If you aspire to be an illustrator or a children's book author and illustrator, here are FAQs and resources I found the most helpful to get me on my way.

FAQs and tips for writers and illustrators

Information for new writers or illustrators


On This Page

How can I get my stories or illustrations published?

How to write, illustrate, and publish children's books

Self-publishing, print-on-demand (POD), and vanity publishers

Someone to comment on your writing

Books on writing

How to draw cartoons and get them published

Will I make a living from from writing or illustrating?

Self-publishing, Print-On-Demand (POD) and Vanity Publishers

Help with fees, rights and contracts

Understand copyright: what's copying, and the legal consequences

Support for your business

Get paid for library and photocopying rights!

Do I need an agent, and where can I find one?

School visits and book festivals

Websites, sending image files, and technology

Chat and support for your sanity

Helpful links for USA children's book illustrators

Finally

 

If you'd like to become an illustrator, or a children's book author or illustrator, this page is full of resources that helped me along my way, and answers to FAQs. Most other web sites give USA information, so if you're in the UK, this will be especially useful to you.

Note: Although the book pictures link to Amazon.co.uk, it's good if you order from your local bookshop as this, ultimately, supports writers.

How can I get my stories or illustrations published?

Here's the short answer, followed by a very long list of resources, as you need to turn yourself into an expert to increase your chances of a publisher taking notice.

Writers should send their manuscript, without any illustrations (unless you're a writer AND an illustrator), to a few well chosen literary agents, or to publishers who accept unsolicited submissions. "Well chosen" means you don't send a science fiction story to someone who only publishes romance. Publishers get thousands of times more submissions than they ever publish (people of every possible ability send things in, and even wonderful work gets turned down as publishers limit how much they publish), so patience, and working on your quality, is the name of the game. Check publishers' websites for their submission guidelines.

Why you shouldn't ask me to illustrate your story: most publishers want to choose illustrators themselves. If you send your story as an illustrated package, they may like your story but not your choice of illustrator, and this may turn them off. Besides, illustrators need to be paid, and usually only publishers can afford that. Only amateurish, very new illustrators, accept to work just for a chance of making money eventually.

Illustrators should send samples of their work to the art directors at publishing houses. The switchboard will tell you who exactly. I send half a dozen A4 prints, and maybe a postcard, twice a year. Make sure your contact details are on everything you send. Don't send any originals. Publishers tend to file our samples for the day they might want our style, so don't let silence discourage you.

Illustrating books may be your holy grail, but as an illustrator, you'd be wise to widen your market, as it could take a while to get a commission, and you may be working for a rate of pay that a waitress would turn down.

Writer/illustrators: if you have written a picture book, the accepted method of submitting it is to send a "dummy book" along with the manuscript. I'd send it to the art director, rather than to an editor: if you send it to an editor it will join the massive "slush pile" of unsolicited manuscripts. A dummy book can be pretty basic: a dozen folded A4 pages, with the text and some pictures pasted in. Most illustrations should just be roughs, but a couple of pages should be your best work in colour. On the happy day you get given a contract, the publisher will tell you what format they want for the book, and you'll have to paint your lovely pictures all over again.

That was the short answer. Now I'm afraid your research and preparation begins.

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How to write, illustrate, and publish children's books

  • Writer's & Artists' Yearbook (for the UK) for addresses of publishers and agents, and useful articles. Get the current year's, or check out previous ones in the library for different articles.

  • Children's Writers' & Artists' Yearbook (for the UK, with a small international section). I read one of the early ones cover to cover, and I presume other years are just as good: it's full of useful articles to answer all you question on preparing for submission. And lots of publishers' and agents' details.

  • The Insider's Guide to Getting Your Book Published, by Rachael Stock. Fantastic. I read this when i already knew quite a lot about this topic, and still found it full of practical, clear information.

  • It's a bunny eat bunny world, by Olga Litowinsky (it's for the USA and for writers more than illustrators, but still a favourite book to understand the whole business side from start to finish). You can probably learn similar things from my other online sources below, but if you're like me you might prefer to sit down with a book.

 

  • Writing for children, by Linda Strachan, is the book new writers in the UK should start with to get an overview of the process from idea through to writing, submission, publication and publicity.

