How books are made


Owing to current deadlines, I regret that I am unable to answer your questions until further notice ~ Thank you


Q - How do books get made?


A - To start with, a writer might have a good idea for a book they want to write. They will send the ‘text’ to a publisher like Penguin Books to see what they think of their idea. Or the publisher might have an idea themselves for a book they want to publish and find a suitable writer for the job.



Q - Do books come in standard sizes?


A - No, the dimensions of different books vary, and the size and length of the book will be decided on by the publisher. There are some standard lengths of books, though, that they might choose from, particularly with picture books. These are often 32 pages, and that’s including all the pages, even the ones stuck down to the book’s covers, as this is the most economical use of paper. The author’s writing will then be corrected and edited by the publisher to fit the format that has been decided on.



Q - As an illustrator, do you tend to be commissioned by a book’s author or its editor?


A - Authors don’t usually look for illustrators themselves. The publisher will usually look for an illustrator after they have received the text from the writer.



Q - If a publisher has got a writer who has brought in a story, would they normally look through the standard illustrators they use for their books, or would they still welcome new illustrators?


A - As writers and illustrators have such different styles, a publisher will be trying to fit the right illustrator to the right text. Most illustrators work for themselves, not as part of a company; usually, they will be employed on a freelance basis to illustrate an individual book or a series of books. The publisher might feel that one of the illustrators who they already have a working relationship with is ideal, but they might need to look further afield. For instance they might look at new talent who have approached them, or ask agents they know, or search through agent’s websites to find the right person for the job – see Illustration Agents.



Q - What happens next?


A - Once the publisher has identified which illustrator they would like to use, they will make contact with them, either directly – usually by e-mail these days – or through the illustrator’s agent to see whether the illustrator is available and interested in working on the book. If the illustrator is free and interested then they or their agent will negotiate a contract with the publisher to determine the money, timing and terms for the book – see Getting Paid. Next, the illustrator will usually be given a brief for the book, or have a discussion with the design department who will be working on how the book will look. The illustrator will be working with them as part of their team, even though they are not usually in the same office. The illustrator has to be prepared to work in a constructive and professional way as part of this team and to be able to take suggestions and sometimes have to adapt their first interpretation of the job to better fit what the publisher wants.



Q - Does the publisher tell you how big you make your pictures?


A - Yes, the design department give the illustrator the dimensions they want them to work to, although which scale you work at is usually flexible, as the image size can be altered electronically. The designer will also instruct the illustrator as to where the type is going to go on the pages. They normally send you a ‘grid’ to work to, which is a framework with all the structural lines in position to give the book consistency and cohesion. The illustrations might include ‘bleed’, which is necessary if you are doing pictures that run to the very edge of the page; the bleed is usually several millimetres beyond where the page will be cut. The illustrator provides this extra bit of picture, but without any crucial detail in that bit, so that if the cutting machine doesn’t quite cut where it should, it won’t matter.



Q - How do you actually work?


A - I usually get a grid and a written brief and sometimes a visual brief from the designer too. I start work on a series of rough ideas in pencil, trying to get as much energy and animation into the image as possible, while thinking about the requirements of the brief. The roughs evolve into a final design, which these days I scan and e-mail to the client. Illustrators vary in how sketchy they are with their roughs, but I like to get all the lines resolved clearly. There’s usually then a bit of a wait before getting comments back: it can take a long time,  particularly with educational publishers, as they often have to send the rough/s round to a lot of people for approval. The client might then want small details changed at this rough stage, or a more complete redraw, but this is relatively painless as a pencil rough is quicker to amend then final artwork. When I get a rough approved I then go to the artwork stage. If I’m working on board I usually reverse the rough on a light box and trace the lines, transferring the image onto the surface I’ve decided to work on. For more on the way I work see Illustration Assignments and Materials & Media.



Q - How do the pictures get into the book?


A - Once I have painted and drawn the illustration/s I send them to the publisher, either by sending the original artwork, or by scanning the original myself and sending it to them as a digital file. I usually do the latter now for clients in the US, as it saves everyone time and money. Once the publisher has my original artwork, the illustrations are placed into position by their designer. When the whole book has been designed in this way, it is sent off to a printer – often in the Far East these days. The book will then be printed and bound in the quantities the publisher thinks they can sell. The finished copies are distributed to shops and retailers, who sell them to their customers.Books are frequently published in different languages, and these are called co-editions. This is a license that another foreign publisher buys from the original publisher so that they are entitled to publish the book as well, but in their language. These deals are very often done at book fairs like the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in the spring and the Frankfurt Book Fair in the autumn.



Q - Thank you so much for all the great advice on your website. I really love your illustrations– especially your use of color. I have a question for you that I couldn’t find answered on your website: do you find your colors end up looking different printed in a book from how they looked on your canvas/computer screen?  Do you avoid any colors, intentionally lighten colors, or do anything else special to compensate for this?  Do you have any tips on how to make sure colors look great in the final book?


A - Thanks for your interest in and comments about my website and work. Interesting question, colours do change in reproduction, I don’t know whether you are familiar with the way printing is done, but artwork is scanned and printed using the 4 colour printing process CMYK – standing for Cyan/ Magenta/ Yellow and Key (black) – you’ll be able to find lots more about this online. Because of this process the intensity of colours is limited, making it hard to reproduce intensely saturated colours – they often come back looking duller than they do in the originals as a result – that’s just the way it works. Good printers will try to match the colours in reproduction to the original as much as possible and usually have the original there to look at during the printing process as a colour guide, but it is always a compromise for them to try to achieve a good colour balance. I work partly in water colour inks and some of the neat colours are very saturated, but I don’t avoid using those colours, although I know some of that intensity will be lost in reproduction. However, I have usually been very pleased with the results and even if the printed version is duller, I find I get used to looking at that version after a while. I should probably add that the publisher usually sends me the first set of colour proofs for a book, so that I can comment on the colour reproduction – my comments are taken on board before they go on to print final proofs.