When a writer decides to pursue becoming traditionally published, they do their research and find out they need to query the agent or editor with a well-written letter. The form of this letter is usually an introductory paragraph, a short synopsis of the story they’d like to submit and a closing paragraph with any previous publishing credits or pertinent experience.
But what if you’re the illustrator?
Back when I began submitting things to publishers, e-communications were in their infancy. Things were still sent via postal mail, fax or some other form of now-defunct communication format. Twenty years ago, sending a physical portfolio to publishers was an expected, and often nerve-wracking, method of getting one’s art in front of the right eyes. I have a file folder full of form rejections that came from my submissions. I’ve also lost a portfolio or two that were never returned, or returned in less than great condition.
Things have changed a great deal since the mid 90s. In fact, things have changed a lot even in the last 5 years.
Today, I’ll bring you on my journey of initial submission to the publication of “The Story Circle,” which was released last week.
In 2005, I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. My first book has just come out, with a now defunct publisher, and it hadn’t gone very well at all. If I had known then what I know now, it is a contract I never would have signed, but that is a story for another day.
As a new member to the SCBWI, I learned all about where I hadn’t known. About writing, about publishing, and about submissions.
I made a list of publishers and contact names within their offices of where I thought my art would fit, and who would be interested in the art I created. One of those publishers was Piñata Books an imprint of Arte Público in Huston, TX.
I started mailing postcards to Arte Público in the fall of 2011. My postcards were fairly simple, a color image and my name on the front, a black & white image and contact information on the back. For a while I had a sentence asking the person on the receiving end to consider me for work. I also had links to my social network site, and when it was a new and shiny thing a QRC code as well. Over the years, the information has been whittled down and the art has gotten bigger. The first postcards I sent were over-sized, cost more to print and more to mail. That was probably a waste of money; the only thing an editor or art director needs to see is that your art will fill their need.
In the winter of 2012, after several more mailings, I got an email from the Editor at Arte Público. The image on the postcard from the mailing immediately proceeding this email was this one:
Arte Público is a university-based publisher. They typically send a request for sample art to several illustrators before selecting the one they want. The email I got was one of these invitations. I was thrilled. I was ecstatic. I was scared. I emailed back and got to work with my sample art.
I got the art in well within the deadline and then waited. And waited. And waited. (There is a LOT of waiting in publishing, develop your patience muscles, you’ll need them.) Three months later, I received notification they had gone with another illustrator.
I sent out several more postcards and in the spring of 2013, received another invitation for sample art for another book. Once again, three months later, I received an email they had decided to go with another artist. In this email there was also a personal comment as to why they had passed on my art.
In the winter of 2013, I received an email query from the Editor asking for some information. It was for another possible book, but nothing ever came from that contact.
In May 2014, I received another request for sample art. This was the sample art for “The Story Circle” by Diane Gonzales Bertrand. Two weeks later, I received an email congratulating me on being selected as the illustrator for the book! Cue the fireworks! Celebrations everywhere.
Along with the contract and numerous forms to fill out, I received author notes and editorial comments on my sample art. Pencil sketches were due by Thanksgiving. Final art was due by May 2015. The book was released this May. In total the journey transpired over a 4 and a half-year period. And what a journey it has been.
Here is the final version of the art in the book of the scene I chose for my sample 2 years ago. Can you identify all the changes?
This year has brought another exciting step in my journey. I just signed to be represented by an agent. She has negotiated a contract for me already. I’m hopeful that this will be the first of many.
“The Story Circle” is a tale of what the children do to replace their classroom’s books after a big flood destroys their school. With the wisdom and encouragement of their teacher, each child creates their own story prompt, and illustrates it. They create new books to fill their empty bookshelf.
Wendy Martin is the co-Founder of #kidlitart Thursday night chats and the #PBDummyChallenge on Twitter. Find out more about Wendy and her art at: wendymartinillustration.com