Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Query question: things I want in the book--include in query?

I have a novel that i want to be illustrated and its a YA novel but im afraid it would be considered New Adult because my character is 18. Is it wise to inform the agent in the query that you want the novel to be illustrated or do you wait to get represented by one and then tell them? (not illustrated by me)

My second question is the illustrations i want inside the novel fits more with graphic novels and by me wanting graphic novel artwork and panels inside the novel to work alongside the novel text, would i consider this a graphic novel or would it still be considered a illustrated novel?

P.S: This not a comic book but its a hybrid between comic book elements (artwork/Panels) with ordinary novel text.

First you're using graphic novel and illustrated novel almost interchangeably and they are VERY different kinds of books. Graphic novels add a layer of story with art. Illustrated novels do not. Graphic novels are very light on actual text. Illustrated novels are light on art.

You need to be VERY clear what you want because what you want here is not going to be easy to get. Publishers aren't keen to do graphic novels: they don't sell like books do and they're expensive to produce. Publishers aren't keen on illustrated novels either because of the added production costs.

Since you're submitting text-only queries don't include anything about illustrations in the query letter.  If an agent is interested in your work, and you have a phone call to discuss your project, that's when you mention you see this as an illustrated novel.  


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I know zero about that which the writer is asking. I think I've seen a graphic novel once, not sure if that's what it was though. To me it's all a hybrid of comics and the last time I saw one of those I was a fan of Katy Keene. OMG I'm ancient.

Anyway, my point is, no matter the question, our very own sleek-skin-beady-eye has an answer and we get to learn something. Now that makes for a good day. Except for the cold. -8 this morning.

MB Owen said...

Will the story DEPEND on artwork (graphic novel) or does the writer want to create a hybrid book? It would sort of bug me as a reader to look at pictures but then I'm not 18. That boat sailed long, long ago.

Why illustrate then? If it's not a graphic novel aren't the words creating enough impact?

Kitty: :)

Pharosian said...

I haven't been 18 for a lot longer than 18 years, but I still remember how much I used to love reading books that had the occasional picture. I'd always be tempted to leaf ahead to find the next picture. Those books were rare, though, and I haven't seen one in ages.

These days, the pictures would be fairly easy to incorporate into e-books, but if they're in color, that would leave a lot of us with e-ink readers wanting. The expense of putting pictures in a print version would be a lot higher, but that's something that would make me interested in buying a paper copy rather than the e-book.

Megan V said...

Another great and helpful post!

My guess is they're going for an illustrated novel because of THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN. Their MC is probably a comic artist, so they want the illustrations to be stylistically similar to those found in a graphic novel.(I'd put my money on Superheroes over Manga). They see the illustration as necessary to the story (and probably have left blank pages in the MS for the comic panels) but can't draw the art themselves.

I wonder if the recommendation would be different if the illustrations were already in the MS.

I realize that there are added production costs, but I wonder if the author has a particular reason for including the illustrations and thinking it might widen the audience. I had a ton of friends who enjoyed graphic novels (Manga mostly) in high school. But illustrated novels, well, those were like heaven on earth. Whenever they came across an illustrated novel, they leaped at the chance to buy it. Why? Many of them were dyslexic. Those books gave them a chance to read without feeling "stupid or frustrated." (audiobooks seemed to have an opposite effect).

Colin Smith said...

I think our friend here is suggesting the illustrations in the novel would be graphic-novel-style? And the next question one would ask is, "what's THAT?" since, for example, Detective Conan manga is very different to, say, the Batman or Superman graphic novels. The author probably has a style in mind, but his conception is a regular novel with full-page illustrations in this style scattered throughout.

Which leads to the question on everyone's lips: Why? What purpose do these pictures serve in a novel for adults? This kind of thing has been done before. The first example that jumps to mind is the expanded edition of Stephen King's THE STAND, which clocks in at a wrist-breaking 1,200 pages, and includes some full-page illustrations. BUT: a) it's a Stephen King novel, so who's going to object? and b) this edition was published about 10 or so years after the original, so it was already very popular, and there was a lively fan-base interested in reading the 500 pages of additional story King put into it.

