|One of my book covers|
Whenever people find out that I write children’s fiction, they immediately ask, “How do you find an illustrator?” As a matter of fact, I don’t. Nearly all publishers want to hire their own illustrators for the manuscripts they purchase. Even if you do find your own illustrator, a publisher may love the manuscript, but not the illustrations, or vice versa. They often just reject both and to avoid trouble with an author or illustrator who begs them to use the other person’s work. If you want to write picture books, send them in without illustrations, unless you can do them yourself at a professional level. (Even then, be prepared to hear, “We want to buy the story or use you as an illustrator for someone else but we don’t want both.”)
In a way, all books are picture books—however in many cases, the pictures reside in the readers’ brains. Especially for children’s books (and short stories), think of the illustrator. What are you giving him or her to work with? (Even if the reader is the one imagining it all.) I don’t just mean adjectives, like black hair or dry leaves. I’m talking about action. If your story contains mostly dialogue, can you have the characters doing something while they talk? Are they joking while standing in line? Whispering backstage while waiting to make their entrance in a ballet? Arguing while building a tree house?
What if your characters don’t talk? I have published books about non-talking animals and a short story about a child who was non-verbal. In that case, movement and sound becomes even more critical. Think of all the ways your characters can move in their environment: climbing, running, jumping, diving, swimming, digging, sliding, etc. Also, think of all the ways the environment can be moving, potentially affecting the character. If you have two people just talking in a room, you might try making the scene less static by having a breeze come through a window and blowing one character’s hair, and she keeps moving it back behind her ear. Meanwhile, the other person goes to the refrigerator to take out a soda—and maybe shuts the window on the way. Possibly the refrigerator has only soda in it, or maybe someone spilled milk in it and hasn’t cleaned the shelf yet. All these details make the scene more realistic. Make the picture in your readers’ minds a detailed one!