We've all been there. As authors, we have preconceived notions of the universes we create and populate, particularly in fiction. Sometimes, we even sketch out our ideas or, at least, get a visual image in our minds. And then, when our books are completed, we're faced with what to do with those sketches and images.
"I know!" you say. "I'll submit them with the book. They'll give the editor a better idea of what I'm talking about!" Right?
Wrong! In fact, a trade-book author should never submit his or her book for publication complete with artwork unless an editor asks for it. The reason is not that "illustrations require a lot more work on the part of the printers, which means it costs more to print the book" as someone recently speculated. That's sheer nonsense. In eighteenth-century America, yes. In today's age of digital printing, no.
The truth is that, while printing most illustrations costs no more than printing a page of text, most acquisitions editors frown on receiving illustrations as part of a manuscript submission package because they find illustrations distracting from the written word, if not outright disruptive to the flow of the story. Also, editors aren't illustrators and shouldn't be expected to know a good illustration from a bad one.
On the other hand, every publisher I've ever worked with was happy to review samples or suggestions for artwork with the art director and staff after issuing a publishing contract. That doesn't mean they used the art, of course. Most passed based upon their own concept of art already under in-house consideration. Nonetheless, they looked out of courtesy.Now, this may not be the case with publishing academic tomes or scholarly volumes. In those instances, publishers may well want to see the illustrative possibilities while they pour through a manuscript in order to get a better idea of what the finished product will look like. If so, they'll state that in their submission guidelines. But those are special cases with unique circumstances that vary considerably from trade publishing, or publishing for the general public.
In trade publishing, the bottom line is simple: Do not submit original (or, worse yet, stolen!) illustrations when pitching a trade book unless asked. I know you'd love to send your images along, and I know you think your art could help sell your property. You may even have the mistaken notion that a book-and-art package will appeal more to a publisher because the house will save on the costs of commissioning art. (Poor, poor cash-strapped publishers!) Not so.
Publishers want to judge whether or not the quality of an author's writing can stand on its own merit without benefit of artwork to prop it up. Period. Not to mention the fact that an author who submits illustrations with his manuscript stands out like a sore thumb and screams to the editorial assistant or secretary opening the package, "I'm an amateur! You're wasting your time on me!"
So, no, never give an editor yet one more reason for rejecting your manuscript in what's already a difficult marketplace into which to break.
Just my half-century of experience with a couple dozen different mainstream publishers, both fiction and nonfiction, adult and juvenile, from both sides of the desk. Hope it helps.
D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere.