The Life Cycle of a Children's Book

Download the episode via Simplecast. Need help?

The Illustration Podcast: Episode 18

Current Projects:

Will: Still working on the Painting Color and Light class. I’m gonna be working on it for a while. Loves working on classes, and loves having them. Loves it. It takes a long time but is very satisfying.

Lee: Going into the last week of his basic painting class, and it’s amazing the progress people have made between weeks 1 and 10.

Started a bunch of projects, and is working on a big series of book covers for his agent, he is trying to move into that genre, because children’s books take a long time, so he is trying to find things to do to supplement his children’s books.

Working on classic novels right now, and just did Lord of the Flies. His goal is to do 1 cover a week. Be willing to move without the ball. No one is paying Lee to work on this book cover project, but he is doing it because he feels that it will be good for him. Good things happen to those who take initiative.

Jake: Working on coloring his Inktober drawing. It’s a challenge, but it’s satisfying. Also is working on his Inktober book.

Life Cycle of a Children’s Book

Today we talk about where a book starts, what it does in its lifetime, how it ends, and all the hands that touch it.

There are two different branches to children’s books, and they are:

Author, illustrator combo.

Or an Author who is also the illustrator.

We’re going to focus on the first, and talk about how a book is made and published going through a publisher. Not self publishing.

The Manuscript

After a writer has gone through all of their ideas, and has a manuscript nailed down, they then submit that manuscript to their agent. The agent reads through the manuscript and decides if it’s something they think they can sell. Then the agent usually will give notes back to the author. If the agent is good, then they should know the market and what’s selling right now.

Once that stage is over, then the agent will take it to publishers and start shopping it around.

Should you chase what’s hot?

If you really believe in the story, then you can tell your agent to try and shop it around.

But maybe you aren’t super attached, and you don’t mind making the suggested changes.

Pick your battles. Usually Jake defers to people with more knowledge and experience than him. Often an agent’s suggestions are very valuable because that is their job and normally they have so much experience with this than you do.

The Agent Takes it to the Publishers

She takes it to publishers and gauges their interest. more often than not they will have a list of go to editors that they will show it to first. The publisher level might want to get on board too if it’s a really good idea. The editor takes it to the publisher and they bounce it around and see if it’s a book that this publisher wants to publish. They will talk to all sorts of people about schedule, etc. And if it all works out and is a good fit then they will come back with an offer.

There is a lot of work that goes into this and it’s something you may not see.

Victoria Jamieson, Roller Girl

She’s an author illustrator now, and she used to work in publishing. She had a wonderful slideshow that walked people through the process of how a book is made. There are like 100 people working on deciding if a book should be done or not. There are a lot of people that have to give their stamp of approval. It’s good to not know about all of the near misses because then you will be beating yourself up over them and spend way too much time worrying.

The money you are offered is a fraction of the money that will be spent making the book. There is printing, marketing, sales, etc. all involved. They all need to have a say to make sure it will work across all departments.

Would you trade this for a less free but more stable job?

Jake loved animation, but he is happier with the independence that his lifestyle offers now.

Will would get into lively discussions with his wife, because she was wanting him to have a “real” job. She was tired of gaps between checks and the uncertainty. But now she is grateful and is glad that Will stuck with being an independent artist.

Will has lived long enough to see people with regular jobs experience plenty of layoffs.

If there was a house style for picture books, it would take a lot of creativity out of the market.

The Publisher Strikes a Deal With the Illustrator.

Once the light is green. Once you get the green light, an offer is made, and you are in a good position if you are getting offers from multiple publishers. Then once the offer is made they will start looking for an illustrator. If you are an author then they will have a short list of

Then if you are an illustrator then you will get to look at the manuscript and decide if you want to take this project on.

Is this something I want to spend months on, will it align with my style and my brand. Is it enough money? Then if you choose to accept the book offer then they will give you a real offer.

They will give you a loose schedule and an offer.

You need to know your process inside and out. You really need to understand how long things take, comps, scanning ,etc.

At this point you should be thinking about your schedule. If everything feels good to you and looks good to you then you accept the offer.

Then your agent and the publisher will go back and forth about the money, royalties, do you have rights to the artwork, etc. Usually you want to retain rights to use it in your portfolio, and on your website. You want the rights in case the book takes off and they decide to make other products, like pajamas, mugs, posters, etc, so that  you can get royalties.

Receiving Your Advance, and Getting to Work

Once all of this is squared away then you sign the contract and at that point you get an “advance”, this is upfront money.  This protects you as an artist because you get money upfront to see you through the creative process.

This is how an advance works:

Let’s say you have a $20,000 advance.

There are two options:

  1. ⅓ signing, ⅓ delivering final files, ⅓ book is printed.

  2. ½ siginign, ½ delivering finals (more common).

The advance is against the royalties, so you would start making royalties after making the $20,000.

Then you get a check and it feels really good depositing it.

We like to be real in this podcast. And you don’t get the check immediately upon signing the contract. When you sign it, it still usually takes 1-2 months for you to actually receive the advance. Publishing is weird, horses still bring you your checks. This speaks to the idea that you need to be good with your money and learn to budget and plan ahead.

Also in the contract, it should outline the game plan for the actual production of the book. It is usually around a year or 2 years later. The reason is that once you have started creating some art, then they can use that artwork to start selling the book to bookstores, libraries, etc. This all happens well in advance. Stores and libraries all are projecting and trying to predict what will sell or what will not sell in the future.All of this starts to happen as you start sending them files.