  • Write to be published, by Nicola Morgan: I've only just found this book, and if it's anything like her funny and informative blog "Need2bepublished" then it's exactly what you need. Nicola also offers individual advice, manuscript appraisals, submission help, and writing tuition, through her consultancy Pen2Publication.

  • Check out publishers and agents "Preditors and Editors" on "Preditors and Editors". This website lists (mostly, but not exclusively) USA publishers and agents and any known scams. Also advice on copyright and submitting your work. If you get approached by a publisher or agent you've never heard of, do check them out here.

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  • Wordpool is a great website for UK children's writers, illustrators and parents. The articles are, I believe, more for writers than illustrators. There is a concise FAQ page for new children's illustrators, and another FAQ page for new writers, on manuscripts, submissions, do you need to find an illustrator before you submit a manuscript etc. There is also a page of reviews of books telling you about writing and getting published.

  • More children's writing advice and a huge amount of advice and links to more advice from Rock Canyon University Free School of Writing for Children

  • From a children's book editor: The Purple Crayon is full of advice for chidren's writers and illustrators. Things like 'Complete idiot's guide to publishing', and 'Getting out of the slush pile'.

  • From an agent: Chris Tugeau gives children's book writers and illustrators tons of useful advice.

  • The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is especially great if you're relatively new to all this. Loads of practical and fascinating links on their website, including FAQ on how to get published.

  • Advice on children's writing and getting published: by writer Aaron Shepard.

  • Writing holidays: in the UK, the Arvon writing courses have an excellent reputation. They're stimulating and fun and make a great holiday. Though if you're a very experienced writer, they might not be in-depth enough for you. It's hugely dependent on who the tutors are, so do your research.

  • Useful writing articles in the Writing World newsletter, for instance the punctuation to use for dialogue.

  • Including people with disabities in your writing and illustrations: it's not just about being terribly PC. Examples and information in ChildrenInThePicture.org.uk.

  • Will I get rich? Can I afford to be a writer? Most new writers have no idea how much they are likely to earn from their writing. Here is an honest account from author Jamie Jauncey, who writes for children and for businesses. The general advice to new writers is, if you need an income, keep the day job. You can always ditch it once your books take off.

  • My own story: my experience of getting my first children's book published may be useful to you. See 'Hamish - The story behind the story'.

  • And to wrap it up: finally, reach out for a chocolate and watch this short video entitled "Imaginary Writing Process", covering not only writing, but contacts with agents and publishers too. It's all true!

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Someone to comment on your writing

You've written a story. Now you need someone to check it for you. To comment on it, critique it, edit, help you get it at a standard ready for submitting to publishers. Or to reassure you it already is brilliant. (Ha! Lucky you!)

An agent would do this, but if you're a new writer you need to make your manuscript as good as possible in order to get an agent interested in you in the first place. And of course publishers have editors who will, hopefully, edit your manuscript, but they won't even look at it if it's not pretty good to start with.

So there are two ways: you find competent friends (choose very carefully), or you pay an expert. (Please don't ask me, by the way: I am neither competent nor expert, and I don't even do this for friends.) .

There are writers or agents or ex-editors from publishing houses who offer reading or criticism services. I don't know how good most of them are, so have a good look at what they offer. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • The Hilary Johnson Authors' Advisory Service

  • Cornerstones Literary Consultancy

  • The Literary Consultancy - manuscript assessment and editorial advice

  • Pen2Publication, Nicola Morgan's consultancy: individual advice, manuscript appraisals, submission help, and writing tuition. I know Nicola and admire her generosity to writers, vast knowledge of the writing business (she was an energetic Chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland), and clear thinking. This is the same Nicola Morgan who writes the witty and informative blog: "Help, I need a publisher!"

  • Fiona Bannatyne, writer:

  • The Writers' Workshop

  • Adventures in Fiction: Mentoring and manuscript appraisal

  • Simon Rose, writer

  • Blue Elephant Storyshaping: for children's picture book writers and illustrators

  • Smart Quill Editorial: for children's book writers

  • and for anyone in Scotland, a free Critical Reading Service from Highlands and Islands Arts

If you're looking for a literary agent to represent you, there's good advice from children's agent Julia Churchill.

