One Myth Debunked to be Replaced by Another
Most aspiring authors who have done their homework know (I hope) that you don't need an illustrator or cover artist if you are submitting to a traditional agent. Yet some picture book writers can't help but put their entire vision on paper, complete with extensive illustration notes. I get it. If that's the only way to get that picture book on paper, indulge. But before you submit, do yourself a favor:
Delete Them All
I can already hear you sputter, "But, but, but..."
I'm going to let you in on a little secret I just heard from traditional published authors:
Some editors take out all the illustration notes before giving the manuscript to the illustrator. The illustrator doesn't even see them.
So, go ahead abuse that delete button. Are they all gone? Good. Now proceed.
Read the Text Aloud
Is there a spot where an illustration is vital to the story? If you can't possibly use the text to explain this, then an illustration note might be appropriate. OR you can use the secret I just learned from another author:
Put any illustration notes that are vital to the story in the one-page cover letter. But keep that cover letter to a page. You don't want to pull the editor out of your story with illustration notes in your manuscript.
Give It to Fresh Eyes
Give the manuscript (without notes) to friend who've never seen it before. If they are confused, an illustration note may indeed be necessary. Or not. You may find that tweaking your text is enough.
Think About It
What if an illustrator submitted some sketches with Author Notes?
"These are sketches of a little girl jumping in different settings. Ooh, could the author write a story about a girl who likes to jump? And could that girl have red pony-tale braids that bounced and bounced? And could that author have the girl jump on a trampoline and then a mattress, and then a bounce house?"
It's no wonder the editor sends stories without illustration notes.
Exceptions to Every Rule
I recently spoke with an author whose most recent book has only TWO WORDS, repeated throughout the book. She told me that the submitted manuscript had extensive illustration notes, because who can tell a story with only two words? I should mention, however, that this recent addition is after getting over 30 picture books published. She didn't think that made a difference, but I wonder if an unproven author would have been able to get the manuscript out of the slush-pile.
What I've Done
Most of my picture book manuscripts have no art notes included. I was tempted to put in an illustration note once, but realized that I could weave the "note" into the text and didn't actually have to tell the illustrator what to do. Another manuscript I'm working on does have one currently, but I'm revising it so completely that the note is bound to disappear.
The truth is, no matter what original idea is in my head, it won't be as good as the collaborative effort of the virtual village of artists that will produce the final picture book.
I write about, with, for, and around kids all day. (Well, maybe I do the dishes too. Sometimes.)