Most people would define a picture-story as a unity of text and illustration. If that's
so, writers and illustrators of children's books should collaborate, but it doesn't always happen. In Australia, collaboration is common in trade publishing, but less likely in education where authors regard themselves as fortunate if publishers send dummy roughs for approval.
Trade publishers, who usually work on one book at a time, are courteous, and see the author's input as vital. The problem is that education publishers usually work on large projects - ten, twenty or thirty titles in a series. If they are running late with their production schedules, it's easier to publish without consulting authors.
Dummy rough stage
At the dummy rough stage, the illustrator has made rough sketches of the story, omitting detail. If writers are given the opportunity to see these, they are able to correct mistakes and make suggestions.
Several of my education titles have inaccuracies which I would have detected if I had been shown the work at this stage. (See examples in the Side Bar list below.) Later, when I pointed them out, the publishers said, 'Sorry - we checked, but we didn't notice.'
Authors should check, for they pick up inaccuracies immediately. The author, the illustrator and the publisher should feel proud of a title. It is disconcerting when children in schools point out mistakes in a new book when you are on an author visit. I hate having to apologise. It's worse when you are too embarrassed to introduce a book to children.
I try to obviate the problem by requesting the insertion of a clause in my education contracts - for both picture-stories and titles with line illustrations. The publisher undertakes to commission illustrations for the Work, and the Author shall be given the opportunity to approve the illustrator's first dummy roughs and final presentation (including text).
At page proof stage, it is important to see the final text and illustrations together - hence 'including text'. In an illustrated non-fiction title, for example, a caption may be misplaced or inaccurate or contain print errors. When final text and illustrations are approved separately, mistakes may not be discovered until the book is released.
While the above clause is always acceptable to publishers, unfortunately it does not always solve the problem. In large publishing houses contracts are negotiated by a Contracts and Rights Officer. The publisher and editors may not see my requested extra clause. Therefore I try to keep informed on my projects by phoning the publishing house so that I know when my text has been sent to an illustrator. I talk to one of the editors rather than to the publisher, and ask the date of the dummy rough deadline. I request a copy for approval and, if there is some hesitation, I mention the extra clause in the contract.
Now the advance copy of a book is rarely a complete surprise for I have seen both dummy roughs and final page proofs. But occasionally one escapes. I was lucky recently. One zoomed through the system, circumventing my extra clause, but the illustrations are a delight!
Checking dummy roughs and page proofs
Authors need to approve illustrations twice during production: at dummy rough and page proof stages. Here are a few examples from my experience of the kinds of mistakes which may slip by when the author is not consulted.
* The text of a picture-story was in correct sequence, but the illustration for the second double page spread (pages 4-5) were placed first in the book, followed by those for pages 2-3.
* The text of a picture-story about King Beast, a boasting lion (called King Boast behind his back by the other animals), had a twist at the end. Courageously, the animals sang 'Happy Birthday King Boast'. A twist was lost when the illustrator put the words into a speech balloon, with 'Beast' instead of 'Boast'.
* In a picture-story about three children, aged 4, 6 and 8 years, the eight-year-old was variously represented in appearance as 8, 10 or 12 years of age.
* On one occasion, page proofs for a non-fiction book with line drawings and photographs were sent, but did not include captions to the illustrations. Errors discovered on publication included: misplacement of two captions, three grammatical errors in captions, and several spelling mistakes, one being: 'A penguin's leg is branded...'
* And now for a lucky picture-story in which a beetle and a spider were two of the characters in a cumulative tale. The illustrator had depicted the beetle with four legs and two body parts, and the spider with six legs and three body parts. Luckily the sketches were sent to me at dummy rough stage. Saved!
Note: This article was first published in the SCBWI Bulletin in 1996, and then in New Writer Magazine (Australia) in 2002.