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Books on writing

There are hundreds of books out there with advice on how to write. I've learned a lot from some of the ones I've read, and I find they also motivate me to drop everything and write. I also find it useful to browse through some of them when I've finished drafting a story: it stimulates ideas for detail and improvements. And when they don't tell you anything new, at least it's reassuring. So I'll share with you those books I've found useful, in case you haven't yet explored this vast field. At this stage, I'll just add books one at a time as I remind myself of them. Come back for more!

  • Dynamic characters by Nancy Kress is packed full of advice, not just on imagining full, interesting characters, but on making them come alive in their dialogue, thoughts, in the plot, and the use made of the point of view. I have other writing books on "characters" but this one is by far the more rich.

  • Conflict, Action & Suspense by William Noble. It took me a while to get into this, but by the middle of the book I was underlining things on every page.It gives you the nuts and bolts of what makes readers avid to keep turning the page. I particularly liked the points on how to pace a story, build up the tension, and ways of ending it.

  • Writing the breakout novel Workbook by Donald Maass. Someone recommended this title, and I think I bought the "workbook" version by mistake, but I'm very glad I did. I actually did the exercises (usually I can't be bothered, but these are short and I got into the habit of doing one a day before getting out of bed), with great enjoyment and satisfaction, and felt I'd learned a lot. Maass illustrates each "lesson" with copious examples from novels, but it suited me better to skim over those in order to get on with writing.

  • Deep Writing by Eric Maisel. Liberating, unblocking, stimulating. Half-way through reading it I'd worked out massive changes to one of my stories. Eric Maisel trains creativity coaches, one of whom I used and can heartily recommend. This is Marion Barnett, who has helped me leap to the places I wanted to get to.

  • Bird by bird - Some instructions on writing and life by Anne Lamott. I find some writing books rather too pious for my taste. This one, on the other hand, is full of spirit and subversiveness, while stimulating you to write and enjoy it.

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How to draw cartoons and get them published

  • Your career in the comics by Lee Nordling is full of business information from dozens of big American cartoonists, syndicates and newspapers. It also gives you an insight into the lives and loves of these cartoonists.

  • Successful Syndication: A Guide for Writers and Cartoonists by Michael Sedge: more specifically on syndication and self syndication, including a lawyer's detailed comments on contracts.

  • Drawing on the funny side of the brain by Christopher Hart is for kids and adults. There are so many "How to draw cartoon" books but this one is probably the best I've seen, as it covers every aspect of cartooning. Of course it covers drawing characters (people, animals, eyes, hands, attitude), but also writing jokes (pacing, number of panels, punch lines, choice of words), layout and design (angle shots, speech bubles), and a little about the way to go professional.

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Will I make a living from from writing or illustrating?

It takes time for the business to build up, so if you're new to this, keep the day job or the spouse.

Most illustrators make money from having a mix of short and long jobs from various types of customers. So if your dream is to illustrate picture books, you might need to consider additional markets for a while: illustrating for magazines (editorial), for design and advertising, for websites, for greeting cards, and so on. You will have to price your work at a level that represents your time, and the market, and most importantly you should understand copyright, because selling rights again and again for the same piece of work is part of what you need to make a living. You can learn about all this from the links on this page.

Writing is similar: for most writers it is not enough to have a few books out there. What puts food on the table is having quite a few books out there, and selling rights over and over again. There are translation rights (that's a publisher from another country publishing your book), film rights (your book may never be turned into a movie, but you get money for promising not to let anyone else have it - for a period of time), rights to have your story adapted for radio, or reprinted in a magazine, there's digital rights. When a book goes out of print, if you have a decent contract all the rights return to you, and you can self-publish, make ebooks, and so on.

For some writers and illustrators, money can also come in from doing school or library visits, or events at festivals.

  • Here is some maths from author Jamie Jauncey, who writes for children and for businesses. He gives you the figures for his children's books, and you'll see how having a few titles published will not make you a living. Unsurprisingly, he hasn't put all his eggs in that one basket.

  • And here is some maths from author Dean Wesley Smith ("Making money in fiction", who show the opposite: plenty of writers do earn well, even writers you've never heard about, but they keep writing books, and selling rights.

