Wisdom From Ben Norland - Walker Books

This weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar led by Ben Norland, art director for Walker Books, and Viviane Schwarz, illustrator and writer.

I wanted to take pictures and make sketches, but I was too busy taking notes instead. Here are some words of wisdom from the wise.

1. Sending samples/submissions to publishers is the least effective way of getting published. Most new projects are found through agents, or via word of mouth. It helps to know someone in the business.

2. Portfolios: Put your best illustrations in the front, and one really good one at the end. Never include something you don't like. If you get a meeting, it's helpful to bring sketchbooks, so you can show your working methods. Also, there might be some great book ideas in your sketchbooks.

3. Agents are really helpful and useful. And, they are always one your side. The publisher isn't necessarily, as they want to make money for themselves. An agent always wants to make money for you. The more money you earn, the more money they earn.

4. Children's book publishers are desperate for more texts. Lots of artists think they can become children's book illustrators, but very few writers aspire to write picture books. If you are an illustrator who can write you double your chances of being published. Publishers are hungry for texts. Ben Norland emphasized this over and over again.

5. Your portfolio is a performance. It should take 15-20 min to look through. That means 12-20 images.

6. Editors always read a story out loud before they accept it. Apparently, at Walker Books, if they're interested in a story, they will gather a few people together and have a 'story time' where they read it out loud to see if it works as a performace. That means that you should read your story out loud to an audience before you submit it to a publisher. Always test-drive your text.

7. A story book is a performance script: the adult is the narrator, the child is the audience, and the book is the stage.

8. Three things that really matter in a children's book: consistency of characterization, context and place (the world of the book), and humour.

9. A dummy doesn't have to be perfect, but it has to show potential.

And there you have it... an entire afternoon boiled down to 9 wise words.