So, we come back to the question: why would a writer want to include illustrations in his or her debut novel? If you feel the text needs illustrations to help the reader "see" the world, or "see" the characters, then you're failing in your job as a writer. Maps are one thing, but part of the joy of writing is the telepathy that exists between the writer and his/her reader, where we describe something we see in our minds and let the reader on the other end pick it up in their minds. But unlike movies, where a director forces his/her interpretation of the text upon the viewer, we can allow the reader to interpret our words in a way that makes sense to their environment and culture. Which is why I prefer books over movies, and I'm very wary of movie adaptations of books. But that's another topic. :)

So, writer friend, I would encourage you to write a powerful story, and let your words do the drawing. Then, once it's published, sit back and watch the folks over at DeviantArt have a field day drawing their interpretations of your work. And maybe one day, when you're a bestselling writer, and your work has been on the bestseller lists for a while, you can release a special edition of the novel with the illustrations included that you first envisioned.

MB Owen said...

Colin: I thought of the "style" as well, but what was mentioned was paneling which is used for graphic novels / comics.

Dena Pawling said...

This kind of sounds like the books I bought for one of my boys because he has a learning disability [like the dyslexia previously mentioned]. I bought Great Illustrated Classics, which have a full-page photo on one side and abridged text on the other side, and Hi/Lo Books, which are teen books written at a lower reading level and have small illustrations embedded in each page. Those books got my son to like reading again. I would think this would be a specialized market tho, not sure too many agents would represent it [if any]. said...

I don't know. It seems an interesting concept, but, to QOTKU's point, get the attention of the agent first using a query that doesn't bring the illustrations into the picture, (ahhh, see how I did that?)and then during what we hope is a discussion for representation bring all that up. And, have some comparable titles in mind to show how it fits into the market. Initially thought, I'd want the idea to sell on the strength of the story and the writing first anyway, right?

This idea reminds me of a book called THE SELECTED WORKS OF T.S. SPIVET, a debut novel by Reif Larsen. It was published back in 2009 but got a few awards. It wasn't classified as YA though, from what I recall. Still the book was loaded with images, even in the margins etc, and resulted in a bidding war among ten publishers. If this questioner has something like this in mind, then no telling how it might work out.

Also, speaking of Stephen King, from Colin's comment above about THE STAND, even he gave Reif Larsen's book a glowing endorsement, "Here is a book that does the impossible: it combines Mark Twain, Thomas Pynchon, and Little Miss Sunshine. Good novels entertain; great ones come as a gift to the readers who are lucky enough to find them. This book is a treasure."

Good luck! This would be one of those times when a follow up would be great. I'd like to know what happens. said...

Illustrated and graphic novels aren't just for readers with learning differences. My smart, well-read fifteen-year-old daughter is currently reading The Walking Dead, Book Ten, created by Robert Kirkman. One of her favorite middle-grade novels was Newbery Honor award winner, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.

She can read anything she wants. She chose these books because they're creative and interesting. Her big complaint is the books are always unavailable. Someone else has already checked them out of the library. They may be expensive to produce, but the genre is popular with her set.

Jenz said...

I should like this idea--like a few other people said, novels with occasional illustrations can be really fun.

But, not illustrated by you? Do you know how much it costs to hire a really good illustrator? I mean GOOD, not the $15 an hour scam jobs you'll find via google. We're talking about thousands of dollars.

The last time I estimated an illustration job (for one, simple illustration), it was $700. This job could easily go into five figures.

This is not a minor expectation. Hiring a good illustrator, plus the extensive extra production costs, are going to put off a lot of publishers, maybe all of them. If you're serious, you'd better be able to back up the reason why you want to do this, and you'd better have clear expectations of what a large request it really is. Otherwise any agent you mention it to is going to see GIANT RED FLAG OF A CLIENT.

Jenz said...

Sorry for getting all testy there, but damn, it gets old how people think computers do all the work and a trained monkey do what I do. A trained monkey could only do part of what I do.

Kelsey Hutton said...

I agree that there are ever more options for how we read these days, and that it's faulty to imply an author wants illustrations because their writing isn't up to snuff, or that illustrations have no place in novels for adults. (Sorry Colin--please know I still have a ton of respect for your opinions!)

I think of a lovely illustrated memoir I read a few years ago called THE MAGICAL LIFE OF LONG TACK SAM by Ann Marie Fleming. I loved it. And that book would not have been the same without the photos and illlustrations. Whether you would love it as much as I did will probably depend on many things, including whether or not illustrations are your cup of tea.

However, I also agree illustrations add a whole other level of complexity to getting traditionally published. Best of luck to the author! You might have an uphill battle ahead of you, but Janet's Rules for Writers will help you stay on the right track.

Colin Smith said...