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Self-publishing, print-on-demand (POD), and vanity publishers

Self-publishing, also called Indie publishing, opens up a world of exciting possibilities. For little or no investment, we can use Print-On-Demand (POD)and we can publish ebooks (e.g. for Kindle or iPads).

 

  • Here's a great self-publishing guide: "Self-Printed" by Catherine Ryan Howard. It's like sitting with a close friend who is not only generous, but has a well organised mind, and having her share every useful bit of her knowledge and experience. She gives you the broad picture, and just as your brain starts fizzing with practical questions and what-ifs, she covers all the details with great thoroughness. Catherine Ryan Howard's "can-do" attitude and irreverent humour make reading this book a pleasure. There's an e-book and a real book version.

  • Self-publishing with a business mindset: If you want to make significant money from self-publishing, you need to understand the maths. I love this article by Dean Wesley Smith, comparing the cash flow with traditional publishing (where a publisher publishes your book) with the cash flow with self-publishing. When you've read this, keep reading all his other pages.

  • Self-publishing for friends and family: Print-on-Demand (POD) is a solution if you'd love to see your story turned into a book to give or sell to friends and aquaintances. (Of course, if you treat it as a business, the work can sell to a wide audience too.) The POD and e-book producing outfits I'm aware of don't charge you anything except the price of the book. These methods give you an alternative to the long, and sometimes impossible slog of trying to get a publisher interested in your manuscript. The outcome is totally different, but it might suit you fine.

  • Vanity publishers: the not-so-affectionate term for companies that tell you what a publishing success you'll be, but their editing and design and marketing and distribution are pretty much non-existent, so you end up with a pile of unsold books. And instead of the publishers paying you (as is normal), you have paid them. They may sound like a mainstream publisher, or like a self-publishing outfit. Read about the good and the bad in Vanity Publishing . Check if the publisher is on the listing of 'Preditors and Editors'.

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Help with fees, rights and contracts

  • The Association of Illustrators' hotline (The AOI) helps members with fees in the UK. Members can also consult their online pricing guide and various guides, and download a sample commissioning form to use with clients. I believe non-members can buy some of these guides too. I highly recommend membership, especially if you're new to illustrating professionally.

    They sometimes have an "Introduce a friend" scheme, so if you want to join and appreciate what I've put on this site, ask me to send you a joining form: this may give me a discount to my own membership.

  • The Society of Authors is THE society for all types of writers in the UK. They publish many guides, give advice, and they will check through your publisher's contract, which is essential if you don't have an agent to do that for you. You can join as soon as you get an offer from a publisher.

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Understand copyright: what's copying, and the legal consequences

Is it OK to copy someone's image or words? No, you guessed it. But perhaps you've heard it's OK to copy just a small part? Or to copy a small part and change it a little. How about copying ideas? Some people truly believe that as long as something is on a website, or on facebook, it's up for grabs. They're breaking the law. Learn more about copyright and the consequences of getting it wrong with these articles by art and licencing lawyer Josha Kaufman here and here.

If you're an illustrator, there are ways to maximise your protection, and ways to find who's copying your art: see Elizabeth Dulemba's article here. Here's how you to search the web for sites that have copied all, or part of, your images. Drag your image into the search box in Google Images (more on this on Joan Beiriger's blog). Look at the search results and weep. Now pick yourself up and find out what to do next from Lorelle's article or this one, from ArtChain. If all else fails, there's a place you can name and shame people who copy from you: YouThoughtWeWouldntNotice.com but it's a last resort, as doing this may screw up your chances of getting what you want.

Support for your business

  • The Association of Illustrators (The AOI) is fantastic for UK illustrators, as mentioned above. I especially recommend it if you're starting off, even if the fee puts you off: this is the time to get all the business information you can. Look out for their seminars on getting started as an illustrator.

  • Scottish Enterprise's Business Gateway is fantastic if you're getting started. When I used them, I got free advice, free mentoring, free training, free networking events, free everything.

  • The Cultural Enterprise Office supports creative businesses in Scotland. Free or affordable advice, coaching, seminars, and a library of information.

  • Scottish Book Trust is a great resource for writers and illustrators in Scotland. They run courses, mentoring, and schemes for school or library visits. I worship them.

