I am often asked by aspiring picture book authors how they should present their illustration notes within a manuscript. So, here are a few dos and don’ts.
Only include illustration notes if they are absolutely essential. There is no need to include notes that simply describe what you have already conveyed in your text. You also need to give the illustrator the space to bring their own talent and imagination to the story.
The point of illustration notes is to convey aspects of the story that are not evident from the text alone. So, for example, if your text says ‘Bob opened the door to his space ship’ but Bob is actually a three-year-old climbing into the box that the washing machine came in, you need to make that clear in an illustration note.
Illustration notes are similarly useful if your story relies on a contrast between words and images to convey irony or humour. For example, your text might read, ‘Hannah was always happy to help her brother with his homework’ but the illustration might actually need to show a toddler happily doodling all over her older brother’s textbooks.
If you find illustration notes are required, keep them brief. They’re meant to serve as a brief visual prompt for the illustrator not a prescriptive formula for every element you want on the page. So ‘Bob is three; space ship is an old washing machine box’ is far preferable to ‘Bob is a three-year-old toddler with blue eyes, brown hair and wearing a tiger onesie. His space ship is the old box that a washing machine came in. It was brown, but he has drawn on it in blue and green. He has also cut a flap in it for the door and drawn four windows on it — one on each side.’
Also make sure that your illustration notes are included in the body of the manuscript itself. Styling them in simple italics, and/or within parentheses, under the relevant line of text is perfect. Don’t use footnotes, track changes or insert a column down the side of your manuscript for them, as these all detract from your story and can make it hard to follow.
Keep it simple, keep it brief!