Saturday, November 10, 2012

Each One Teach One: Author Joan Holub on Working with Illustrators and Art Directors

Before writing 130 books for children -- and she's still going strong with 2 new middle grade series' right now -- Author Joan Holub was an illustrator and an Art Director at Scholastic.    So today, in the final day of our interview with Joan, we want to address the concerns and questions that many authors have about working with illustrators and Art Directors.

Welcome back, Joan, let's jump right in with this first question:

Many first time authors worry that they’ve written a fabulous book but that the illustrator that will be chosen by their publisher won’t be able to visualize the story they’ve written correctly, and will possibly “mess up” the cover or other pictures in the book. Many writers, for this reason, wish they could choose their own illustrator, which in publishing today is generally not an option because decisions about which artist to choose are made by the art directors.

Since you are a writer who used to be a professional illustrator and an Associate Art Director in children’s trade books at Scholastic, it may amaze many people that you choose not to do your own illustrations in your books, but have decided to trust the illustrators who work with your publishers to do the art so that you “have time to write more books.”  Can you explain to newer authors who might be worried about the illustration process why you think having the Art Directors be responsible for the art in books is appropriate and should not be a fearful process?

Yes. I think we’re currently enjoying a golden age of illustration. There are so many amazing and varied illustration styles out there right now. And I think Editors and Art Directors are in a better position to choose the most suitable among them for our books. They regularly meet with art reps and view art portfolios. They’re generally pretty good when it comes to matching story to art. They’ve seen books soar to bestseller lists or fail miserably and have analyzed why that happened.

The Aladdin Art Director found Glen Hanson (Goddess Girls) and Craig Phillips (Heroes in Training). Their covers practically jump off the shelves. We love them. Readers tell us they love them. I wasn’t familiar with either these artists, so I couldn’t have suggested them. Our publisher had the vision to decide that they would be perfect for these series.

Most publishers are willing to entertain an author’s suggestions regarding artist selection. So make suggestions if you have some, but then sit back and let the Editor and Art Director do their jobs.

That said, speak up early if you have a problem with the publisher’s choice of artist or with something going on in the sketches. But be willing to entertain the idea that the publisher may be righter than you are. :o) I’ve rarely been disappointed by the art for a book of mine, though it has happened a couple of times. Out of 130+ books, that’s not bad though. 

Those are great tips, Joan, and some helpful reassurance.  Thanks!

Can you tell us about one of your favorite current or recent projects that you’ve worked on?
I knew that working with illustrator Tom Lichtenheld on Zero the Hero (picture book, 2012, Henry Holt) was going to be fun when he introduced himself to me by sending me a birdhouse illustrated with characters and speech bubbles from the manuscript. He even added some of his own hilarious speech bubbles. If you look at the book, most of the teeny tiny illustrations in the bottom corners of some pages were his idea. Like our editor, he really “got” what I was going for with Zero the Hero. My number one goal was that it be a funny book that entertained kids. All the math concepts? Those are secondary. Stuff I hoped kids would painlessly absorb along the way.

After the book was finished, Tom and I collaborated on the script for an animated book trailer short about Zero the Hero. There’s also a teaching guide at
I love the birdhouse! What a great introduction! Perhaps that gives idea-fodder to the other illustrators out there who are reading this blog right now. :)
And I love the Animated trailer and teaching guide you guys put together.  Those are great ideas for the authors among us, as we work to make our books more sale-able by making them interesting and accessible to kids online and teachers in classrooms.
Thanks for those great strategies!
And here's one more fun idea.  Joan and Suzanne have an active facebook page for their Goddess Girls' Series where they regularly receive notes from young readers asking questions, discussing Greek mythology, and saying how much they love the books.  Tell us about that, Joan. How and why did you, Susanne, and your publishers decide that a facebook page specifically for the Goddess Girls was a good way to connect with readers of this series? And would you recommend this to other authors?
We created the Goddess Girls Facebookpage at because we thought it would be fun and that it might help get the word out that about the series. It connects us with readers who are enthusiastic about our series, which helps keeps us excited about writing the books.
Sometimes we get valuable feedback from Goddess Girls readers on FB regarding what they like and dislike. Sometimes we’ll ask readers to vote on which title they like best for an upcoming book. When we were trying to decide on a title for the Goddess Girls book that will release this December, we asked if readers preferred Pandora the Curious or Pandora the Nosy. Turns out that grown-ups preferred Nosy. But kids preferred Curious and thought Nosy was negative. We wound up going with Pandora the Curious.
Thanks so much, Joan, for all of your amazing tips over the past few weeks!  You're such a weath of info and I've gotten emails from a number of authors saying how much they've appreciated all the tips you've shared.
Now, since it's November, I know we're competing with Nano-Wrimo this month, as I, and many of us, are busy writing, writing, writing and writing those 50,000 words between now and the end of November.  (Yes, I'm there. My name is Tolk) So we're going to take a break on Writermorphosis. The next two week's posts will not feature a new interview, but will just highlight a few of the great recent author interviews readers may have missed here, plus some fun NANO comics. 

In the meantime -- HAPPY NANO-ing to all! Even experienced authors can use nano as a way to move new projects forward, so grab that coffee and write! : ) - Janelle


Linda A. said...

I enjoyed your comments about why you choose to let someone else illustrate your books. I've seen an illustrator's subplot captivate readers as much or more than the story itself. Good points,as always.

Janelle said...

That's a great point about the illustrator's subplots, Linda!