  • BusinessLink is a UK government resource where you'll find help on starting up, including scary stuff like taxes and VAT.

  • Taxaid is another resource to help you understand taxes.

  • VAT registration: as a UK writer or illustrator, you'd probably benefit from being VAT registered. This way you get VAT refunded on all your supplies (computer stuff, art equipment, training...). Most of your customers are organisations that get their VAT refunded too, so they don't care that you have to charge them VAT on top of your fee. Being VAT-registered only represents a little bit of administration work every now and again, once you've got the hang of it, and the people at the VAT office are helpful.

  • Pay on time: In the UK, there is a law to protect you if you are not paid on time. If a customer drags their heels beyond your agreed date, you can charge them a fee and an interest rate. More information, as well as a calculator and a form to send your late-paying client, here.

Get paid for library and photocopying rights!

This may sound too good to be true, but by filling in the odd form, you may get money coming in once a year from various sources. These are to cover the use of your work in the public arena, such as when people photocopy or borrow your work from libraries.

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Do I need an agent, and where can I find one?

  • Illustrators don't need an agent, as there are plenty of customers who will happily deal directly with you. This will suit you if you enjoy leading all aspects of your work and don't enjoy middlemen. For instance, all the publishers I'm aware of are happy to deal with illustrators directly. I suspect that many big design or advertising companies find their illustrators through agents, but there's nothing stopping you from approaching them directly with samples from your portfolio.

  • Writers tend to need an agent, though some are perfectly fine without one. A majority of publishers state they will not look at unsolicited submissions, in other words they only read manuscripts recommended to them by agents. The publishers who do accept submissions from anyone will put your precious manuscript on their very large "slush pile", to be sifted through by junior editors. Your work may get overlooked, and it may take months or years before you hear anything. An agent makes things more comfortable and more likely to happen.

    For an opinionated analyis of the role of agents, and many other writerly topics, see Dean Wesley Smiths' "Killing the sacred cows of publishing". In contrast, I know quite a few writers who consider their agent one of their closest friend.

  • Literary agents are different from illustration agents. If you're an illustrator, a literary agent will only get you work in the publishing world, and they may be more familiar with editors than with art directors. You would need to check this out. The advantage of a literary agent is they tend to take a smaller percentage (around 15%) than an illustration agent (around 40%).

  • Advantages of agents (if they're good): they have better contacts than you do, so should get you more and better work, and possibly have more clout to negotiate higher fees. They can guide you in your career, recommending areas you're particularly suited to. They deal with money and contracts and administration, areas which you might not enjoy or be competent at. If there are difficulties with the publisher, they deal with it. Some people develop a close and supportive relationship with their agent. For writers, agents often also take on an editing role, helping you make your manuscript more attractive to publishers.

  • If you don't have an agent, there is help for you regarding fees and contracts through associations. In the UK, there is the Society of Authors, and the Association of Illustrators. The latter also has lots of information to help you find customers.

  • How do you find an agent? With difficulty, if they're any good. If they approach you, check them out, as not everyone is honest or useful. The good agents tend to be pretty picky because they're full, unless they've just recently set up. In the UK, agents are listed in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. Check agents' websites for how to get in touch, and what kind of work they want to see. For writers, it can be as hard to get an agent as to get a publisher: agents get loads of enquiries, and may take weeks or months to get back to you.

  • How do you choose an agent? This is different from finding one. Just because an agent wants you, doesn't mean you want them. Decide what is important to you in an agent, and check that the agent you're considering ticks those boxes. There's more advice on this topic for illustrators from Janee Trasler.

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School visits and book festivals

  • Scottish Book Trust is the main source of author sessions for illustrators and writers in Scotland, because libraries and schools use it to get funding for half of our fees. In fact, Scottish Book Trust is so important in this domain that we all tend to follow their fee structure in Scotland. See my pages on Visits for more on this. You can only be part of the scheme if you are published.

  • ContactAnAuthor is a service that links authors with people looking for an author to visit them. I've heard plenty of good things about them.

  • The Society of Authors has advice on author sessions in the UK, including a fee structure. It's roughly in line with what we do in Scotland, except that english people must be hardier: they tend to work a continuous half day or whole day in a school, whereas Scots do one to three one-hour sessions over a day and then collapse.

