So - the burning question - what are publishers looking for when it comes to picturebooks? Deirdre McDermott from Walker Books is interested in working with new Irish illustrators. She loves warm graphics - she mentioned Lucy Cousins and Mary Murphy in this regard. 'I want to feel the blood in their (the artists') veins. I want to feel they have a heartbeat.' She loves Chris Haughton's work for its sense of humour and she loves his brilliant use of colour.
Interestingly she's not looking for highly polished, finished work. She's looking for something different and exciting, and often finds her illustrators in unusual ways, not always though an agent.
For picturebook texts Deirdre said she's looking for something that instantly grabs her attention: 'You read the first four sentences and it just gets you.'
Emma Byrne from O'Brien Press is looking for Irish content and Irish creators. She says Ireland is a small market and she makes an effort to give Irish illustrators a chance. Like Deirdre, she doesn't use agents to find illustrators (although some do come this way). She looks at magazines - she mentioned Totally Dublin - flyers and posters for images that make her react. She's also looking for a sense of humour in the work and is drawn to unusual colour.
Tadhg MacDhonnagáin from Futa Fata is looking for narrative picturebooks for age 3 to 6. He's looking for books that are not based in Ireland but that have a strong story, with a main character that goes on a journey and changes. He's looking again for humour and for a writer with great enthusiasm. He would love to find an illustrator or picturebook maker who can speak Irish and can do events in schools and at festivals, but has yet to discover one
Margaret Anne Suggs from Illustrators Ireland gave this advice:
1/ Have something worth submitting.
2/ Do your research - look at what the publisher or agent likes and see if you are a fit.
3/ Follow the submission guidelines carefully.
And the publishers' pet hates? Letters addressed 'Dear Sir' (to Emma or Deirdre).
Elaborate packages of artwork with no return address.
Rhyming picturebooks with no story.
Margaret Anne said that illustrators are often told to write their own text. She described this as being bisexual. 'It doubles your chance of a date,' she said.
Other information shared was:
Writers and illustrators rarely meet.
If you are a writer you do not need to find an illustrator. You submit your text without pictures. The editor will match your story with the right illustrator. Do not provide illustrations yourself (unless you are also an artist) or pay someone to illustrate your book.
Don't put grown ups in your book if you can help it.
If you are an illustrator, apply to Illustrators Ireland who can help you with contracts and professional advice.
Always get a contract if you are an illustrator and ask for royalties, not just a set fee (esp for picturebooks).
Walker split the writer/illustrator royalty 50/50.
Illustrators' agents take 25 to 35% of a contract and literary agents 15 to 20% (for writers or illustrators).
It was a really enjoyable, informative day and thanks to all the speakers, to Marian Keyes at the library and Artscope for their help.
Watch out for the podcast of the day which I'll post here soon.
I'll leave you with this list of recommended books about writing and illustrating picturebooks which I put together for the event.
Books about Writing and Illustrating Picturebooks
Recommended by Sarah Webb