bibliokids: resources for kidlit authors

Editing or Illustrating: Which Comes First?

When writing a picture book, some self-publishing authors want to hire an illustrator right away. Maybe it’s to make the project seem more real. Maybe it’s because they want to go ahead and list their book as available for preorder.

Often, an author will send out an SOS: “I just finished my book. Where do I find an illustrator?” And while there are countless illustrators who are ready to jump in . . . not so fast.

In the question of which comes first, editing or illustrating? Editing wins hands down.

Here’s why.

Editing or Illustrating: Which Comes First?

It saves you time.

Let’s say you go ahead and hire an illustrator first. You sign a contract for the artist to illustrate x number of page spreads that correspond to the manuscript you give them. Then later, you hire an editor for a big-picture edit, such as a developmental edit or a manuscript critique.

And then you get your book back, and you are strongly encouraged to make some significant changes to your plot. Maybe you reorder some of the events in your story. Or swap one setting for another. Or add a character on a specific page.

Now you have to go back to your illustrator and reevaluate all of those illustrations you commissioned. The back and forth between you and your illustrator could take weeks or even months—and nobody’s got time for that.

It saves you money.

All of those illustrations that now have to be changed? You’re going to pay for what was listed in your contract and the new illustrations to replace them.

This can mean an increase of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Self-publishing your book just got costlier.

It saves you the frustration of having to do things over again.

Having your book illustrated before it’s edited is like starting to build a bookcase by beginning with Step #4 in the directions. It’s not going to work, and you’re going to have to stop what you’re doing and start over again.

It may seem like it’s easier to start with illustrations, but ultimately, it’s going to leave you frustrated.

So what should you do if you plan to self-publish?

  • Write your book.
  • Revise your book (more than once). Make it the best it can be. (Here are some revision tips to help you out.)
  • Hire an editor.
  • While your book is being edited, research and contact illustrators and formatters.
  • Wait to have your book illustrated until it has gone through developmental editing (or a manuscript critique), line editing, and copyediting.

And if you’re traditionally publishing your book?

If you plan to query agents or smaller publishing houses and you are not an author/illustrator, then you don’t need to find an illustrator. In fact, finding an illustrator would be a complete waste of time and money because once your book goes to acquisitions, the publisher will select the illustrator for your book.

But you still need to write and revise your book too. (One more time, here are some revision tips for you.)

You may also find it beneficial to hire an editor, especially for a developmental edit, manuscript critique, or line edit.

No matter how you’re going to publish your picture book, focus on your text first. Make sure your story says exactly what you want it to say.

And then? Then go and get your book illustrated.

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