Kelsey: No offense taken--we all have opinions on this, clearly, and we're not all going to agree all the time. In fact, some of the reasons for illustrated novels (even on the adult level) that you and others raise are good and valid. But I will still stand by my original point: the author needs to ask WHY. Be honest and ask: are the illustrations a cop out to writing more vividly, or will they really enhance the reading experience? Given the potential problems faced by trying to get an illustrated novel published, the author needs to be really sure they need to be there, and be willing to fight for them all the way to publication.

Colin Smith said...

Oh... and for the sake of full disclosure, I loved MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by Ransom Riggs. It's a great story, and it's enhanced by the old (and odd) photos included in the book. Definitely one to own in paper format--the publisher did an exquisite job with it. BUT--it's a great story with or without the pictures. :)

stacy said...

I think the writer is confusing content with style. It's an illustrated novel, but the style of art would be similar to a graphic novel.

I wonder if the writer wouldn't be well-served by contacting a comics book publisher, or suggesting that to an agent once represented. Many comics book publishers do require that the writer already have an artist, but some don't. I think Dark Horse doesn't (I think! Might wanna Google that.) At any rate, might be worth checking out.

stacy said...

Actually, researching is what I meant--not contacting. At least not until the writer has all the pertinent info needed to know whether it's worth pitching to that publisher.

Kelsey Hutton said...

Thanks Colin--and yes, I believe authors should be able to justify every single style choice when it comes to their story! But I don't think that's limited to illustrations.

Just because the author's journey to publication will be much harder if the story is truly, honestly best served with illustrations doesn't mean she shouldn't strike out ahead. That's simply part of Being Brave.

Adib Khorram said...

Depending on the themes explored, the novel could probably go towards YA or NA.

I wonder what the author is holding up as comp titles for the style they're going for. Is it the aforementioned THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN? Is it WINGER? Is it THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY?

All three use illustrations in them. WINGER uses a combination of (hilarious) infographics and, occasionally, comic book-style drawings. The tale of Screaming Ned is particularly wonderful.

THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY has two or four pages of black and white graphic novel after each chapter, because the main character is working on a comic book - and so the MC's comic book is interwoven with his story. And then the entire epilogue is presented in graphic form.

There are plenty of books out there that have used illustrations, but neither WINGER nor THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY were debuts. I don't know about THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN and I can't think of any debuts that have illustrations.

That doesn't mean there aren't any, though.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

Yay! A question I actually have experience to answer!

So I wrote THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY, which does contain a graphic novel within the novel. In my manuscript, I included the graphic novel as a script because my drawing skills are nonexistent. When I queried for the book, I mentioned the graphic novel elements in the last line. "My book is a contemporary YA novel that incorporates some graphic novel elements."

The agent I signed with (the amazing Amy Boggs) was totally on board with the graphic novel elements, but we both knew that when we went on submission that the publishers might be less receptive since they'd have to hire and artist and such, and I prepared myself mentally to redo those sections as prose if a publisher made an offer but didn't want the added burden of doing the graphic novel.

Luckily, the editor who acquired my book was enthusiastic about the graphic novel portions of the book, and they did hire an artist to turn my script into a graphic novel.

So it can be done. But I think you need to be very clear as to what you're looking for and you need to be very sure that those graphic elements are absolutely vital to the story. If the book can exist without them, an agent or editor is probably not going to want to do them.

If you want to read my query for the book, my agent did a breakdown of it over here.

Christina Seine said...

Like Megan and Dena mentioned, we found graphic novels priceless when trying to teach my oldest son to read (he also had a slight disability). The first book he ever asked for was a manga-themed college level science book, and I almost didn't get it for him because at the time, I had silly opinions about graphic novels (well and plus I thought it was over his head). Thank God I listened to him. We've since learned to love comic books and graphic novels as much as our Jane Austens and Patrick Lee books. So it saddens me to hear that publishers aren’t so keen on them. Personally I would love to see an illustrated YA or NA, even though like Colin part of the joy for me is creating book characters in my head, because not everyone can or likes to do that. If the illustrations play off the story (like if the MC is an illustrator), that would be even better. The OP didn’t mention whether or not she already had an illustrator in mind, though, and also I would love to hear the reasons behind wanting it illustrated. The idea of a hybrid comic/book is really interesting.

Karen McCoy said...

Thanks to Adib for the great recommendations. And ditto to Jenz. My husband is a graphic designer and runs into this all the time--building images can seem deceptively easy, but it takes quite a few hours of work (especially if you have to start over because someone doesn't like something). My husband also makes signs, and has to ensure the illustration translates to the printer in a way that looks good (which sometimes involves a bit of complicated programming).

It's the same kind of thing that writers encounter--fiction writing seems deceptively easy from the outside. But it's like learning a foreign language--it can take years.

