Thursday, March 15, 2007
Q & A 104
I've been planning to write a children's nonfiction book for some time on Language. It's supposed to fit into those series of nonfiction guides for 7-11 year olds that have titles like Pirate, Weather, Ancient China, and Music. I would be adding one - Language. The most prominent publisher of these sorts of guides is DK with their Eyewitness series, but B&N seems to do their own print, and there are a couple more as well. Anyway, the guides all do seem to have a single author, so someone is writing the main content, but the guides are extremely visual. Typically, there is a single paragraph that's general and then there are drawings and images covering the whole thing with little 3 sentence explanations for what they are seeing.
The question comes with these images. There is a huge list of credits in the DK books for people who located and acquired the images, as well as the illustrators who created new ones. The problem for me the writer is that I can't write the book without knowing the visuals. I can plan all the topics, as I am doing. I can brainstorm the types of things to find, but the final content is somewhat beyond my control. So, how do I handle this? Do I essentially write a book proposal with what should be in there and then fill in the details later? I've read some useful stuff about writers looking for illustrators in children's books, but not really yet on the non-fiction side. DK simply states that they don't take submissions, so go find an agent.
If I were in your shoes, I would shelve the whole idea and go play golf. But I sense you are determined to go through with it. If you take DK's advice and find an agent, the agent will find out everything you need to know. Of course, finding an agent for a book you haven't written may be tricky.
As I understand the question, you want to write an illustrated children's book, and you want to see the illustrations before you write the text? All you need is an artist with a bunch of pictures of languages. Good luck.
I'm going to make a wild guess and say that the text gets written first, the illustrations are then created or located, and the editor then makes any appropriate adjustments in the text that might be needed to deal with unexpected oddities in the illustrations. I can't imagine a publisher approaching an artist and the conversation going:
Publisher: We're planning a book on language, we need you to provide some illustrations.
Artist: Sure, what do you have in mind?
Publisher: Your guess is as good as mine. The book hasn't been written. The author's waiting to see what you come up with.
Artist: Hmm. I can do alphabet blocks. Those are easy. And smoke signals. I'm really good at drawing puffs of smoke.
Publisher: Perfect. I think we've got a winner here, as long as the author doesn't screw it up.