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Websites, sending image files, and technology

  • Website portfolio: if you're an illustrator, you really ought to have somewhere you can display your portfolio. If building a website seems too time-consuming, at least use a blog.

  • Getting found on Google: if people can find your website, you may get lovely work land in your lap. SearchEngineWatch has the most helpful list of search engines and directories, free and paying, that I've come across.

    If you're trying to get higher up the search results, I wouldn't bother trying to get links with other illustrators (like me). Search engines look for links with organisations (the bigger the better), not little people. I turn down requests for links, because I want my website to only link to places I believe visitors will find useful.

  • Sending big files: if you need to send someone a huge file (say, 1Mb), email is not the answer, as the email may fail to get through. I use www.yousendit.com (the free service will let you upload one file at a time from your computer to a secure webpage of theirs, where it will stay for 7 days. An email goes out to you and your customer with a link to its location).

  • FTP: If you're a bit braver and have to send lots of files, the free program CoreFTP is easier to use than others I've tried. It will allow you to upload files to someone's FTP site, for instance. Publishers tend to have FTP sites (on which illustrators they're working with can load their work): ask your publisher for details. Another method, if you have a website, is to create a page for customers to download from.

  • Backing up your files: I'd recommend a reliable, automatic method to save your files, in case your computer lets you down, or even if you just want access to an earlier version of your work. I'm happy with GenieSoft's Genie Backup Manager Home Edition. You set it to backup selected files at selected intervals to a place of your choice (an external hard disk, CDs, the internet). It doesn't need to back everything up every time (which is time-consuming if, like me, you have hundreds of huge image files): you can set it to do "incremental" backups, i.e. to only backup files changed or created since the last backup.

    Because I can't bear the idea of losing any of the writing or illustrating I'm presently working on, I've set GenieSoft to backup specific folders every 2 hours onto an external hard disk (Western Digital MyBook) which is plugged in at all times. These backups happen without me noticing. Sometimes I hate a change I've made to my work, and I can go to the hard disk and retrieve an earlier version from there.

    Then every two weeks I try and remember to plug in another external hard disk and backup all my files, including Outlook and Favorites stuff. I keep that hard disk somewhere VERY safe. If your files aren't huge like mine, I'd recommend using the online service: that sounds like the safest system to me.

    I believe you can use your Flickr or Googlemail space, if you have some, to back up onto there.

  • Lots of help with web design: I've received some great help in making this website. Chik, self-confessed IT geek and writer/performer extraordinaire, started me off with great patience and generosity.

    Some of my buttons come from ButtonGenerator.com

    The social networking button comes from AddThis.com

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Chat and support for your sanity

Most of us need like-minded people to "talk" to, for a chat, or to share expertise.
Finding Your Creative Focus
  • Online forums for illustrators: I particularly like IllustratorsUK, for - you guessed it - illustrators in the UK. It's friendly, and there are plenty of competent people who can also advise on business issues. If you're a children's illustrator anywhere in the world, another great one, is the forum within the Picture Book Artists Association (PBAA). The Association of Illustrators also has a busy forum.

  • Online forums for writers: I like Wordpool, mostly for UK writers (published or unpublished). More USA oriented is the children's writers group. For published UK children's writers, I like Balaclava, the forum within the Scattered Authors Society ("The other" SAS).

  • Creativity coaches are there to help you enjoy what you do more, or get you out of a blocked period. I can recommend Marion Barnett, who trained with Eric Maisel, and has helped me leap to the places I wanted to get to. It can be done by or by phone. Marion Barnett's book "Finding your creative focus" covers the lack of (or excess of) ideas, materials, techniques, space, time or support, and will help you identify the thing that will get you going again.

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Helpful links for USA children's book illustrators

It's hard to beat Phyllis Cahill's massive and well organised list of links about everything to do with writing/illustrating. Go there if you're in the USA!

Finally...

Phew! You now have the entire contents of my brain. If this page of advice changes your life, tell me of your successes, as I get a buzz from knowing I've made somebody's day. And if you are moved by extreme gratitude, you can help my business tick over by buying one of my books and writing a comment on my Amazon book pages. Good luck to you all.

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