MB Owen said...

Shaun: Very cool and congratulations!

Christina Seine said...

Shaun - What an awesome query, and a fascinating look into the way the agent and then editors adapted it. Your book sounds amazing. Congratulations!

Kelsey Hutton said...

Thanks for the insight, Shaun! And congrats : )

Elissa M said...

My expertise here may be a little dated since I haven't worked as an illustrator for decades but...

Just assuming the novel in question is accepted by a publisher who agrees to have it illustrated, I have to point out that the style of illustrations is as much in the author's hands as the cover design. And we all know how much say authors have about that, right?

The comments here have all made salient points. There has to be a good reason for a novel to bear illustrations. And no, the author's "vision" for their novel is not a good reason.

I'm reminded of an acquaintance who, knowing that I'm an illustration-trained artist, wanted me to illustrate his massive door-stop SF novel. He was super keen on the idea, and sent me piles of pictures depicting each character multiple times, as well as his descriptions of each. (Pictures he had snagged off the internet, but I guess that's not relevant here.) He did not divulge any plot points or scenes to be illustrated despite being asked numerous times. I got the strong impression that he cared more about people "seeing" his characters exactly as he did than about the novel actually working.

So, I quoted him my prices, giving him a discount because he was a "family friend", but also suggesting where he might find less-expensive (and hungrier) illustrators. I also gave him a mini-introduction to the expenses of actually printing illustrations. Did I mention he had decided to self-publish because agents and publishers weren't "visionary" enough for him? I haven't heard from him since.

Query questioner, I don't think you're delusional like my above acquaintance. I do think you should do more research into illustrated novels. When you know exactly what's already out there, you'll have a better idea where your project fits in. That will give you more leverage sell others on why your novel must be illustrated to work. It will also help you find and target agents who have already sold illustrated novels, making your pitch that much easier.

Good luck! said...

Weeeeellll, not that my comments are so important they must be read, but...Adib, just so you know, I mentioned a debut of an illustrated book in my comment above; THE SELECTED WORKS OF T.S.SPIVET, and I'll just reiterate it was involved in a bidding war with TEN publishers. (we can all dream of that happening one day, sigh)

Anyway, Shaun H, I just want you to know I read the opening of your book THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRALEY a few days ago when you commented on another post, (this is why it's important for all of us commenters to have our info out there, cause sometimes we go looking for blogs, etc). I told my husband, if you want to grab a reader this is how you do it:

"The boy was on fire."

That opening line you wrote is one of the best I've ever read.

Congratulations on your success! I didn't realize the book had illustrations, or I would certainly have mentioned it here. said...

Dang it. BraWley.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Shaun thanks for the link. Congratulations, I like the rule of three.

To the writer who asked the question: Graphic novels for adults are a big thing in France. Entire (large) sections of libraries are dedicated to them. There is even a museum dedicated entirely to them. They span from erotic to manga to teen, Asterix.

Take Persepolis, it was made into a animated film that respected the book.

In graphic novels the illustrations do most of the showing.

I don't know much about illustrated novels, especially for adults.

If illustrations are important then you might consider agents and publishers beyond North America.

A good place to look for illustrators published or not is There are local chapters worldwide with very talented artists.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

If illustrations are very important, perhaps you could query it by saying transmedia. Read Chuck Wendig:

Liz Mallory said...

This sounds exactly like THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY by Shaun Hutchinson. It's a novel with a few comic-book pages in between every second or third chapter. (The MC is wiring a comic that reflects his psychological condition.) I highly recommend reading it to get an idea what you want.

Megan V said...


Thanks for the insight and for sharing the link to your query!

Looks like I'll be purchasing a brand new book for my friends birthday. :)

Christina and Dena—it's great to see graphic novels open someone up the world of reading isn't it? Thanks for sharing your stories.

Laina said...

Can I just...

"What purpose do these pictures serve in a novel for adults?"

Besides the fact that this is a YA novel and therefore not a novel for adults but for teens... probably the same purpose that pictures in graphic novels serve for adults???

Sam Mills said...

Couple days late but... when I hear hybrid I think of things like "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" and "Wonderstruck" by Brian Selznick. So, Scholastic at least was willing to go ahead with something like that.

Reiterating from above: illustrations are expensiiiive (as hiring a good illustrator should be) which makes me wonder if the querier had somebody in mind, or is hoping the publisher will sort it out.

DLM said...

Ran across an agent just now who's actively seeking "highly illustrated" novels though not necessarily graphic novels. Thought of our questioner here!