Ask a Picture Book Editor

Jumping through Hoops: Acquisitions and What You Can Expect Next

So, an editor loves your work, what next? 

In some publishing houses, the team will sit round a table, the editor will read the text aloud, and they will discuss on the spot whether they LOVE the book enough to publish it.

In other houses, acquiring a text is part of a wider business decision that has to be substantiated by facts and figures, making the process lengthier and requiring input from all publishing departments.

The editor has to jump through many hoops . . .

Together, the editor and designer need to visualize the book and convey this as part of their pitch to everyone at the publishing house! It is their passion and vision that can make the difference as to whether the book makes it through the acquisitions meeting hoop. The editor is your biggest champion so you should aim to work as closely with him or her to ensure they have the best possible material for their presentation.

Before the acquisitions meeting, a lot of preparation and lobbying is needed!

 Pitching, pitching, pitching!

To gather support and excitement for the project, the editor needs to pitch the book to everyone at the publishing house. 
The editor and designer might commission sample character sketches and spreads from one or several illustrators. Alternatively, they may show books or illustration samples to convey the style and feel they are aiming for in the finished project. If the book is by an author/illustrator, the editor and designer will present the dummy book, finished artwork samples and any other previously-published books. There may be several stages of revisions before the editor feels the book is ready for the acquisitions meeting.
The original dummy book of Little Croc's Purse by Lizzie Finlay

From Little Croc's Purse by Lizzie Finlay

Pitching, pitching, pitching!

To ask for predicted sales figures and see how they might support getting the book to market, the editor will usually pitch the book to:

Sales teams (home, foreign rights, special sales and export)

Marketing and Publicity departments

The editor will prepare a pitch document, including the one-line sales pitch with the book's unique selling point, a short synopsis, biographical information about the author and illustrator, like this:
The editor will also include a previous sales history (of already published books by the author and illustrator or sales of similar types of books) to show where the project might sit in the market.

The editor will ask the production team to work out how much the book will cost to produce, based on the proposed format and number of pages, and the estimated print run (total projected sales). 

Often, a profit and loss statement (p & l) is run to see how all the figures stack up. Sometimes, the editor may need to go back to the drawing board several times to get all the figures to work!

Once the financial information has been gathered, it's time for . . .

The next hoop . . .


. . . the acquisitions meeting! 

Ta-da! The creative team must present the material with verve and pizazz, like in a stage show. 

They have to convince everyone in the room of their vision for the project, making it as exciting and dramatic as possible.

The audience – all of the publishing team – discuss the pitch to decide if they are passionate enough about the book, whether they think it will sell, and how it fits into the list
They clap or they boo. A decision is made! Now, the editor must make a phone call . . .

"No, sorry!" Boy, this is hard for the editor and the designer and all the team who have invested a lot of time and energy into this project so far. Remember, one 'no' just means it wasn't right for that publisher, but take on board feedback and keep going!

"YES, we'd like to publish your book!" 

 What next?

You should expect to receive an offer letter, outlining the basic terms and conditions of working with the publisher. This should include the (provisional) title of the work, extent and format (hardback or paperback original), proposed publishing date, what rights the publisher is buying (usually World Rights – see more info below), the amount of the advance and when it will be paid, and royalties for home, export, high discount and bookclub sales. 

Once you receive and agree to these basic terms (which may sometimes need to be negotiated), you can expect to receive a contract, which will include a lot more detailed information about the terms and conditions of your Agreement. 

So, generally, what can picture book authors and illustrators expect?

Publication date: You can usually expect it to take two or more years for your picture book to be published. This is because publishers are working on a long lead-time as they first need to sell the book to co-edition markets to build up a print run.

Rights: most publishers want to acquire World Rights in all languages for a picture book so that the foreign rights sales team can maximize the revenue for you and the publisher by selling it into as many different language markets as possible. It also makes sense economically since picture books are expensive to produce and printing all the colour pages at once (and changing the black text plate for each language) is cheaper than printing smaller print runs each time. (America, one of the largest markets, focuses less on foreign rights sales, so in this case, you many find that an agent will retain and sell these rights using foreign agencies.)

There are lots of other rights that will be covered in your contract, including e-book rights, bookclub sales rights and film and TV rights.


If you’re the author or the illustrator: 

Royalties will be split 50/50 between the author and the illustrator and will vary from publisher to publisher. As a general rule, they are somewhere in the remit of 10% published price for hardbacks (7.5% pp for paperbacks) on home sales, 10% price received on high discount sales and 10% price received for hardbacks (7.5% pr for paperbacks) on bookclub sales. (Published price is the retail price printed on the back of the book, usually £10.99 for hardbacks and £6.99 for paperbacks. Because many booksellers and special sales deals are done at a substantial discount, the publisher will pass on a percentage of the ‘price received’ – e.g. the money they receive, not the retail price.)

The author will retain the copyright for the words and the illustrator will retain the copyright for the pictures.  

The advance for a picture book text usually starts at £1500-£2000.

The advance for a picture book illustrator to do art for 32pp and a cover can start at £4000 for newly-published illustrators and go up from there.

If you’re an author/illustrator:

You will retain all of the advance and 100% of the royalties (so see above and double these figures). You will retain the copyright for the words and pictures. The advance for an author/illustrator can start at £6000 for newly-published authors and go up from there.

Packagers and flat-fee work

Sometimes, picture books will be commissioned on a flat-fee basis, where the author or illustrator is working to a brief developed in-house by the publisher. In this case, they may or may not be offered the option of keeping their copyright. Sometimes, packagers and publishers will want to retain the copyright, which allows them to re-package your work in other books in the future. In this case, authors and illustrators will be offered a flat fee.

Children’s magazine commissions also work on a flat-fee basis.

Working for a packager or a magazine is often a good way to get published and to hone your craft, but you need to decide if you're happy to offer copyright to the publisher.

Is self-publishing a good idea for me?

If you are frustrated by rejections or the lengthy submissions process, you might be considering self-publishing. Is it right for you?

Self-publishing is becoming increasingly popular and accessible. However, it involves a lot of work as you are not only doing the creative side and promotion, but also managing the business side of production, fulfillment, sales and marketing. It may be a good option for more niche-themed books with a specialized audience. There is a reason traditionally published books are still highly-respected by consumers – they have been through a tight submissions and editing process by a team of experienced and committed publishing professionals, who will work together to ensure the best possible product reaches young readers. They are your first readers and can offer a critical eye that you cannot have on your own projects as it’s very difficult to be objective.

If you do decide to go along the self-publishing route, be sure to get advice from a professional editor so that your story is the best it can be. Also, get a designer on board, who can make the book work for its intended young audience. 

Many thanks to Lizzie Finlay for letting me use her work as an example.

Natascha Biebow is editor, mentor and coach at
Check out the Cook Up a Picture Book Coaching Courses:


  1. Thanks for this insight into what happens behind the scenes.

  2. A really interesting and useful post. Thank you!

  3. Glad you've found it useful! We'd love it if people would suggest topics they'd like for future blog posts.

    1. Hi Natasha, something about toddler/baby/counting books would be really useful - how many pages are best (16, 20, 24, 28?) and how this gets decided. If it's a board book, or a lift-the-flap book, what works best? Many thanks :)

  4. Hi Natascha and Ellie, a great post. One topic that comes up often during picture book critiques is - the balance of text to pictures - when I am writing a story, do I keep in some of the background so illustrator later can decide - or should we pepper with a lot of illustrator notes or tell the story as if it were told in prose (without a lot of descriptions) and let the designer / editor decide what to keep and what to leave out.

    It would be good to get your perspective both from submission perspective and post-acquisition.


    1. I find that confusing too, so yes, advice on that woukd be great!

  5. I've learnt so much. Thank you :)

  6. Your picture books pop and designee my kids loved him thanks for share it ucas nursing personal statement .

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