Your story should be 100% complete before you even think about getting an illustrator or starting to illustrate it yourself. In my experience as an illustrator this is one of the most frustrating mistakes authors make and it ends up adding hours of the illustrator’s valuable time to the project. The illustrator is illustrating the book as a whole so the entire story needs to be complete and edited. A book is not something that can be created in bits as it is designed to be read from start to finish.
When you have had your story assessed and edited and you are happy to proceed then start to prepare your manuscript for an illustrator. If you haven’t written your book with page breaks in mind go through the story and figure out the appropriate breaks for the flow of the story. Make sure this is clear to the illustrator in your document. Either label each page break or even separate into different pages of the document. This stops any confusion and allows the illustrator to design each page with the flow of the story.
Jack and Jill ran up the hill,
to fetch a pale of water.
Jack fell down
and broke his crown
Next make sure you make it clear what your expectation is on each spread. If you imagine your characters to be dressed in fancy dress then make sure you tell the illustrator. As you are the one who has written the story you need to be clear of what you had in mind when you wrote it. A good thing to communicate to your illustrator is the target market of your book. They are designing everything to fit a specific audience so you don’t want your characters to be 3 year old Caucasian if your target market is 6 year old African Americans. You can do this by writing short illustration notes on each spread. This is not always needed if you have no specifications and are happy to leave the creative freedom to the illustrator that fine too.
When writing illustration notes make sure you are clear and precise. You are purely letting the illustrator know what you would like communicated in each image. Sometimes it is obvious from the text in the story however if not be sure to point it out.
Jack and Jill ran up the hill
To fetch a pale of water
Note: Jack and Jill half way up the hill with empty pale
Be sure not to give too much detail as to the organisation and composition of the scene as this is best decided by the illustrator. A professional illustrator knows more about composition, viewpoint, colour, design and visual story telling than you as a professional writer so let them do their job. The more you trust them and respect their creative input the better result you will get.
Make sure you don’t forget about the cover illustration and any other design elements you might need from the illustrator in the brief. For example you might want some of the illustrators work on the end pages or title page.
Size and format
An illustrator cannot start the job without a clear and precise specification of how the book will be published. Make sure you have done your research and know what size you will be printing your book and where. Once the illustrator has completed the artwork you cannot change the size of your book very easily and it often involves a lot of redrawing and cropping. I have heard of authors who have just chosen a generic size then once they got to the printers found out it will cost them twice as much to print that a specific book format. This is still important with digital books for iPad and Kindle etc. The illustrator still needs to work to a specific size or sizes. If you're creating a book on CreateSpace or Lulu make sure you look through their standard book formats.
Before the illustrator starts the job they should have supplied you with a full quote of the exact time it will take them to do the job. It is also good to have a terms of agreement figured out so you are both clear about what is being supplied for the amount quoted and the time it will take. Make sure you have a full understanding of how much it will cost per hour if any extra work is needed over the time specified in the brief.
Communication is the key to a successful working relationship with an illustrator. The clearer you are about your expectations the better and faster your job will be completed.