Usually your production time is 6 months to a year.

It takes forever.

If you just sat down and just worked on the book and nothing else, you could get it done in maybe two months, but there is all sorts of back and forth, getting feedback, receiving notes, and making changes. Marketing people usually give lots of their feedback on the cover, they judge books by their cover.

Production Process

Process in a Nutshell

Send in initial rough sketches, get feedback.

Then do a final illustration and get that approved for the finished look of the book.

Receive approval.

Then once that is approved, final sketches.

Then do the rest of the final artwork.

Then turn it all in.

Then there are notes on the finished artwork.

Then make any necessary changes.

Then they get all of the work and they have a lot they need to do on their end with it.

It’s so simple, right?

It sounds complicated but they are directing it, and so all you need to do is meet your deadlines and respond to their emails.

You are working intensely with other people and so there are people skills. You work back and forth with a lot of different departments and people. You are apart of a team, and it’s not like you are just creating an image for a class.

Final Check on the Proofs

After all the art is in their hands, then they will go through and format it, they will format the type. They will prep everything for print.

At the same time, you will start bugging them and telling them that it is time for that second check.

You aren’t quite done yet. A few months later you will get proof back, usually you will get prints of the book, physically. And you will see what the book will look like in print. They are larger and are not cropped at all. You look through it and make sure that the color that they are printing is matching your screen. If it all looks good then you let them know or you can ask them

Lee will try and send in a couple of finished images and also color swatches of where the color should be. Lee sends a hard copy proof, and then they can match it as best they can. He sends them his intention for how it should be printed. Because if everyone is looking at screens, then they might all be getting something a little different, they are trying to hit a moving target.

After the proofs then you get the FNG’s, short for Folded and Gathered. These are the folded sheets, and it is what the book is really going to look like. This is where you can go through and double check everything. It’s probably too late to fix minor things but if there are major things then you can try and catch it before the book is printed.

True Story:

First time Will went to ALA, his publisher was sending him out there. His editor told him that he will see those “FNG’s”, and he couldn’t tell what was going on and if she was mad about something.

FNG’s. There is this lingo, and little terms that get thrown at you that you never learned in school.

Book Reviews

After the FNG’s are approved then you will receive some advanced copies. The finished book. Not just you but other people like librarians with a book review audience, book reviewers, other publishers and agents, all people who are connected to this book somehow will get the books so that they can start reviewing them and telling people what they should think of the book.

What you are looking for at this stage is for good reviews.

A starred review on Kirkus is usually a good sign. The reviews are usually heavily focused on the writing and is not as focused on the illustrations.

If you do not get a “starred review” not a 5 starred review, but a starred review, then people will look at the book as a miss, and it most likely won’t be a commercial success.

Reviews. A lot of reviews are kind of arbitrary because the people reviewing them aren’t artists and the reviews are being given by individuals.

Lee did a book and the review was saying that the book was quite poignant, and full of emotion, great. However, he drew a girl without a helmet, and got a bad review because on one page

Release Day

Book comes out, you are tweeting, and posting on Instagram about the book deal. There is some marketing that you need to do as author or illustrator and it all leads up to the launch of the book.

If they want to and if you can, then you may be sent on a book tour. This is quite rare though. Book tours are more reasonable when you are both the author and illustrator.

Publishers are hoping that at least one of the books they published will get an award. Every eighth or twelth book they publish is paying for all the others.

You go on a book tour, and then you go home, or your book goes onto a best-seller list. You usually find this out, a week or two after the book is published. These accolades are not essential but feel good.

Getting onto the The Best Seller Lists, sometimes it’s really easy to gain your way or you can sneak your way onto their lists.

Even more important than the Best Seller Lists for how your book is selling is the Amazon seller rank. If you are anywhere under 10,000 for best selling books on Amazon, then you are

Bonaparte Falls Apart is seasonal but it was in the 700’s.

David Hone’s book, “God Gave Us Christmas” gets into the teens on Amazon’s seller ranking. Basically he is receiving off the charts royalties.

Periodically you will receive a royalty statement.

Gives you a break down of how many books sold in different areas.

It tells you how much you still need to pay off of your advance.

And if you have paid off your book’s advance, then you get a royalty check.

Death or Eternal Life of A Children’s Book

Then your book will either die and go out of print. Or it will continue to get royalties.

If it goes out of print, then you retain all of the rights and you can self publish it or you can find another publisher.

If it never goes out of print then you continue to receive royalty checks for it. You never know what’s gonna happen.

The publisher does a lot of work. They do a lot of heavy lifting. So you can look at it this way, you are getting paid to create and you are also receiving free advertising.

Big advance or big royalty?

Your sales record follows you around, if you have a big flop then it can hurt your future deals.

There is a balance between advances and royalties. If they can’t get a bigger advance, then you could ask for a bigger royalty.

School visits, Jerry Polada does a lot of school visits, the fact that he does school visits every week and that volume of visits and work he does can help him with getting books sold to publishers.


Jake Parker: Instagram: @jakeparker, Youtube: JakeParker44

Will Terry: Instagram: @willterryart, Youtube: WillTerryArt

Lee White: Instagram: @leewhiteillo

Alex Sugg:

Tanner Garlick: Instagram: @tannergarlick

If you like this episode, please share it, subscribe, and we’d love it if you left a review! These podcasts live and die on reviews.

If you want to join in on this discussion log onto, there is a forum for this episode you can comment on.