Sue Lowell Gallion

It’s a Book Birthday!

The gestation period of a picture book varies, but it’s safe to predict that it will be longer than that of a walrus (16 months), a rhino (13 months), or a velvet worm (15 months.) The one constant? It takes a looooooong time.

PUG MEETS PIG will make its appearance on bookshelves and at bedtimes almost three years after the manuscript was sold. And actually, that’s not long in the land of children’s picture book publishing.

And the waiting’s been worth it. Participating in the process of picture book creation, from manuscript to an actual book, has been a dream come true for me.

One of the questions I get asked the most is, “Does the book look like you pictured it?”

And the answer is, “No. It is so much more and so much better than I ever imagined.”

Why? Picture book making starts with words on a page, that come from the mind and heart of the author. An editor reads those words, and just may see those words as the foundation of a book. That book will be a physical object, with a size and shape and pages to turn.

If the publishing house decides to buy the manuscript, the editor and art director will choose an illustrator, the author’s partner in the creation of this book. That isn’t the author’s decision, although sometimes the author can give feedback. (My editor shared some images from SLEEPYHEADS (written by Sandra J. Howatt, illustrated by Joyce Wan) with me as they were selecting an art director. I loved everything about Joyce Wan’s work.)

So, an illustrator is sent those words on a page to consider, then she (or he) must make a decision whether that project is right for her.  After all, the visual half of that story is the story that children will “read” with their eyes. Often, if the illustrator says yes, the book then will wait for the illustrator to have time to move ahead on the project. That waiting time may be several years.

Once the illustrator starts work, the book begins as sketches and pencil “dummies” that turn the story from text into a performance that unfolds page by page, with a combination of words and art and design. The editor and art director advise and guide. As the visuals unfold, some of the words aren’t necessary any more, or another word may be a better choice. Scenes change and characters develop. Editors vary on what the author sees during this process.

But during this time, the book gets better and better. What may seem like tiny decisions to an outsider, such as whether a sentence should end with a period or a question mark, or whether a welcome mat should be plain or say WELCOME, make layers of differences as the book is built.

I love the comparison of a picture book with a theater performance. A picture book is meant to be read aloud, listened to, and looked at. As pages turn, story happens. The listener cares what happens. The art offers stories within the story. Tension rises, characters change and grow, a problem is resolved, and a world is created.

And the ultimate compliment will be a request from a child to read it again.


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