to more than one publisher at a time, state this clearly on your cover letter.
If you’re a writer, don’t include illustration samples from your partner/friend/next-door neighbour. If your manuscript is accepted by a publisher, the publisher will select the illustrator they think best suits your text. If the publisher likes your manuscript but not your friend’s illustrations. you’ll find yourself in a pickle. Or, they might like the illustrations and not your writing.
Try to refrain from adding notes about how you want the illustrations to look; it’s the illustrator’s job to visualise your story, and they’ll do it the best they can. (Exception- if there is something important that must be included in the pictures that isn’t mentioned in the text, then put a small note in your manuscript).
If you are a writer/illustrator, then you can include some illustration samples and perhaps a rough storyboard or dummy book with your manuscript.
3. If the manuscript is accepted by a publisher, the editing process begins.
This process can take many many months.
4. The publisher selects an illustrator.
This can take a long time too. Publishers, especially good publishers, will take their time to find just the right illustrator for the job.
5. The illustrator completes the illustrations.
This can take a long time as well! You may never meet the illustrator or communicate with them in any way; you may never see any sample illustrations during the process. It depends on the publisher.
6. The picture book is laid out by a designer, then sent to the printers.
Publishers work well ahead of release dates; a book may be sent to the printers 6-8 months ahead of the expected release date. This leaves time for the books to be freighted back to a warehouse and sent to distributors, and for the marketing team to begin promoting the book.
This can include interviews via email, over the phone or on radio. You may be invited to appear at schools, libraries and writers’ festivals to speak about your work. Do as much as you can to help the marketing team- you are all in the same boat, and everyone will benefit if the book does well.
8. Book launch.
Party time. There is nothing like the feeling of having a copy of your book in your hands. It’s worth the effort.
9. Come back to earth. Get an idea for a new book. Return to step 1.