Friday, September 28, 2012

Publishing People 101 -by Eliza Wheeler

I can clearly recall going to my first children’s book conference a few years ago and being unclear about the basic roles of publishing folks; editors, agents, art directors . . . what exactly do they all do, and what does that mean to me? Hopefully I’m not the only one who’s been out of the loop (else I apologize for wasting our time), and this might be helpful for a few people looking to learn more about the business side of being a children’s book illustrator/writer.

© 2012 Eliza Wheeler
The editor is the head honcho, the one who acquires stories, picks your manuscript out of the pile and hopefully sees something worthwhile. They are also the one to help you revise the story where they see problems and to help you push it in a better direction. As an example, my editor, Nancy Paulsen at Penguin Books, offered me the contract for my book “Miss Maple’s Seeds” (coming May 2013), she worked with me closely on revising the text and getting the overall story to flow from page to page. If you’re a writer, this is the person you want to send your manuscript to. If you’re an illustrator (but not writer), you can also send your promotional mailers to the editor, as they have the final say in who is chosen to illustrate a manuscript. An important note: a publishing house that doesn’t accept “unsolicited manuscripts” doesn’t apply to illustrators looking to promote their portfolio. You can send your promo cards anywhere you like and they’ll either throw your card out, or more ideally, pin it up and wait for the perfect story to come along for you to illustrate.

© 2012 Eliza Wheeler
The art director is the one on the look-out for the right illustrator for projects, and presents options to the editor. You discuss visual story flow, thumbnails, sketches, finals, and the over-all visual approach with the art director. My art director 
for “Miss Maple’s Seeds, Cecilia Yung, gave me feedback and criticism to help me take my artwork to the next level. If you’re the illustrator (and not writer) for a story, this is the person you will be the most in contact with. For my projects illustrating middle grade novels, the art director is often my only contact. Needless to say, it's essential to have a good relationship and to communicate well with your art director.

© 2012 Eliza Wheeler
A literary agent submits your stories to publishers, and helps you negotiate book deals and contracts. Having an agent is optional, but there are many publishing houses (most of the big ones) that only accept manuscripts through agents. If you send your “unsolicited” manuscript to a publisher without an agent, your package goes in the “slush pile”, a large stack of manuscripts that can take months to get through (but it can happen!). A literary agent is an open door to those publishing houses. Also, some are editorial agents, and will help you get your stories up to snuff before submitting to editors. I’m currently working back and forth with my agent, Jen Rofe, to get a new picture book story ready for submission. Literary agents typically take a 15-20% cut of what you make, and often can negotiate higher advances which cover that amount.

© 2012 Eliza Wheeler
Art reps work for illustrators who are not writers (often literary agents focus primarily on the writing aspect of your career). Art reps market your work to literary and educational publishers, magazines, etc. Keep in mind that, as an illustrator, you can promote your work directly to publishers, magazines, and other companies – but an art rep can negotiate higher fees and take care of contracts if you’d rather not bother with that part of the job. They take a higher cut, around 30%, give or take. I’ve heard a lot of illustrators who were unhappy with their art reps, feeling that they only got them low or mid-level projects and repped too many other artists to give them the necessary attention. As with both literary agents and art reps, do NOT take the first offer that comes along. Do a lot of research and make an informed decision about who you want working for you.

Of course, this is just a list of a few basic roles in publishing we should understand. There are countless other publishing folk not covered here (presidents, editorial directors, assistant editors, copyeditors, designers, marketing personnel, sales reps, etc.), and they all play equally important roles in the process. 

I hope you all have the chance to work with many of these wonderful people in the months and years to come!
by Eliza Wheeler
twitter: wheelerstudio


  1. What a fantastic post, Eliza! So useful. AND wonderful illustrations!!

  2. Eliza,

    Wonderful post! SO very informative! I am currently seeking representation for my young adults book.
    I saw you illustrations through the agency I submitted to.

    I absolutely love your illustrations! They would match beautifully with my book :)

    Thanks so much for the post as well as your drawings!

    Sharmon L. McMillen