Joni Nemeth, Department of Design
This paper is a summary of what I learned over eight months of research and study into the children’s book market. My project had consisted of two main parts. The first was to write a 25-page research paper into the market of children’s picture books. This paper formed the introduction to the research paper the rest of the paper can be found with the BYU Design Department where it was submitted as my BFA “thesis”.
It is a very personal paper, as my research was directed to those areas I felt were of the most interest and value to my work as I prepare to enter the field of children’s books. Much of what I wrote, therefore, were my own feelings about and attitude towards this market, and my subsequent role in it.
The second part of my project was then to apply my research to a practical project: I wrote and illustrated my own 32-page picture book. Much of the information in my research paper, therefore, deals with both the writing and illustrating aspects of the genre of children’s books. I think that it was very valuable for my work as an illustrator to know the process of writing also, because it taught me to think more about the interplay between the text and the illustrations in a children’s book. Picture books, in particular, require that the text and illustrations work together to tell the story. Neither should be able to stand alone, and both should contribute in different, but non-conflicting ways, to the narration of the story. By researching both processes I feel that I am now better equipped to understand the role of illustration in picture books, and how these illustrations should be “paced”.
My research taught me a great deal about where I belong in this market, and how best to promote my work in order to succeed. I also learned what things are not important for me to know. Initially, I tried to study the appropriate child psychology texts and recommended word and subject lists for the target age group of my project. I soon found that what these books said, however, was contrary to my intuition. After showing my project to a number of industry professionals, including an art director of children’s books and a former children’s book editor from New York, I felt that my initial instincts were correct, and that I should ignore the so-called “expert” advice in these books and lists. Therefore, I have chosen not to include that type of research in this paper.
The most important thing I learned in this paper, however, is the value of research itself. The more searching I did, the greater number of things I wanted to know more about-it was difficult to say when to stop. Due to time limitations on my project, I had to limit my research, but this is certainly not the end of my research into the market of children’s books.
The genre and market of children’s picture books is one which necessarily requires a great deal of research on the part of the individual who wishes to participate. Picture books exist within the confines of a historical tradition, both in the writing and also in the illustration, and it is critical that one be aware of this tradition in order to effectively compete in this tightly controlled market. Being aware of these boundaries is not a limit on creative freedom however: in fact, the most creative and innovative illustration today is occurring in the picture book market.
The coordination of word and picture is the mainstay of to day’s communication, and this coordination reaches its pinnacle in the medium of picture books. The role of illustration in these books is great, as picture books are the first introduction to art that a child has. Illustrations are the initial lure, and they are the basis by which the child estimates how he or she will like the book. It is often the quality of the illustrations that determines the success of a picture book. Therefore, the responsibility is placed on the artists involved to ensure that their work is of the highest calibre, in order to entice children to a lifetime of visual appreciation.
The most successful creators of picture books are individuals who have an instinctive connection with the genre, a connection which can only be built through a lifetime of close association with picture books. As a child, I did not have access to television and so my visual communication world was comprised almost entirely of books. Through this exposure, I was able to develop instincts I think will serve me well as I pursue my career. This background is what draws me to work in this market, and the more that I research picture books, the more sure I am that this is where I belong. I realize that there are drawbacks to choosing a career in picture books.
The market for children’s books is slowing and it would appear that the “Second Golden Age” of children’s books is drawing to a close. As fewer books are published, the opportunities to work in this field will be harder to come by. In addition, it is difficult to make a good living as an illustrator of children’s books, as the pay is not commensurate with the work involved.
However, I feel that it is the intangible rewards, not the monetary ones, that make this field of illustration so desirable and special. There is a sense of permanence and accomplishment that comes with the successful creation of a children’s book that cannot be found in any other field of illustration, and I think that is why so many of today’s top illustrators are joining the ranks of children’s book illustration.
The research I have done for this project has really kindled my interest in becoming a part of the children’s book market. I have learned a lot about myself in the process, and feel that I am finally in a position where I can start fine-tuning my skills as an illustrator. My illustration has changed greatly in the past year, and although this variance in style and approach has been trying at times, I think that in the end I have found a style and approach that I feel comfortable with and good about using.
Through my research I have also been able to open many doors which I previously did not know existed. I have made a real connection to some historical illustrators in particular, and I look forward to researching more about them. I am also excited to start marketing myself, and my project, to various publishers. I think that as a result of this experience, I have completed a project that I am proud of, and that I think will help to launch my career.
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