How to Become an Illustrator for Children's Books

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You love drawing, and you have always dreamed of illustrating children’s books. But where do you start, and just how can you break into this highly competitive field? Read on to learn how to get your work published as a children’s book illustrator.

  • Determine the age group that you would like to illustrate for. Most children’s book illustrators aim their work at a particular age group. You might already know that you are interested in drawing for very young children, toddlers or for more sophisticated older readers. But if you’re not sure, think about the style you draw in, and the subjects you enjoy working on, and identify where these would be most effective.

  • Do your research. There are hundreds of children’s picture books published every year, and it’s a good idea to know the market you’re aiming for. Pay a visit to your local library or bookshop, and browse through the children’s sections. What is being published or promoted at the moment? This will help give you an idea of what publishers may be looking for, and what kind of books are aimed at the specific age group that you want to target.

  • Decide on your working method. There are several ways that a children’s book illustrator can work. You can join forces with an author, and provide the images to go with her text. You can be commissioned by an agent or publisher to provide artwork for a book. Or, you can illustrate a story that you have written yourself. You should decide which approach you are most comfortable with.

  • Get a portfolio together. If you are hoping to be employed as a freelance children’s illustrator by agents or publishers, or to attract the attention of an author looking for a partner, you will need to promote your work. A portfolio of your work is indispensable for this purpose. Make sure you have digital scans of your illustrations available in common image file formats such as a .jpg or .bmp.

  • Shortlist the publishers or imprints who specialize in the children's book market you want to target. Read their guidelines for submissions. Some publishers will accept query letters or approaches from authors, and will give guidelines about what to send. Others will only receive submissions from literary agents. Send out your work to each of the publishers on the short list based on their guidelines. Follow up with phone calls.

Tips & Warnings

  • A query letter for an illustrated children’s book should contain one illustrated page of the book, as well as a summary of the plot and some information about you, the author and the market the book is aimed at.
  • It can be useful to compare your work to the work of other authors, so that a publisher or agent can place you and your market.
  • Consider getting yourself a website to showcase your work so that you can invite people to visit your web address rather than sending out samples. But make sure it looks professional and visually attractive. You’re supposed to be a visual artist, so an ugly website sends out the wrong message.

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